Formed in 1994, Deerhoof have, over the space of nearly twenty years, enthralled and confounded in equal measure. They are to music what Luis Bunel and David Lynch are to cinema or what Salvador Dali was to painting. Namely, Deerhoof are a band completely fearless and unafraid to experiment with music and take it to places it has never been before.
Signing with the Kill Rock Stars label in the early part of their career and recently signing with Polyvinyl, This is an admirable trait, as the band have very much followed their own musical path over their career. Even on their first self recorded and self funded release, 1997’s “The Man, The King, The Girl”, which featured different songs being played through the left and right channels, this was a band that was determined to throw out the rule book and explore music in their own unique way.
Formed by San Francisco natives John Freiderich and Greg Saunier, the band have grown to include female vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki, who provides a brilliant musical counterpoint with her sweet and at times angelic voice against the noise terrorism and envelope pushing sonic experiments of the rest of the band. Over the space of eleven studio albums and some extraordinary live shows, Deerhoof are a band that has continued to grow and expand. They are definitely one of the most interesting bands in existence in the music scene across the world at the moment.
“Deerfhoof got started as a result of myself and another musician,” says Saunier, “Who I was working with in a very average and standard grunge band knock off at the time, discovering the British Free Improvisation movement of the late 1960s and bands like AMM and the work of artists such as Robert Fripp. The irony is that the music we loved so much for its supposed absence of boundaries and limitations was, once you became more familiar with it, highly structured and there was actually nothing ‘free’ about the sound and how it was created. This took form as the music always having to have a quiet intro and be atonal. Breaking these rules was very much frowned upon and taboo.”
“Evolved might be too strong a word,” laughs Saunier when asked how the Deerhoof sound has progressed and evolved over the past seventeen years. “None of the members of Deerhoof have had any sort of conventional musical training or been conditioned to follow a particular musical style or trend. To us, every album is almost like a new beginning and starting over. We’ve tried many times to follow a pattern in regards to recording. We are not the type of people that can do that. In a way, it keeps us fresh and feeling like beginners when we record.”
Satomi really took the band to a new and highly interesting place on the musical plane. “Satomi actually came from a film study background when we first met her and had no interest in music whatsoever,” says Saunier chuckling. “She had decided to move to San Francisco on a whim, and knew hardly anyone when she first arrived. Via mutual friends, she was forwarded to us as a potential vocalist. Deerhoof would have been together about a year or so. As soon as she started singing, we knew we had something really unique and dynamic. Things were happening so fast at that time. After that first time playing, literally a week later, we were on tour and she was in the group. She’s since taught herself to play guitar and bass and has become an actual musician.”
The band is particularly looking forward to their upcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand. “It still blows my mind to know that people on the other side of the world know and love Deerhoof,” enthuses Saunier. “We have always had really great tours when we come to Australia and New Zealand. I have a really strong feeling that people in this part of the world really ‘get’ our music and sense of humour. Also, we will be escaping a particularly brutal winter in New York at the moment. The prospect of touring somewhere where it’s currently summer is a very attractive one.”
The members of Deerhoof have been involved in various side projects throughout their career, such as instrumental group Gorge Trio and OneOne. “Initially, I didn’t like the idea of side projects, thinking that any idea could be encompassed and explored in what Deerhoof did as a musical entity,” explains Saunier. “I now understand and comprehend how there’s only a finite amount of music that you can make when you have the same set of people doing it. The side projects have definitely helped all of the members of Deerhoof grow as musicians. Also, the members of Deerhoof have moved away from San Francisco, our initial base, over the years. I live in New York at the moment. Those senses of geographical distance has definitely helped shape and change the band and their music.”
Another aspect that has influenced the constantly changing and mutating Deerhoof sound is working on film soundtracks with people such as director Justin Theroux. “I would love to do some film music if the opportunity arose again. A year ago, I did the soundtrack for a short animated film called Dolls Vs. Dictators. This was totally different from working with Theroux in that he was using existing Deerhoof music, and the music he was using also featured tracks from artists like Cat Power, Joanna Newsom & The Strokes, so it wasn’t a case of making music from scratch, as it was with Dolls Vs. Dictators,” says Saunier.
“What’s been really illuminating and enriching about doing soundtrack work is seeing the way music can really manipulate and shape emotional reaction. It’s still incredible the way that one scene from a film can have two completely different sets of feeling and emotion to them when paired with two highly contrasting types of music, say happy and sad as an example.”
The latest album Deerhoof Vs. Evil, their first for their new label Polyvinyl, was released a track a day online one week before its release. “This was a really great idea Polyvinyl had, to make following the release almost like an online treasure hunt. It also addresses how modern life is so busy and fast and that people sometimes don’t have time to listen to an album in full in one sitting,” says Saunier. “The decision to leave Kill Rock Stars was us trying to make new musical relationships. We had been with them sixteen years – it was a bit like the adolescent in us wanting to leave home and discover life on our own, outside a comfort zone. I really like some of the ideas that Polyvinyl have been coming up with in relation to Deerhoof.”
– Neil Evans
Deerhook top the lineup at Sugar Mountain Festival on January 14, 2012. Their own tour dates take in Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. We’re actually giving some tickets away for the Melbourne show!