Alibi V.24 No.45 • Nov 5-11, 2015 

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Deerhoof’s Fever Dream

Live album, Burque gig bring band full circle

Deerhoof (L-R): Satomi Matsuzaki, John Dieterich, Ed Rodriquez and Greg Saunier
Deerhoof (L-R): Satomi Matsuzaki, John Dieterich, Ed Rodriquez and Greg Saunier
Joe Singh
Late in the day, with press-time looming and autumn everywhere, I got word that John Dieterich of the band Deerhoof, wanted to chat. The lauded experimental sound outfit’s been working on FEVER 121614, a live album to be pushed out into the world at the end of November. I wanted to hear all about it.

Dieterich calls Albuquerque home, so it wasn’t difficult tracking him down. When we finally interfaced the next day, we spent some time talking about music as a living force, the static nature of recording, improvisation as a key function and the future of performance—among other interesting things inimitably related to an ensemble that continues to defy categorization. Our conversation went something like this:

“Dude, believe it or not I wanna ask you some questions. They’re gonna be about Deerhoof.” Dietrich thought that was funny and proceeded to tell how the group of four musicians (Dieterich, Satomi Matsuzaki, Ed Rodriquez and Greg Saunier) ended up in Japan as their tour supporting the recording La Isla Bonita came to a close the previous fall, with winter approaching. “On December 16 of last year”, he explained, “Deerhoof played in this club called Fever in Tokyo. Our Japanese label wanted to record the show and release the results. Greg (Saunier) mixed it and it sounds great. Less than half of it is work from Isla Bonita, the rest is a smattering of stuff from our other albums.”

Curiously—for a band with such prolific output—the list of live dates related to this new interpretation of Deerhoof’s work is limited to four precious gigs. Besides dates in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Tucson, the group will be playing at Sister (407 Central NW) on Sunday, Nov. 8. The downtown Burque show will be their last for just a little while. Dieterich explained, “We had a super busy year and we’re going to take a long stretch off, for like 300,000 years. It's not really gonna be that long, but at least for a few months we are all going to do other things.”

I wondered what John was going to do during the epoch of Deerhoof's inactivity and so I asked him about that. He said, “We're working on an album as well, but we don't know exactly when we're shooting to release it. I'm picking those guys up at the Sunport tonight, so I'll let you know when we figure that part out. We'll work on it a little while before the tour, then after the Albuquerque date, everybody goes home. We'll get as much done as we can here in Burque and then we'll keep working separately.”

As our conversation continued, Dieterich told me he didn't know how the new record was going to differ from La Isla Bonita, but that hopes were high for new directions because “something clicked in our playing this year. We've been touring a lot and I felt that we were hitting on something; we've been playing better than before as a unit. The songs were getting more and more malleable; they were open to us playing and improvising within them. That element of improvisatory tendencies is something we want to push and keep exploring. I think that's the trick; obviously recorded media is dead by its very nature. So bringing life to that medium is tricky.”

Paradise Girls by Deerhoof

Wait a minute I thought, is John trying to imply that (gasp) the recording industry is dead? I also wondered if he meant that, in order to continue as a vital musical force, performance was an imperative for rocanrollers? So I asked him to clarify. He set my wistful tangentialism back on track thus: “August, the way you interpreted that is also probably true, but the way I actually meant it has to do with the nature of recording. Once you set something down, it's not going to improvise on its own, it’s something that becomes static. Bringing that static force to life is an essential process for us. One thing that's special about a live performance—and this is something we've thought about a lot and why we're so happy to do a live album—is that all these special things happen, things that are never going to happen again. Funny interactions with the audience or maybe one of us goes out on some instrumental tangent, those sorts of occurrences make music vital and real. That's what gives Deerhoof its meat.”

“That's a trick with a studio album, especially if you've been obsessing about it for months. It can be hard and you lose perspective about what brings life to something,” Dieterich continued before digging deeper into the roots of the musical techniques that are at the heart of Deerhoof. “It's a big part of all of us. When Satomi joined the band 20-plus years ago, she had never played in a band or thought of herself as a musician. She saw Greg and Rob (Fisk) improvising through all this noise and was like, 'They don't even know what they're doing; I can do this.' There's that element in all of us. The first band I played in with Ed was all about free improvisation.”

Dieterich views this underlying aesthetic as a force that's been a constant influence on the content and direction of Deerhoof, even as the band constantly changes and evolves. “The things that have changed have been the result of our own interests shifting and us learning stuff. The first couple of records were recorded on 4-track, doing the best with a limited medium. The aesthetic was very noisy and you don't have a lot of control. We have a lot more control now. We've learned how to record ourselves in different ways that are more Hi-Fi. The trick is to train yourself to limit yourself; in the past you were limited and had to make the best of that condition. In terms of the trajectory of the band, that's important. By playing our recorded music live we tend to discover what we like and don't like about certain songs in a concert situation. How we interact with the audience through our music is key. We want to create a situation where there's a conversation going on. That's something that's invigorating for us and for our listeners. We're shooting for people to be energized by what we do, to hopefully be inspired.”

We Do Parties by Deerhoof

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