Deerhoof's Wisconsin roots, an interview with guitarist John Dieterich
Experimental and improvisational, DEERHOOF has been making their eclectic mix of joyful noise since forming as a bass/drum duo in 1994 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Adding Satomi Matsuzaki’s unique voice (just a week after she moved to the United States!) gave them a sing-songy melodic sense over the sometimes proggy, sometimes punky music created a distinctive sound for the band.
Guitarist John Dieterich joined the band in 1999 and Matsuzaki added bass to her musical duties, the band has settled into a four piece with founder Greg Saunier still on drums and Ed Rodriguez on guitar.
DEERHOOF is going back on tour and will be playing The Sett at Union South on April 20th and the first thing that I had to ask John about the band was how they stayed together for over two decades, which is about a millennium in band years.
“Well, we don’t live in the same house, so that helps.” he laughs. “We don’t even live in the same city. We all moved away from the Bay Area about ten years ago. It was good for us to live close to each other for a long time and want to kill each other and develop together. And then it’s also good for us to live in different places now. Honestly, we were just on tour recently on the East coast and we all thought it was the best tour we’ve ever done both musically and just in terms of fun. We hadn’t played in six months and so it was just really fun to see each other. We’re lucky, we really like each other.
He continues on how their long-distance relationship adds to the music they create. “We still do want to murder each other sometimes, but it’s like family, it’s the best of family. Everybody is involved in different projects and we all bring different things back to the band after we’ve been away for a little awhile. So that helps a lot too, that keeps things fresh because we’re not all coming from the same perspective every time we get back together. Suddenly someone is obsessed with Brazilian music and someone else is just getting into some grindcore band from Philadelphia. There’s always some new thing to be talking or thinking about.”
With fourteen albums, often recorded by the band themselves, one of the best parts about DEERHOOF is that you never know what’s going to happen next musically. They can switch from a driving punk song to an airy and atmospheric piece to an achingly beautiful cover of “Midnight, The Stars, and You” from The Shining. So, how do they keep coming up with something unexpected? It comes down to the diversity of influences we were discussing. “Sometimes the things that may sound surprising or shocking in the context of a rock band or a pop band are not that far afield depending on the kind of music you’re listening to.”, he says.
“You can listen to music all day every day for the rest of your life and not even hear a fraction of what’s out there.” John continues. “That’s one of the neat things about touring, getting to be exposed to surprising things or having preconceived ideas about what music will sound like and realizing it’s not like that at all, or it is like that, but not in the way that I thought it was going to be or it is that way but it’s not how I expected it.”
Part of liking each other and playing together for a long time is developing an ability to follow everyone’s musical moves and it allows for every show to be unique. “We have these very intricately written songs and work out every possible detail and then when we get onstage, basically anything goes.”, Dieterich says. “Anything can happen. This is the band that everyone is encouraged to explore whatever their interests are. It’s tricky at times, but the impulse to play the music that we play is very natural to us.”
But also, when it comes to improvisation and experimentation, outside musicians can force you to stay on your toes. When it comes to musicians that have improved John’s playing over the past few years, he remembers a particular show that was extraordinary from an improvisational perspective. “We did one maybe a year ago with a trumpeter named WADADA LEO SMITH”, he says. “He’s somebody that we all admired and he’d played one song with us at a show in Los Angeles maybe eight years ago. Somebody in the interim had found out about that and was a booker at a music festival in New York (the 2018 Winter Jazzfest) and wanted us to do a show together.”
He continues, “We didn’t have any rehearsals other than soundcheck and he taught us one of his songs during that. And our songs that he was playing on, he’d never heard before. It was incredible. That was a situation where the preparation was being in this band for twenty years and that was a chance to use those muscles and try to make something where you had no idea of where it was gonna go.”
In an age of micro-niches and more and more fragmented music scenes, the strength of DEERHOOF comes from their ability to take all kinds of music at face value.” I wouldn’t say that it’s exclusively esoteric music, but it’s the idea that there is no hierarchy.”, Dieterich says. “Hardcore isn’t in some hierarchy below Classical, it’s all available and it’s there for you and the communities that it serves.”
And it’s that ability to appreciate music at its most basic level, to just enjoy the process of that has enabled them to cross genres, garner critical acclaim, and tour every year. As Dieterich states “Something I’ve learned from the band is being able to find the humanity in something and not assigning a value to the technical ability or whatever.”
He looks beyond the genre and the ability, “What is the expression or what is the intention? Is this person trying hard? It’s easy to discount things when you listen to a recording, it’s either ‘I don’t like it or I like it.’ But when you see someone playing live and they’re trying really hard and you just have to say, ‘I can see them feel it. It may not be my thing, but at the same time, it’s valuable.’”(218) Page Views Deerhoof Online:
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CD: Mountain Moves Record Label: Joyful Noise Recordings
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