We could try to describe Deerhoof here but they would have already changed by then. On the surface, they are a loose blend of twee and noise - a candy apple filled with razors. But beyond that, all bets are off. These indie vets have been messing with people’s expectations for seventeen years now. According to drummer Greg Saunier, they’re still trying to work out what they’re doing. VICE caught up with Greg to talk about dreams and anal bruising.
Tell us about your new album Deerhoof Vs. Evil.
Don’t be disappointed when I tell you that what I have to say about the album is already contained in the album. I carefully crafted exactly what I wanted to say for a period of a year or two and got it just so, wrapped it up in a silver and green bow and released it to the world. I guess I can say what I think of it now, a year and a half after finishing it. I was actually listening to one of the songs today because we’re doing this series right now of singles where we give the instrumental tracks from each of the songs on the album to different singers to sing new vocals over. I was just working out which song to send to this one guy today, so I had to go back and listen. I was trying to decide between three options. I heard it again and I was like “oh, that’s pretty good actually.”
Who won: Deerhoof or Evil?
The battle is nearly over; we’re about to win. We just have Australia to go.
You’ve said before that most of your songs come from your dreams. What else goes on in those dreams?
Wow! I don’t remember. It’s not that I remember the dream or even remember the music. It’s not always like this; I am also capable of writing music when I’m awake. But when I get lucky and there’s some really nice finished-sounding song that’s just running in the middle of a dream, I’ve over the years trained myself to wake up when I realize that’s happening. But what I’ll do is I’ll have a piece of paper and I’ll write it down as quickly as I can, but by the time I find that scrap of paper it could be weeks or months later and I don’t remember anything of it including the song, let alone what was happening. Once in a while I think there is something really spectacular. If she was something really spectacular, maybe I would write something down next to it just so I could remember (laughs).
There’s a definition of Deerhoof on Urban Dictionary that says: “All things considered, the best working band in the world today. A perfect blend of pop and experimentalism, with some of the most interesting and exciting drumming recorded in recent years.” How does that make you feel?
Wow! I can’t disagree with that. That’s funny! I’ve never seen that.
Okay, I admit it. I wrote it.
No, I’m joking.
There’s another definition on the site for “deer hoof” - that’s two words - that says it’s the “bruised outside ring of an anus after intense anal intercourse or other such regional trauma.”
(Laughs) There’s other definitions as well, like the one we had in mind, believe it or not, when we created the band which is “the hoof of a deer." I don’t want to get too technical. It also means that.
I had no idea. I’ve heard that you guys don’t jam together, so how do you plan and organize for music that sounds so spontaneous?
Well, thank you. Actually, I think it’s because - I might be going on a limb here - but I think it’s because we don’t jam, as in we don’t repeat it over and over. It’s slightly unnatural for everybody and we end up playing it in a way that is more spontaneous. It’s a little less controlled. If I make up a song then a lot of the time I’m making up the guitar parts for the guitar players, whereas if they make up a song then they’re making up the drum part for me. So we’re not necessarily playing things that seem to fall naturally and easily under our hands and fingers or playing according to our habits of playing. The songs are written in a way that isn’t so spontaneous because one person is teaching the other person how it goes. The way we end up playing it on stage is often very much so because it’s just a little different every night. Sometimes it’s nothing more than mistakes that compound and cause us to play the song in a different way or with a different kind of feeling than we’ve ever played before.
In a way, I actually think that’s connected to the fact that we write songs separately as individual songwriters rather than jamming as a group, because if you jam as a group then the song itself is based on the way you play. But our songs aren’t based on the way we play, they’re just abstract songs that anybody could play. It gives you this room to play it whatever way you want to play it. So we have our really strange way of playing it but even that changes from night to night. I kind of like that set-up, you know? It keeps them quite fresh. There are songs in our setlist that we’ve been playing for many years and we’re still working out the arrangements and it’s still coming out different every night. We’re like: “Oh, we kinda almost hit the target that time - let’s try again tomorrow." It still has that feeling of searching and trying to figure out what we’re doing.
See Deerhoof at Sydney Festival on January 9. Tickets and info here.