Deerhoof: Rock’s Role
Randy Nordschow: How would you describe Deerhoof?
Greg Saunier: Well, if you’re reading this than that means you have a computer that has an Internet connection so it wouldn’t be at all difficult to simply go to our Web page were we’ve got this whole big pile of free MP3s.
It’s funny because this question of crossing over boundaries or is there a line between this music and that, and to say, “How do you describe your music?”, that already starts in on that whole Pandora’s box. I guess I could say I can often describe it after the fact, after it’s been done. Once we’ve recorded something, for instance, and the recording is done, and we’ve gone through whatever very imagination-involving process that we went through to make it, then I can say, “Well, now it occurs to me that geez, you know this sure sounds like a rip off of such and such.” [laughs] You know, then I can describe it.
Randy Nordschow: So you don’t really have any preconceived…
Greg Saunier: Definitely not beforehand. I wouldn’t make a description before something exists of what it’s going to sound like. It’s hard to understand how anybody doing music or almost any kind of art could feel any differently. If your ideas come from your imagination and your imagination is as hard to control as what you dream at night, then the idea of a preconceived idea of what your music is going to be before you’ve written it is…certainly not bad—I would applaud anybody who would be able to do that—but I can’t understand how somebody could. I actually really kind of respect people who do have the ability to decide that they’re going to write music in a certain genre. We’ve talked before about soundtrack composers. To me it is absolutely fascinating because they’re making music on order. The movie is already done, it’s sitting there, we know exactly what mood this music is supposed to be for this part, we know exactly how long, and we know it can’t be loud when this person says this one line of dialogue or something. The idea of being able to create something with that much of a preconceived idea is a fascinating ability that I guess I feel like I don’t really have.
Randy Nordschow: Going back to your music and Deerhoof. These tunes that you write, a lot of the songs have really simple melodies. They have a childlike naïveté. They sound like the songs that children sing to taunt each other on the playground. Even The Wire has labeled Deerhoof as “cute brut.” Why do you think these cutesy, childlike themes find themselves reoccurring?
Greg Saunier: That’s also a really good question. I’m sure that maybe to most people listening to Deerhoof it’s simply a matter of “O.K. They’re doing childlike music.” To me, of course, being in the band and struggling through the process of making these songs and recordings, it feels a lot more complicated than that!
Randy Nordschow: Maybe people can’t get past the ducks, bunnies and pandas!
Greg Saunier: But even there I guess I feel ducks and bunnies and pandas are cute but… Sometimes I think that a certain tone that we adopt in or songs is child-related but not necessarily child-like. The tone that Satomi and the rest of us use is more akin to the tone of somebody speaking to a child. Sometimes when you’re speaking to a child, you use a higher voice or you simplify your vocabulary. You don’t want to use words the child doesn’t know. Maybe you don’t think about it so much, it’s instinctual. With a baby it’s even more extreme. You don’t even use words. You just start in on the baby talk. It’s incredible—throughout history, every adult seems to have this instinct to start making these sounds with babies. I think we actually do use that kind of a tone in our songs, but I wouldn’t describe it as us being childish so much but as if our audience was children. You can take that in different ways. You can take that as a condescending insult that we’re treating everybody like babies, but at the same time a big part of our fan base is actually babies and young children. A lot of young parents seem to be playing Deerhoof for their children which makes me really happy. And they like to sing along. It does seem to click with them.
Randy Nordschow: You’re certainly securing your fan base for the next 20 years!
Greg Saunier: Sometimes what can seem cutesy: using humor in the songs, using extreme contrast…to me this is something that I really related to in Beethoven’s music. In his case it doesn’t seem like it was intended to be funny although sometimes it does make you chuckle a bit even when it’s so earnest just because he’s using such extreme contrast. It just seems so over the top sometimes. I really like that aesthetic idea—combining something that sounds really chaotic and abrasive with something that sounds really quiet and calm.
When Satomi first joined the band that was one of the things that instantly clicked when we started playing together was that our original guitar player, Rob, and I had been working on playing our instruments, drums and guitar, in a way that was as exaggerated and over-expressive as it could possibly be, speeding up and slowing down, making the dynamics as wide as we could. It had a really desperate and extreme mood to it. Satomi came in and I would suggest a melody for her to sing and she would sing it in the most plain way, no vibrato, no dynamics, totally flat. This was everything I ever wanted in a singer singing a melody I came up with, and the contrast was really neat between the instruments and the voice. Maybe her voice sounds cute because it’s set against a backdrop that’s extremely harsh a lot of times. It depends on the context. A lot of people say we sound like random noise. If the simplicity of the voice wasn’t as extreme as it is, people might not think our music sounds so abrasive.
It’s a very traditional idea, but my dream would be to make music that’s like a fairy tale in the sense that if you’re a little kid and you hear the story it means one thing to you. You follow the story, you like the characters. As soon as you become a little bit older, you start to see another side to the same story. It starts to mean something different. And then at different stages of life, that same story actually means something different than it meant to you before. As far as that whole child thing, I would love to make music that did mean something to a child. But then, my parents are going on 70 and they like Deerhoof and they get something from it. That’s something I really feel proud about—trying to make music that can somehow mean something really real to people of different ages and different backgrounds…