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Deerhoof – Full Greg Saunier Q & A

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An article based on this interview appears in Beat Happening magazine.

Greg Saunier of San Francisco’s perma touring Deerhoof answers some questions on the eve of the release of their latest LP ‘Offend Maggie’.

Where and when was ‘Offend Maggie’ written? Was it an easy birth or a troubled conception?

Actually with us it’s always the other way around…an easy conception but a troubled birth. Getting the ideas for songs in the first place is like falling off a log, you know… stuff just pops into your head, and there it is! Even learning to play it isn’t so difficult, but recording it so that it sort of matches what was in your head in the first place, ooh that’s a tough one. Always takes a long time, and the more you work on it (we mix everything ourselves on computer) the easier it is to forget what your first idea actually was…

Who is Maggie and why do you wish to offend her? What’s the concept behind the album? ‘Friend Opportunity’ dealt a lot with personal relationships and the way they act, does ‘Offend Maggie’ continue this introvert theme or is it a more extrovert record?

The record is about offending Maggie but that doesn’t mean it’s Deerhoof doing the offending – we’re just telling the story you see. Not to cop out but I always hope that our records are both introvert and extrovert depending on when you listen to them. The best way to understand what the title is about is to hear the music, see the cover art, read the lyrics – each of them explains the rest of them…

Following the permanent addition of Ed (Rodriguez) how has the dynamic of the band shifted and how did his presence feed into the writing process?

Ed kind of unintentionally forced us to write and record more like a real band, instead of a collection of songwriters and their session musicians. We never recorded this way, even though it’s the usual way for bands – where we rehearsed the songs together at full volume for a couple months before we recorded anything, so that by the time the recording session happened, we were totally prepared and could play them all together instead of piecemeal and like a big experiment.

You released the sheet music for ‘Fresh Born’ following the Prospect Park Show, so people could record their own versions. What was the thinking behind this and what have been the best results?

I just thought it would be fun. It could be a neat way to get to know the song before you even heard the record. The surprise was that it turned out to be way more fun than I expected. So many people sent their recordings of it, and they really run the gamut of styles and approaches when you listen to them all. I’m more amazed than ever by our fans!

You’ve asked fans to vote for a cause to receive a portion of the profits from your digital sales. What was the genesis of this idea and how did you select the organisations on the list?

Well we always thought it made sense to donate some of our money but we just never were organized enough before, so this time we planned ahead. Part of it was that we wanted people to have at least a little bit of a feeling that the money they were spending wasn’t just disappearing into some sort of vague “music industry”, but could be traced to a specific destination that maybe was one they actually would be happy about anyway.

You’re coming back to play ATP again in December following on from your amazing appearance at the Release The Bats show last year. What can fans expect from the show and will there be any general changes to the way you approach this record live?

Oh you saw that? That was fun, Satomi made costumes. We’re playing University of London Union and it was set up by ATP (they are our label in the UK) but we aren’t playing ATP this time. Now that Ed is in the band we have two guitars so you can expect six more strings – that sounds like a joke now that I wrote it but it’s true, it sounds different when you can get that much going on in the guitar department.

The video from Tokyo of “The music and tears of love” is immense! How has the ‘Offend Maggie’ material been going down?

Real smooth. We’re lucky because since we’ve always changed our sound so much on the records, the people who come to our shows are very forgiving and don’t really expect one exact style or set of songs. They come to listen and a band couldn’t ask for anything more.

‘Friend Opportunity’ represented a more layered and experimental Deerhoof than ‘The Runners Four’ is ‘Offend Maggie a continuation of this?

Yeah, I agree FO was more layered although I’m not sure that made it more of an experiment. TR4 was most definitely a massive experiment as far as the experience of making it. So much so that it practically broke up the band, and actually ultimately did… So Offend Maggie was a little like TR4 because we worked so much of it out at full volume in the rehearsal studio (as opposed to on computer, or in our heads). But instead of recording the process of working it out, we worked it out first and then went and recorded it. I think it ends up sounding both more effortless and more like one of our live concerts as a result. But I could be wrong!

As an American band what are your views on the impending election in November? I read Gregs ‘Why Obama? essay and wondered if you were alarmed by the shift of momentum following Palin’s addition to the Republican ticket?

I expected it to be short-lived and it was short-lived. Palin’s extreme right wing views couldn’t be more different from mine but I have to admit that her popularity has a lot in common with Obama’s popularity, which is that people can relate to her (or him), much more so than to the average politician. I’ve already had friendships destroyed because of my political endorsements, not because anyone preferred McCain because they think it’s wack to endorse any presidential candidate. While I can understand the sentiment I have to disagree: One million dead Iraqis later, I do think a single presidential administration can wreak massive havoc and misery upon the world. All signs point to McCain being more extreme, not less, than Bush on his hawkish foreign policy.

In these days of Last FM, Youtube, Myspace, file sharing and the ilk how do you consume new music?

We tour a lot so actually I get to hear new music a lot on the plane. I’ve made so many massive musical discoveries that way. Recently I listened to Mavis Staples’ latest album “We Will Never Turn Back” and was moved to tears. So I bought it on iTunes when I got home. That’s pretty much it in the last couple of months. I really only listen to music about once every week or two. But I really love it when I do…

You have toured with some pretty diverse acts, if you could curate your own perfect one day festival who would play?

We are curating the perfect one-day festival! Should be happening in Kortrijk, Belgium next year. Problem is definitely not going to be coming up with ideas, the problem will be agreeing on any, we all like different music.

Where haven’t you played that you want to play before you’re done?

When you put it that way it’s scary – I don’t ever plan to be done. We might be going to India next year…

What do Deerhoof know that we don’t know?

Probably nothing – certainly not anything about how to be in Deerhoof. That continues to be a total mystery…



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