Devo, Stars, Descendents and the Pharcyde will be hitting Toronto June 13-19…
- Posted on Jun 14th 2011 1:30PM by Richard Trapunski
You're on your eleventh album now. Do you have to make an effort never to get too comfortable?
So far, in seventeen years, we've never been in the danger zone there. It's always uncomfortable. It's awkward; people are sensitive; it's hard to make revisions. A person's most secret ambitions, imaginations, desires, musical fantasies, brainstorms and risky ideas are the things that we're making the band out of, so it's really easy for it all to go wrong. The nature of doing anything semi-artistic, you're not risking life and death, but you're exposing some private part of yourself, and that can be grueling.
You just got back from the first leg of the 'Congotronics Vs. Rockers' Tour. What's that all about?
We're performing as part of a bigger group with members of Konono N°1 and Kasai Allstars from the Congo, along with Juana Molina, Wildbirds and others. There's a YouTube video out there of us that I think looks really good, but I remember how it felt. That was the first song of the first show, so it was basically all 19 of us completely freaking out. We were total strangers a week earlier, and none of the people from the Congo spoke a word of English, so there was like a week of ten-hour rehearsals with no one in charge. My French improved drastically over that week just in an effort to try and make some connections to people.
Was it tough to coordinate?
It was incredibly challenging. We really had no idea what we were doing, nothing to go on, no set of rules to follow for how do you do a band like this. There were also huge cultural gaps. Different people were coming from completely different ideas of what music ought to sound like. By the end of the week, we had all bonded so much that it felt like we had become each other's best friends. It felt like much longer than it was because the experience of it was so huge. I'm really looking forward to seeing the whole gang again when we get out on tour again in a couple of weeks.
Is the music all worked out beforehand or is it mostly improvised?
We aren't in music school. That division exists in the classroom only, or maybe in a certain kind of Western classical music, but the other 99 percent of music on planet Earth falls somewhere in between. In the moment, you aren't really thinking about whether or not it's been worked out. We've started to develop this group communication that can develop when groups of people start playing music together. Someone will look across the stage, or someone will tap their toe or raise an eyebrow in a certain way that signals something else. None of it has ever really been explained in words.
Is it that far out of your usual realm? Deerhoof has always seemed willing to incorporate non-western influences.
I appreciate you saying that, and even though I can't necessarily disagree I have to say that it's rarely a conscious effort on our part to divide the world into western and non-western music. We're not very good at doing impressions. Any influences that we try to incorporate always end up so convoluted and disorganized that they come out sounding like something else entirely. It's hard enough to sort out a song idea in a way that all four of us can agree on, let alone the rest of the world of music.
You've mentioned that the four of you come from very different musical perspectives and backgrounds. Is it hard to reconcile that into one body of music?
It does feel that way sometimes, but in the end it works out. I shouldn't say "the end" because the band hasn't ended, but if we finish a recording of a song it usually reaches some kind of temporary resolution. But then when we go out on tour it's like any of those songs are suddenly up for grabs again. A lot of the songs on the newest record, 'Deerhoof Vs. Evil,' have way too many instruments on them, way beyond anything we can do with just four of us onstage. Rather than take volunteers from the audience to play the synthesizer parts or something, we try to figure out stripped-down arrangements that we can do with just the regular old two guitars, bass, drums kind of setup.
It seems like the songs are always being changed and revised. Is that what's behind your new split seven-inch series in which outside artists record new vocals on songs from 'Deerhoof Vs. Evil'?
That started by mistake, actually, as do so many things in our band. For several years we'd talked about wanting to do a collaboration with Busdriver, this rapper from L.A. who's a good friend of ours. I had some instrumental Deerhoof tracks that I thought would be perfect for him to sing over, but I accidentally sent him a rough mix of one of the songs from 'Deerhoof Vs. Evil,' which at the time hadn't been released yet. Before I even realized my mistake, like on the same day, he'd already written and recorded vocals for this song. And I didn't have the heart to tell him ... "Let's start over," so we decided to release it. It was our label, Polyvinyl, that had the idea of turning it into a series.
Is that project ongoing?
Yes. We've got one coming out pretty soon with Jeff Tweedy from Wilco singing over one of our songs. And he actually took the exact vocal melody and the same lyrics that Satomi [Matsuzaki] sang, but did it with his very recognizable voice. The song he did is called 'Behold a Marvel in the Darkness.' I was kind of thinking of Wilco when I wrote that, so it was really kind of amazing to have him actually sing over it. The acoustic guitars and sort of relaxed mid-tempo feel really works with his vocals, and I think it turned out beautifully.
Is it uncanny to hear one of your songs reinterpreted in such a slight way?
Sometimes you get too close to something and somebody else can see the real meaning better than you can. It's kind of amazing to think that something you created has a life even beyond you. It's also like a sneaky way for me to be a detective about some of the musicians I admire. I get to find out how they work and see what their creative process is. That's a rare treat for me.
Deerhoof play the Phoenix on Thursday, June 16 @ 10 pm