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Deerhoof's drummer on touring, recording and Carson Daly

T.K. Dallman | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 1st, 2007

Forget Bloc Party, who will be performing at Centennial Hall on September 29, it's the opening act that is garnering my attention.

That act is Deerhoof, a three-piece from San Francisco, consisting of John Dietrich, Satomi Matsuzaki and Greg Saunier, who have been tagging along for the tour.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to their drummer, Saunier, about their latest album Friend Opportunity, the band's dynamic and their recent TV appearance.

T: It seems to me that you do most of the interviews in the band. Is there a particular reason for that? Or, for instance, does Satomi cover the ones in Japan?
G: Satomi has more of a phobia of the phone... It's easier when you're there talking to somebody because you can use hand gestures, but over the phone it might be a little more nerve-racking. She does e-mail interviews, but a lot of time people don't like those.

T: Well about Friend Opportunity, I wanted to say that it has been on my playlist for forever now, and I wouldn't be surprised if it popped up on a number of top 10 lists of 2007.
G: I think only the music journalism community with members such as yourself are already thinking that far. [laughs] You know, it's summer, it's great, it's in the middle of the year. Friend Opportunity just came out, and it's been a blur. I mean, yeah, if I had my head screwed on right I'd be thinking of the end of the year.

T: I wanted to ask you, though, everyone calls it a mix of experimental and pop music. Do you ever listen to a part of a song and think “this sounds too polished, let's add some weird distorted noises” or vice-versa, or is it just more of a natural thing?
G: I think you're right that from what I see, it is true that we often get described as a combination of experimental and pop, but I wouldn't describe myself or ourselves that way. To me, neither experimental nor pop music have a sound, you know? I mean, pop music could be like anything and so could experimental music, so to say it sounds like a combination of those two sounds actually, to me doesn't really have that much meaning and I never think of it that way. It's more of like, I think of it is as a combination of Greg, Satomi and John. It's a combination of an idea ... It's rare that we can like, sit back and describe it in music journalism terms of “how experimental is this?” or “how pop is this?” It's more like every song is starting over from scratch and it's almost like we just hear this thing in our imagination; we're just trying to get it and turn it into actual sounds.

T: Well that makes a lot of sense.
G: Does that make sense? Good. Cause I'm not sure if that made sense to me.

T: Okay, but in terms of the song order, was it a conscious plan to have, what I think are the most joyful sounding songs at the start, only to end with a 12-minute, darker song?
G: You know, anyone who has made any kind of playlist or mixed tape knows you can just keep scrambling stuff over and over again, like, maybe this would be better later, or maybe this would work if it didn't have this intro, or you know, maybe we could put some loud banging noises where the song starts and then it'll sound good after the previous song. You could just go on and on trying every possible mathematical combination, and believe me, we did, to the point after all, that we were completely confused by the end, and actually we threw up our hands in total defeat and basically had Kliph [Scurlock], The Flaming Lips' drummer, decide for us what the order should be. We had given him a CD initially, just in some order, and he really liked [it], and he was like, “Oh, you guys gotta keep it in this order.” He really helped us out a lot.

T: When you're turning the songs into live compositions, is it at all difficult to transpose those, or once again, is it something, that is pretty natural?
G: Oh god... yes, it's difficult, but not in many ways I'd complain about. I consider it a beautiful problem to have, you know what I mean? It is challenging and it takes every bit of, not just trying to be technically good at your instrument, or finding a creative solution with your mind, but it's also challenging in an interpersonal way, between the three of us as we're trying to agree on the way something should sound, or on a way something should be played. Not one of us is good at limiting our brainstorms to our own instrument, so always Satomi has ideas about how the drums should be played, and I have ideas about how the guitar should be played, and John has ideas about how the bass should be played, but at the same time I wouldn't trade it for anything.

T: Just the way you described how you guys work together, I get the impression that guys work very democratically and I think that's...
G: Actually we don't, because if we worked democratically than any time two people liked something and one didn't than the two people would win.

T: You guys recently played on Last Call with Carson Daly. What was that experience like?
G: I loved it... I sent [them] this kind of sketchy e-mail just sort of saying ‘Oh you know, if it's helpful, here's a few ideas about some possible suggestions for maybe how we could make it look, what colour lights do we like, and that sort of thing. So I said, “we like green, pink... blue is nice.”

Anyway, we show up at this place and it looks like, already in the morning, walking in, every single light fixture had been fitted with either pink, green or blue. More LEDs would look like an LED store or something... The stage didn't have any carpeting they [asked] “oh, do you want a rug for your drums so that you don't slide forward while you're playing?” And I said, “Oh sure.” They brought this round, light blue astroturf bit, and I was like “Whoa! ...That's it! That would be amazing.”

Then the director came and he's like, “oh ok, this will be fine” but he and I are standing there for a minute and then he said, “You know, it's too bad we couldn't also put John and Satomi on some carpets like this and have it maybe be like three different colours or something”... [The director] goes back and talks to somebody and five minutes later they had cut new circles out of two other colours of astroturf ... so we had a green one and a red one and a blue one, and we were standing on these circles during the show.

I mean everything about it was just like, compared to any normal show, and I'm not complaining about any normal show, but I mean for heaven's sake this is like beyond accommodating, and I can understand how if you get used to this kind of treatment, you become deranged or something, because it was way too easy.

T: Have you ever thought of re-adding a fourth member?
G: Oh yeah, I mean we have a fourth member... John has sort of had to bare the biggest brunt of the burden with his hands, playing two guitar parts at once, or trying to play organ parts, so his hands always look like they're stretching to do impossible shapes when we're playing. But at the same time, we like keeping it as a three-piece. One thing that's fun about the triangle shape is that it's just that much more exposed, in part, and the more interaction becomes a more important part of your sound, and the easier it is to have a musical conversation. So, yeah, for this upcoming tour it's going to be three people...
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