Interview with Deerhoof: Less Is More

DeerhoofIt happens from time to time. Things get dull in music. Everything new is a carbon copy of what you didn’t like a few months ago, positioned to stand out among the relative dearth of releases. Almost no vital signs. Every January is like this. Something has to rustle the entertainment business from its post- Christmas, itis-induced hibernation. This year, I’m happy to say it’s Deerhoof.

Friend Opportunity, the successor to 2005’s critical darling, The Runners Four, has just been released, and it’s yet another smiling creation, the seeming product of a wide-eyed wizard. Bubbly, yet carefully restrained, it follows the (il)logical progression the band’s tracked for the last few years.

Since May, John Dieterich (guitars), Satomi Matsuzaki (bass/vocals) and Greg Saunier (drums) have been operating as the Runners Three, so to speak. The departure of guitarist Chris Cohen has changed the band’s mindset a bit, as has the seemingly endless touring cycle the band has been on.

This album was recorded in your bedroom? How’d that work out?

Dieterich: It worked out great. For simplicity’s sake we decided to do it. Greg’s been using this electronic drum set, to record only. We got this very minimal three-piece electronic set that play and it doesn’t make too much sound. So it was possible to do it here, and I would run my guitar direct into the computer and Satomi would run her bass direct into the computer. And that’s how we recorded all of it.

For certain things, we went back later. Sometimes we would take a guitar track from a song and later run it through some amplifiers or something, but a lot of it is just through whatever software we’ve got.

Were you actually writing the songs in the bedroom as well?

Kind of. Everybody had song ideas that they had in varying degrees of completion. We got together and we worked out arrangements and things like that while we were together. The exception to that in some way was ‘Look Away,’ the last track, written for a live soundtrack to a movie by Harry Smith in the end of April. It was for the San Francisco International Film Festival, so that material was already written, but it was written for two guitars, but Chris, obviously, was out of the band, so I ended up recording all of it, all the guitars myself.

A lot of this record alternates between keyboard- driven parts and then guitar-driven sections. Was that a concern for live play?

(laughs) Yes, absolutely. When we started thinking about the tour, we were all kind of panicking, because there are all these thick harmonies that are either totally impossible or tendonitis inducing numbers of notes and it was definitely a concern. And we have gone back and forth as to whether we should add another person. But, basically, my feeling is that this trio thing is new for us again, and I feel like there’s a lot more exploration to do with it. And so we’re trying to pull everything off, we’ve actually been rehearsing the last few days, and we’ll see how it goes. (laughs) It is tricky.

There are certain songs that, for the moment, we are not going to be able to perform live, but maybe eventually we’ll come up with versions.