Deerhoof bring new album Breakup Song to Ottobar
Published: November 7, 2012
Deerhoof’s first record, 1997’s The Man, The King, and the Girl was a noisy improvisational explosion contrasted with singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s cheery voice. The next, 1999’s Holdypaws, was totally different: Matsuzaki taught herself how to play bass and the band recorded tight pop songs with no improvisation. And so, the San Francisco-based band’s career has gone: Twelve album over 15 years, each a vast departure from the last, with band members often taking turns with various instruments. In 2008, they released the sheet music to “Fresh Born” and invited fans to record it—many did, and the recordings were, in turn, interpreted in the version of the song on Offend Maggie.
The band’s latest album, Breakup Song, is a cheery meditation on the typically morose genre of the title, with moments both noisy and lithe.
Their Nov. 13th show at the Ottobar with City Paper’s 2012 best band Dope Body is an excellent chance to check them out. We chatted with drummer and co-founder Greg Saunier to get the scoop. ()
City Paper: How have the shows been going?
Greg Saunier: Our last shows were in Japan. They were incredible. In Japan, everything revolves around J-Pop, which is almost always sung by these really young singers, usually in groups, and it’s all manufactured by a producer. One group like that that’s really popular now is called ABC Middle School or something, and it’s like ten 13-year-old girls with a backing track. That was our opening band in out first Tokyo show. Huge place, 1500 or so people were there, and then Deerhoof played.
This is the kind of show that’s very exciting for me. I always feel like what we do is pop music. The opening act was so incredibly loud and the voices are so piercing, so almost abrasive with all of them screaming in the microphone at the same time, singing the same melody sorta like cheerleader stuff, it’s very strident. I feel like there’s nothing about this that is in any way less harsh than what we play. We play harsh music, we play noise music, but I think it’s just on par with other pop music. It’s always new, it’s always avant garde, it’s always crazy, it’s always trying to push buttons, and it’s always trying to provoke.
CP: Do have an explanation why every one of your albums sounds so different from the last one?
GS: It kind of started by accident, that we were indecisive and didn’t know what we wanted to do. Our very first album from the mid-90s, if you listen to it, every song is completely different from the next. One will be nothing but pure noise, another will be some really slow improv thing that last like seven minutes, then some really fast punk song, then a power ballad, then a really poppy song with organs or something. It’s like throwing darts blindly, having no idea what our style should be.
The next album, we said, “No noise, no more improv. We’re gonna write these pop songs, we’re gonna play it totally straight.” That sort of set us up. It was just indecision and confusion on our part. But the first two albums were so different from each other that, then, the more people heard about us and heard our music were expecting that we would completely change course every time that we set out to make something. So that’s what started happening. Over time we realized that it doesn’t help—it doesn’t help us anyway—to become more professional at what we do. It’s more about doing something that you don’t quite know how to do and trying to create those light-bulb moments. It makes the records so much about the lightning striking that the thrill really comes from that.
CP: How do you decide which direction to go with each album?
GS: We do discuss it. We were casting around for ideas at the beginning. One person was convinced we should be doing tropical calypsos, another person is just 100 percent sure that Cajun music is definitely the way to go this time. This record I was sure that what we should do—and I couldn’t convince my bandmates—is a kind of revival of the period in early ’80s when metal had broken into the top-40, and the Scorpions, and early Motley Crüe, maybe Def Leppard, Judas Priest had one or two hits. Really poppy, really melodic. That’s where I learned how to play drums.
What usually happens is we discuss it a lot, and then once we start recording, the result is always completely wrong. The person who intended to make tropical calypso misses that entirely. My band consists of four people who are unable to do imitations.
CP: What kind of planning went in to the new album?
GS: Sometimes hearing some music, seeing a movie, reading a book can give me something that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It gives me some inspiration. That’s something that we were thinking a lot when we made this most recent record, Breakup Song. We were trying to make music that you could use, as a person. Music that does make you feel inspired, that makes you feel like you have more energy than you thought you had, a little bit playful, maybe kind of sassy.
It’s just such a weird thing that the genre of breakup songs is almost always sad songs, basically, stuff that, if you just had a breakup, this’ll make you feel worse. We wanted to make something that would make you feel better, that would make you feel strong.
CP: Was it inspired by any particular break-up or break-ups?
GS: Yes and no. Everybody has gone through it many times, it’s an almost universal experience for people, whether or not any one of us is going through that at that exact moment, all four of us knew what that feels like. So, thinking back to those times, this is what we thought would help. Basically, that’s our contribution to the breakup song genre.
Deerhoof, Dope Body, Liam Finn, and Formica Man play Ottobar Nov. 13th at 8:30 p.m.
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