Interview With Deerhoof

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(Photo by phivephotography.com)

The 18th annual Noise Pop Festival begins with a bang tonight, with local legends Deerhoof opening for the star-studded Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band at The Fox Theater. We had a chance to catch up with Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier via email last week, where we discussed his love for Yoko Ono's live show, Deerhoof's difficulty jamming, the group's love/hate relationship with Kortrijk, Belgium and much more.

Deerhoof plays The Fox Theater tonight (2/23) with Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono band. Tickets are $39.50

In a recent blog post, you wrote "[Yoko] Ono's music to me is very close to total purity … I'm never moved by any kind of music in the same way I am moved by traditional folk musics, but Yoko Ono is an exception." That is quite the affirmation! Can you elaborate a bit on why Ono's music is just so special to you?

I was really talking about seeing Plastic Ono Band live. On record it's one thing, but live it's a whole other experience. She's so spontaneous. That's why I said it is pure -- because she has so little plan, she just feeds off the energy of the band and the audience. It also seems emotionally pure. Like when she starts in, her singing seems like it's 0% brain, 100% feeling. But at the same time, I'd be hard-pressed to say what emotion she is expressing. It's like all emotions at once, or none at all.

I could imagine that this being one of the premier Noise Pop shows must make the night even more exciting for you. Do you particularly look forward to these big local shows?

I don't know if "look forward" is quite right. Maybe the right word is "dread." It's one thing to make a fool of yourself in front of strangers, another thing in front of your friends. We got lucky this time, Noisepop came a-calling. How are you going to say no to Yoko Ono and The Plastic Ono Band!

But it is no real surprise that you were asked to play this show -- in my opinion, you are one of the most entertaining live acts around. One thing I have always enjoyed about your shows is how loose and improvised they feel, appearing to rely heavily on the chemistry and interaction between the artist on stage. How much does improvisation actually enter into the equation and define each show?

The equation! I love it. I wish we had an equation, better yet a formula -- I think our record label would love us. But whatever worked today is bound to fail tomorrow. Remember that part in Year Of The Horse, where Neil Young is explaining how they come up with their setlists on tour? He says whatever went really well last night, that song gets the axe for tonight's show. I can really relate to that.

For better or for worse, a significant chunk of your fans were first introduced to your live show when you toured with Radiohead back in 2006. I have read you speak quite fondly of this tour in a number of interviews. Can you tell us what made this stint with Radiohead so memorable to the band?

It's sort of like seeing a celebrity on the street. Satomi [Deerhoof's bassist and primary vocalist] saw James Cromwell in Union Square one time. But the difference is you get to meet them. And then you get to meet them again, and again. And then it turns out they are awesome. And then it turns out they arranged the meeting.

A bit of a tangent, but I am always struck by the range of your lengthy discography. While your sound is always unmistakable, your style and overall vibe has been known to change from record to record, sometimes dramatically. The tracks on each album, however, are always remarkably consistent -- each album feels complete. When writing and recording each record, do you aim to create individual songs with a specific style in mind, or has the process generally been a more organic one?

It usually doesn't come together until the last second. I mean when we're starting out we try to have an idea of what to do, but it always falls through. Kind of hard not to since everybody in the band has their own idea of what we're supposed to sound like, [and] everybody writes their own songs. Sometimes it all comes together in the final mix - we try to force everything to sound the same even when it doesn't.

I have read elsewhere that a handful of tracks on 2008's Offend Maggie came together through traditional jam sessions, which I understand is actually a new approach for the band. Did you enjoy this less structured style of songwriting, and do you foresee jamming being a bigger part of the writing process in the future?

I don't know -- probably not. Jamming is too stressful, and it always sounds horrible when we do it. I'm not sure Offend Maggie really did come from jam sessions actually. I mean we were in the practice space for long hours for weeks leading up to recording, [so] maybe it sounded like jam sessions if you were standing outside the door? Probably not though. We were just playing the same thing over and over again. Rehearse first, then record -- that was our plan. I'm not sure I like doing it that way.

So what is next for the Deerhoof camp? Any other exciting upcoming shows, or plans to enter the studio again soon?

Deerhoof's first-ever show in Europe was in a tiny Belgian town called Kortrijk. The venue was called The Pits, and we vowed never to play there again. The entry way, where you get your ticket, doubled as the men's bathroom, and the five or so people who were there hated us. On our next tour we got a special invitation to play a different tiny venue in Kortirjk. We said yes, but got in a huge band fight over something or other backstage. So we decided never to return to Kortirjk, under any circumstances.

The next Europe tour we had Dirty Projectors with us, and [we were both] invited to play the Sonic City Festival in the beautiful town of Kortirjk. Since we were traveling together, saying no didn't seem to be an option. And while we were there that day, the organizer of the festival asked if we wanted to curate the next Sonic City! So back we go [to Kortirjk].

We are so excited about this! We've got people playing one after another who would never play together in a million years. The lineup will be announced in a few days.

And I understand that Deerhoof has a string of upcoming Australian shows lined up with OneOne, a side project featuring Deerhoof's own Satomi Matsuzaki and Tenniscoats' lead vocalist Saya that you have worked quite closely with in the past. Can we expect any new OneOne material anytime soon?

I think so. We've got about six new songs recorded, and Saya just wrote another one the other day. I'm having a hard time putting it all together but I think it's about that huge Buddha statue in Nara coming to life and stomping around. I'll probably be scolded for my incorrect interpretation...