Interview: Deerhoof: “It’s a tough game, making hipster music…”

Deerhoof: “It’s a tough game, making hipster music…”

Deerhoof’s newest record is as predictably unpredictable as you’d hope.

Saying that Deerhoof like to experiment is like dramatically crying out that the sky is blue. After all, if there’s one thing that the band have managed to perfect over their last eleven albums, it’s their penchant for all things outside of the musical box. With their newest effort - their twelfth full-length - that’s no different, but as the band’s Greg Saunier points out, there were a few changes of plan when it came to ‘La Isla Bonita’…

“Our intention with this record,” Greg begins to explain, “was to make the most slick record we could. That was our plan; overproduction, an homage to Jimmy Jam producing Janet Jackson. Slick, sheen, avant garde, decadent music. I was like, ‘We’re quitting this DIY nonsense, we’ve had enough’.” Somewhere along the way, their ideas changed. Having crammed themselves into guitarist Ed Rodriguez’s basement in Portland and began work on a series of rough-and-ready demos to lure in their production hopes. 

“We were just making rough demos to send to the producer to make this slick record,” confirms Saunier, “but by the end of the ten days we’d come up with this concept we liked more – of using the demos, the most rough, trashy thing we’ve ever done. [It was] the complete opposite, but it just ended up being the record.”

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“Deerhoof records don’t really progress from one to the next, we just start over from scratch again.”

Greg Saunier

After having to stretch themselves between four separate cities during the initial stages of making of ‘Deerhoof vs Evil’ - “We’re all living in different cities” - it seemed as though with their reunion in Rodriguez’s house brought some advantages. “He’s got this space in his basement,” he starts. “Well, there’s no space. It’s a tiny little box. For ten days straight, [we were] absolutely in each other’s faces, and you’d think we’d be at each other’s throats, but we were just cracking up and having the best time playing in there. The fact we lived in different cities worked in our favour - when we’re in the same place together we’d be like, ‘I’ll see you in a few hours, or a few days’. This was the summer camp situation. We needed each other to entertain ourselves, but more than that it was the result of us trying stuff at full volume, and recording that way too. Then,” he refers back to the producer they were hoping to originally use, “at the end of the ten days were we like, ‘Er, sorry, we just made the record!’”

As Saunier concludes, it’s that sense of unpredictability and ease of wandering into the unknown that’s kept each of their records feeling unique. “Deerhoof records don’t really progress from one to the next, we just start over from scratch again. It feels like every new record is our debut as whatever band we’re pretending to be at that moment. They’re not a sequence, it’s not like they’re not related to each other but each record is trying to erase the one the came before it.  

“When we set out to do something on a record, the way it turns out is something else completely. If I’m honest it’s a little bit intentional, if i think about examples in music history - David Bowie or something - acts that reinvent themselves, they’re great role models for us. For us it’s a tool for longevity, which is hard to do in a trendy music world. Our strategy is, if it seems like a music writer is about to figure out what we do, we better contradict it as soon as possible so that writer is confused again.”

“It’s a tough game, making hipster music,” he concludes, on really seizing the opportunity whenever it comes the band’s way. “When you’re making a new record, there’s no guarantee people are going to hear it. You never know when people will be like, ‘Sorry, you’re done’. The only thing that’s ever worked for us is to remember we’ve been given the gift to make a new record, so let’s go wild, [do] the craziest thing we can think of and assume it will bomb. We don’t feel any responsibility, it’s always just a last hoorah. I think, ‘what would we want our swan song to be?’ A celebration. We love to tour with younger bands, to show them how fun it can be with the mindset that every show might be your last.”

Taken from the November issue of DIY, out now. Interview: Louise Mason.  Deerhoof’s new album ‘La Isla Bonita’ is out now via Upset The Rhythm.