SXSW 2015: Greg Saunier, Drummer of Deerhoof talks with KTSW

By Tafari Robertson
Music Reviewer

Deerhoof performing at Wonderland. Photo by Tafari Robertson
Deerhoof performing at Wonderland. Photo by Tafari Robertson

I’m Tafari Robertson here with Greg from Deerhoof at SXSW 2015. 

I want to talk to you a little bit about how do you transition between your setting recording versus putting together your live show?

When we record or when we write songs and record them we always think “oh well lets think about what we just did on this last tour and what was really fun. What kind of song worked? What song did people like to sing along with or dance along with? Let’s make some more of those.” So the intention is always to try and use this vast wealth of knowledge that we acquire on tour. However, it never actually works out that way. Our intention is always to make this record that’s totally easy to play live and is just going to go straight to the stage with no change but always it’s like… I think maybe this last record was the closest we’ve ever gotten to where it was kind of live when we recorded it.

Can you talk to me about what went into writing your last record and how it was different from your other albums?

We wanted to actually make something that was kind of like a tribute to Jimmy Jam. This kind of certain late 80’s, early 90’s over-produced pop records and make really dance-able songs, a very sing-along kind of thing. We went to Ed, our guitar player’s house and we were practicing in his basement trying to get the songs ready and decided to just record rough rehearsal demos to send to the guy who was going to be our producer; this guy, Nick Sylvester. He’s amazing. We were super looking forward to working with him but then we start recording these demos and it’s like, “ Oh actually this sounds good. We’ll just keep this.” So everything on the record is just live in his basement. So it ended up being the exact opposite of Jimmy Jam.

It was the most un-electronic… but still, even though we were actually playing it all together in one room like it was a live show it’s actually not exactly the same doing a record live and being on stage live because what we liked about the energy playing the songs live in Ed’s basement was we were just figuring them out, like somebody hit something on their instrument just for the first time like they discovered it in that moment and that’s what’s on the record and then that’s what we went and learned to play live but when we do it live it’s like, now we’ve been on tour since November and 5 months of playing the songs, they start to get like my shoes, very well worn in, very comfortable and you can push them and stretch them and the songs turn out totally different every day and so the record, I almost think of it like that’s the score. This is the abstract ideal version of the songs with nothing stretched or improvisational about it. We try to make the songs very simple so that we can do a lot with them. This song could be a fast song or it could be a ballad. It could be going all over the place. It could get stretched in this section if we feel like it.

You mentioned trying to go for a Jimmy Jam feel on this last album can you talk to me about your influences in terms of specific bands overall?

That would be difficult. I think that not only if you talk to other musicians but frankly if any other music fan- really if you talk to anybody period – they might have a hard time giving you an answer to that question because who among us nowadays doesn’t hear such an overwhelmingly enormous range of music. I feel like it’s an effort to avoid music. That’s my goal, it’s to stop listening to music, to stop having to hear it. So when we’re not on tour I love being at home. I don’t have a stereo; I don’t turn anything on, just silence.

I mean, I’m joking but it is kind of a thing where you really immerse yourself super deeply into really loud music and it does influence you and that’s wonderful but you can’t cash in on that unless you then have an equal period of time where it’s dead silent and then you can hear what your own internal imagination has done with that. It’s like a dream at night; you can’t get any sleep if there’s noise happening all the time and dreams are very similar to just imagination or writing songs. If you’re trying to find good melodies inside your head then you want to — I don’t know – I always feel like I’ve got to have quiet time

Satomi, lead singer of Deerhoof. Photo by Tafari Robertson
Satomi, lead singer of Deerhoof. Photo by Tafari Robertson

You guys have been a band since the mid 90’s or so can you tell me about how you formed and how that got started?

We started the day that Kurt Cobain died in 1994, the anniversary of which is coming up I think and that’ll be 21 years. My friend and I, he’s not even in the band anymore, this guy, Rob, he’s an incredible musician and artist. He and I started it when we were playing in kind of a grunge band at the time and we were started coming to rehearsal an hour early, just the two of us, and do free improvisation because we both had started to get into this idea that we wanted to do that and then the grunge band broke up pretty soon after that. So Rob and I carried on as a duo and pretty soon we realized we were both terrible singers when we were trying to play at the same time.

Then we found Satomi and she’d never done any music in her life and never been in a band. She was just off the boat from Japan a week before and had no idea what to do, she was looking for friends and she joined the band. I mean, she had the perfect voice for what we were doing because our music sounded just like noise and she sang in this very pure, very plain style and just really hit the melody and I’ve never wished for a moment that we had another singer in 20 years.

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