In the gloriously lo-fi world of Deerhoof, music can be fashioned out of anything and recorded anywhere. For more than two decades, the San Francisco-bred band has promoted a fiercely indie sound out of punk, hip-hop, electronics, R&B and just about every generational pop sound available through sessions cut in basements, living rooms and, on occasion, even a proper recording studio.
What results is music as purposely unclassifiable as it is transient in terms of radical shifts in style and texture. In short, the music of Deerhoof is built for change. That’s also the thinking behind the band’s newest album, The Magic, a work assembled from an overabundance of songs from each of the four members and cut during recording sessions held in an abandoned office building in a New Mexico desert.
“Ultimately, we’re pretty project-based,” said John Dieterich, co-guitarist for Deerhoof since 1999. “When we got together for this album, we had done a lot of talking, a lot of arguing. ‘What are we doing? Why are we making a record? Should we even be making a record?’ That kind of thing. So it wasn’t so much about personal taste. We do have varied tastes and that sort of thing, but we’ve been playing together long enough that they don’t play that huge of a role.
“It’s one of these things where someone might say, ‘Wow, I really don’t get this, but if it’s serving the larger narrative of what we’re trying to make, let’s roll with it.’ We’re definitely critical of each other, but there are also times where we defer a little bit. It’s like, ‘I’ll trust you on this one and we’ll see what happens.’”
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Much of The Magic revolves around quirky, homemade pop expression fronted by the equally askew vocals of bassist Satomi Matsuzaki and the fragmented surges of melody and groove implemented by Dieterich, co-guitarist Ed Rodriguez and drummer/band co-founder Greg Saunier.
But one of the album’s more fascinating moments comes from a trippy electronic melange out of which sprouts Matsuzaki singing the Ink Spots’ 1941 pop hit I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.
“Satomi brought in this piece of electronic music that we all thought was incredible,” Dieterich said. “At the same, Greg presented the idea of covering I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire, so those were two completely independent ideas. We were sitting listening to the demos in my living room when Greg was like, ‘Wait a second. What if we combined those two ideas into one song?’
“A lot of ideas come about that way. There is some strange connection in doing things that seem unrelated. It’s like an arbitrary decision that forces you to be creative. It forces you to approach the material in a fresh way, either for yourself or for the band, to push yourself or push the material in a direction that maybe it wouldn’t naturally go. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, it came out incredibly cool.”
Touring behind The Magic represents a kind of rebirth for Deerhoof. Burned out from years of successive touring and recording, the quartet took an extended break between completion of the record and its release in June.
“A lot of our time has been spent together and touring. So in that process, we developed a shared understanding. You become a unit that’s almost impossible to describe. Put us in a room and some weird hybrid thing happens. But there is also the matter of grinding each other down through exposure to each other. That’s the classic-rock band thing that happens.
“Basically, people spend all day every day in a van until they can’t take it anymore. There was just one gig too many or that funny quirk that you just couldn’t take anymore. Then the band explodes. We were fried. When we finished recording at the end of November, we made a decision to take some time off.
“It’s like any other long-term relationship. There are unclear signals and just a lot of misunderstanding. For me, getting back together was ... well, I was very nervous about it. I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel. ‘Are we still going to be able to play music?’ But I have to say, it was 100 percent easy. We’re having more fun together than we’ve ever had. It’s fantastic.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com