Deerhoof: Happy Accident

Text Hidzir Junaini
Interview courtesy of
Figure8 Agency

Deerhoof has been around for nearly two decades but for some reason, the San Franciscan quartet always seem younger its vintage. The band isn’t in the habit of Madonna-style reinvention, but it is true that every single album over the 11-LP discography sounds radically different and displays stunning invention, culminating in the highly regarded Deerhoof vs. Evil. The band began with a noisier no wave aesthetic but over time, quirkier and sweeter elements have crept into their vibe. It isn’t so much a conscious process as much as it a by-product of personal growth, personnel changes and naturally improvisatory tendencies that’s made them so beloved. We got drummer and founder Greg Saunier to track Deerhoof’s tracks prior to their gig at UpToTheSky Festival.

Hi Deerhoof! How’s do you find Singapore so far?
By taxi! (Laughs) No, really it’s been fun; we’ve spent most of it catching bands at UpToTheSky here. We’ve caught almost all of it actually and it’s been amazing! Most of the bands today have been from Southeast Asia and one thing that struck us was how totally different they were from one another. Like that band, White Shoes and the Couples Company, that’s one cool concept band right there. I immediately wished that we could take the band on tour with us in America. You get a sense of how incredibly assured they are, like they knew what they wanted to be from the beginning.

High praise indeed! Was Deerhoof as assured in beginning, 17 years ago?
Well, we began with a totally different line-up; it was just me and some other guy. It was a duo. We were in another band, a grunge quartet that sounded like The Melvins. But the other two quit totally suddenly, without warning. They just called up and said, “We’re done.” Apparently they were going out for years and they broke up so they couldn’t be in the same room together. So Deerhoof was a happy accident, we formed it as a replacement. The way we started, it was all wild, extreme noise and the singing was all just screaming and stuff. But it’s obviously different now.

How did that dynamic change?
Satomi joined us a year later. When Satomi joined, we had someone who could sing properly and despite our noise, she was still singing quietly and calmly, which changed the whole dynamic of the band. And though we still indulge in our instrumentation and improvisation, more and more, our songs became geared around her voice.

And being together for so long, does it make it easier or harder to make new music together?
Honestly, it doesn’t feel like an old band. I think it feels a little bit like a new band. I haven’t been in another band, so I have no point of comparison but what I can say is that for this band at least, it never gets easy. It’s never just smooth and we never settle into one style or groove. I guess we’ve never figured out how to really play together, but it may be good thing because it keeps us sounding different and going in different directions when writing.

You hold a music degree in music composition. Does that education help out with the songwriting?
Yes, but I guess help is the wrong word, but I do always think back to that when I’m in the studio. But it doesn’t make me any better, because look at Satomi; she never went to music school or whatever. And I trust her opinion just as much, if not more, than I trust mine.

Do you remember the first band you went to see as a fan?
I remember seeing a rock band in elementary school. It wasn’t something I chose to see though, it was happening at an outdoor fair. I was walking around and I spotted them and I was amazed. Seeing them live, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to do that. I can’t describe how excited I was.

Is that the kind of feeling you want your fans to get when they see Deerhoof live for the first time?
We do get that reaction sometimes and it’s something that I’m grateful we’re able to do. We’ve had lots of young fans and people tell us all the time, “Hey my kid wants to play drums because he saw you live!” Just earlier, the guy from White Shoes and the Couple Company told me his son, who’s five-years-old, practices drumming to our songs! That’s incredible and a very cool feeling.

Speaking of live shows, you guys just released a new live album called 99% Upset Feeling. How did that come about?
We put out Deerhoof vs. Evil which was out latest real release a long time ago, and because of all the touring we did, it’s been a while since we actually put out anything new. And we didn’t get a chance to write, so we figured we’d pull out all the cool stuff we did live and put it out there. Just to give our fans something to chew on in between. And besides, we’re much better live anyways. (Laughs)

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