Deerhoof: Rock’s Role
Randy Nordschow: It’s not unusual to hear something in a rock club that sounds a lot like some of the more adventurous stuff that is happening inside concert halls, and vice versa. It makes you wonder why there is such a divide. A band like Deerhoof seems to defy these contexts. I’ve seen gigs, say, in a bar where you guys performed a large-scale improvisation before segueing into one song—that was your set. A lot of folks in the “classical” establishment, and even some folks in more experimental scenes, tend to think that people that go to rock shows don’t know about or haven’t had any kind of exposure to this kind of experimental/improv world. The band that played before you at North Six on Friday night was using electronics, amplified bassoon, and that sax player was circular breathing like nobody’s business…
Randy Nordschow: Goes to show that you can be exposed to anything inside a club, but do you like to play with the assumed contexts?
Greg Saunier: I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that question or really thought about it. The thing is, I think I don’t assume any context. Some people are going to “know experimental music,” but I think I just don’t believe in that idea. What does that mean—to know experimental music? Maybe you bought the record. That doesn’t qualify you for anything. Just the same as if you own Sgt. Pepper, it doesn’t qualify as knowing pop music. Everybody’s idea of what Sgt. Pepper is is different. It doesn’t appear that way because it’s written about so often. It’s used in that iconic way in conversation so it seems like we all agree on what it means. The same with John Cage. But when you come right down to the actual experience of listening to it or playing it, of course everybody’s experience is individual and it depends on a lot more things than whether or not you were “trained in it.” It also has to do with what mood you were in, what acoustics you heard it in, what you had for dinner, all that kind of stuff.
I have to admit, on the one hand, there is a part of me that does want to deliberately play with boundaries between genres and maybe wants to subvert the idea that there are distinctions where this style means only this. Jazz is only meant to be listened to as cocktail music, rock is about drinking and partying or machismo, and classical music is for old ladies. Definitely part of me is thinking that I want to deliberately and subconsciously subvert that idea because it could also be possible to make very sublime statements using rock music. It’s possible for 13-year-old kids to like classical music or jazz.
At the same time, I don’t want our music only to be about this intellectual subversion of genre categories. I also believe that somebody who’s never heard any John Cage or Beethoven or Rolling Stones should somehow be able to connect to our music anyway. I don’t believe in these distinctions the way they’re normally defined, because the way they’re normally defined is: rock music is something that is easy for everybody; experimental music is something that is difficult for everybody, and the especially cool people have managed to learn how to like it. The thing is that everybody knows if you get a room full of kids and start doing some John Cage-influenced pieces they’ll have the time of their life. And there’s no actual barrier. It’s just that historically imagined barrier that causes people to think they won’t like experimental music. They’re just trained to thinking that.
Randy Nordschow: The people who promote music say just don’t call it experimental music because it scares people…
Greg Saunier: And it goes the other way. It’s just assumed that rock is low culture, degenerate. I don’t mean to be insulting, but a lot of time it’s in music journalism where things get categorized. We’re at Bard College and we’re about to play a show for a whole bunch of students in their late teens and early 20s. And the history that even you and I know, being only 15 years older, doesn’t exist for them. They’ve never learned that they’re not supposed to like experimental music. They don’t have the memory of that turn off. I think that when it really comes down to it, each person reacts to music in a personal way. It’s not because it conforms to some pre-conceived idea of what music they’re supposed to like. I have more faith in people.