INTERVIEW: Greg Saunier of Deerhoof
Twenty years is a long time for anything, let alone a band, but as Deerhoof approaches the two-decade mark, they seem to be releasing music that is as fresh and genuine as ever. The band arrives at the other side of I-4 on Friday night as a part of Orlando, Fla.’s Accidental Music Festival where they’ll play Plaza Live alongside Levek and Telethon.
Drummer Greg Saunier was kind enough to let SubAp! pick his brain for a bit and turned in one of the funniest, most honest interviews we’ve ever published. Even through email, it’s hard not to feel his enthusiasm for the band and passion on certain subjects.
“This may come as a shock but it’s much more fun playing with the same people for a long time. It’s like making out,” he explained when queried on how Deerhoof maintains their enthusiasm for each other after so many years together. “You know what turns them on.”
He went on to defend Twitter and Facebook, talk about recording drums for the band’s new album Breakup Song in the Brooklyn apartment of The Rapture keyboardist Gabriel Andruzzi, drop praise on The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, and what it’s like to tour with his bandmates. All in all, it seems like everything is great on the band’s end.
“We are as happy as we’ve ever been,” he wrote. “Playing rock and roll is highly recommended.”
See the whole of our chat below, and get more information on the band’s Orlando show at our calendar page.
SubAp!: Everyone is going to make a big deal of you guys actually getting to a recording studio and making this new track with Chris Shaw. The convenience of not having to mess with mic placement and other technical things is obviously nice, but has that experience made you more open to the idea of letting a non-band member handle and influence your sound and compositions?
Greg Saunier: Back when Deerhoof started in the mid 90s, everybody was talking about the “sell-out” bands, the ones that went to a major label. Everybody frowned Because these bands gave up creative control. Heck, I wanted to give up creative Control right off the bat. I never wanted creative control. There was only one label that wanted Deerhoof, and that was Kill Rock Stars, bless them, I owe my life to them. But they wanted the artists to have creative control so we were screwed.
Every label we’ve ever been on, I get on my hands and knees and beg them to tell us what kind of record we should make, what order the songs should go in, whether the snare drum is too loud in the mix. And none of them will help me. They figure that since we spent all those years doing it ourselves we must be seasoned pros. If they saw the way we struggled they would collapse with laughter. When Elias Gwinn contacted me and said he had this series (Masters From Their Day) that pairs a band with a producer for one day I said where do I sign. We loved it.
Since you record parts of songs in so many places, do they end of being like pseudo-diaries of the places you’ve been? Is there a particular song in general that always takes you back to a specific geographic location?
“Fete D’Adieu”. I was subletting an apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn from The Rapture’s keyboard player. Great fellow and a beautiful apartment. In order to not get kicked out I avoided recording live drums in his kitchen. I set up my electronic drums which I hadn’t touched since recording Friend Opportunity. Our live sound engineer and dear friend Deron who you will see towering over the mixing board at the Orlando show had sold me a guitar, a “Sabre II”.
He also found a Peavey practice amp sitting in a junk pile in the hallway of his building and gave me that. I had the vocal mic that Satomi used to use before she bought the Beta57. I found that when I put the amp on the heater and leaned the mic against it and played certain chords on my Sabre II that it sounded like a hit song. I wrote the melody sitting at the kitchen table and the lyrics lying in bed. We mixed it in the front room overlooking the Catholic church across the street.
A lot of times your records feel so urgent and passionate, like it could be the last time you ever get to make music. What’s the recording and creative process like for you guys?
It’s so awesome that you feel that way. The creative process always starts that way but becomes more and more painstaking the longer you work on it. I try to go back to the way the idea felt when I first had it. Trust that feeling even if you can barely remember it. I want the record to feel like it felt to have the idea in the first place which is an excellent feeling.
You are signed to Polyvinyl — one of the my favorite record labels ever. Can you explain your relationship with Matt and Darcie and what being a huge part of the label’s history has meant to you?
Sounds like you may have more of a relationship than I do. I met Darcie once. She was cute. I haven’t been in touch with Matt in about six months but he’s cute too and real positive on the phone.
You’ve been at it for nearly two-decades now and your music still feels as fun as ever. What’s the secret to being in a band for song long and maintaining what seems to be a childlike innocence and love for the whole process of making music and touring behind it?
This may come as a shock but it’s much more fun playing with the same people for a long time. It’s like making out. You know what turns them on. And you can pull it off because you’ve had time to practice. You’ve made fools of yourselves enough times that the ice is broken. Communication is honest and relaxed.
How was it to work with Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips on the King Crimson stuff? I once interviewed Coyne over the phone and I thought I had his full attention due to his awesome, thought-out answers, but then he Tweeted a crazy, intricate drawing that he did while talking to me directly after we hung up the phone. Is he really as intense as he seems?
We only ran through it once at soundcheck. Deerhoof and The Flaming Lips just trust each other. So fun and so loud. Love those guys to pieces. I relate to Wayne a lot because he’s so impatient, he doesn’t think twice when he’s in the hot seat, he just has an idea and says “let’s go.”
You’re obviously described as “unorthodox,” but I feel like audiences are more “unorthodox” and open to music in general these days. What’s it been like to exist of the fringes of “pop” music then watch as audiences have grown more receptive of what you’re trying to do?
Pop music is unorthodox by definition. Pop is always looking for something new. The only rule is that it’s popular. Then it’s called pop.
You talked about sending a lot of files back and forth between each other when creating Breakup Song. Have you ever thought about releasing stems to the public to see if they could remix or recreate the album in a way that you as a band could not have imagined?
John might still have some stuff on his computer. I deleted everything when we were done.
What happens to Deerhoof tracks that don’t make the LPs and other misc. releases?
If we don’t release it, it’s because we think it’s crappy.
You (if this is Greg) are obviously a very busy person. Is there anything you do that’s a complete waste of time (ie: Facebook, Instgram, Twitter)?
Jen Goma who plays in People Get Ready, when I was asking about her smart phone she looked at mine and called it a “suck phone”. With a straight face and no laughter. I don’t have instagram although it does have a camera and all the artwork on our record other than the front cover was taken by me on my suck phone. Facebook and Twitter are not a waste of time. For example when this interview comes out I might post a link to it. As long as your editor doesn’t change what I said, then I might not post a link.
You obviously play lots of shows on a tour, which can get repetitive. Are you able to reach a point at every show where you feel happy with the way the band is playing together? Is there a “creative high” or “magic” feeling that you get at each show or are some just “regular?”
That’s a great question. The magic comes not when we’re playing well together but when we are almost playing well together. Sometimes we get in a mood and take chances. Suddenly slow down in the middle of a song for no reason, throw in a crazy lick on the guitar, play something choppy that is usually smooth, anything. When you’re reaching for something that’s just beyond what you can actually do, that’s when the magic happens.
Greg has mentioned loving the Rolling Stones and how imperfect and true to life their music is. Are there any new, more contemporary bands that are moving and inspiring you guys these days?
I can understand a journalist saying the Rolling Stones aren’t a contemporary band, because maybe the best things that will ever be written about them have already been written. But us musicians are still trying to figure it out. The Rolling Stones released a new song “Doom and Gloom” on youtube this month. Just last night I was watching four different youtube videos of people covering the song or showing how to play the guitar part. Some were kids and all of them got it wrong.
I get the feeling that your audiences and fans will love you no matter what, but has there every been an instance where you feel like Deerhoof as a band let an audience down at a show?
They would not love us no matter what, no way. Not with this much music to choose form in this world. Deerhoof tries hard which is why it’s fun which is why people like it.
You guys spend a lot of time living apart from each other now, so what’s it like to be able to tour and be with your bandmates for extended periods of time? How is it different from the earlier days when you were geographically closer to each other?
It’s really fun. We like touring. We like to pile in the minivan and hit the open road. We like to meet funny people at the merch table or hang out backstage when Ed is trying some new dance moves. We like to get onstage and let er rip. We are as happy as we’ve ever been. Playing rock and roll is highly recommended.
Deerhoof plays Plaza Live in Orlando on November 9 alongside Levek and Telethon as a part of the city’s Accidental Music Festival. More information on the show is available at our calendar page, and selections from the band’s new LP – Breakup Song – are streaming below.