Interview with Deerhoof: Less Is More

Who came up with the artwork concept?

David Shrigley is the person who did the art. He’s a Scottish artist, and we heard about him through the label in Germany that is releasing our music in Europe called Tomlab. They gave us a bunch of things that they put out and one of them was this thing by him called Worried Noodles, an album. Basically it’s a big, what looks like an album case and you open it up and pull out the insert and it’s just a book and an empty sleeve, and the book is full of his drawings and lyrics, but no music. (laughs) And we all just thought it was completely brilliant and really funny and related to his aesthetic. So when we were talking about ideas for album artwork, we all thought about asking him.

We sent him an early version of the music, and at the time we didn’t even have an album title and he helped us decide on the title, because we were kind of vacillating between a few different things. He then created a bunch of different pieces of art and asked us to choose and we liked all of them. (laughs) So we said maybe we should use all of them.

Your tour this time around seems to be bigger venues. Is that enjoyable for you guys?

To be truthful, some of them are bigger. In the places that we’ve played before I think some of them are bigger. But a lot of shows on this coming tour are places that we’ve never played before and will not be in super-big venues.

There’s an art to learning how to perform in different places, and I think music means different things in different places and it has everything to do with context. We’re constantly sort of struggling with that. It’s funny, in the fall we played a lot of big shows, and we came home and played a show at the Hemlock in San Francisco—which is like 100 capacity and it’s basically all friends—and I was more nervous for that than I was for any show in a while. (laughs)

When you first play at one of these bigger shows, a festival or something, it is extremely scary. But one of the things about it is that there’s a certain distance between you and the audience and you’re trying to bridge that distance. I think when going back to smaller venues it becomes almost more disorienting, because people are so close and there is no gap to bridge. And you’re just three feet away from everybody and it’s very strange. I really enjoy playing in any sized venue, basically. I think they all present their own challenges.

On this record, it seems as if there is a greater amount of space to it. The others, they seem to have a narrower band of space to them. Was that a consideration going in?

We made a very conscious effort to leave space on the record. Actually, it relates back to your question about bigger venues. Going to these big festivals and playing these larger places, one of the things you realize very quickly is that the sound can get out of your control very easily. You can have the sound on stage that you understand and is the sound that you’re used to playing with, but the sound it becomes when it leaves the stage is something else entirely, and one of the things that happens, obviously, is it can get very muddy and indistinct, sounds start to bleed into each other. One of the things we thought was: What can you do at places like this? I remember when we were at Coachella the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played, and one of the things that really amazed me about them was that their music actually sounded like they intended it to sound, even at that large scale. It didn’t sound like they were being pumped up into something that they didn’t want to sound like or it didn’t sound like a muddy mess, it actually sounded like their music, and it seemed that a large part of it, besides just the great songs, was the arrangements and the way they leave a lot of space in that music.

That, and we did a lot of the mixing for this when we were touring with Radiohead, and I don’t know if you could describe their music as sparse, though sometimes it is, but every sound is very carefully placed and there’s no fat there, everything is reduced to absolute essentials. We were shooting for something along those lines.

Everything’s related to each other. When Chris left the band, in the beginning of May, the first thing that we discovered when we were practicing as a trio again was ‘Wow, this sounds empty,’ and it was kind of scary, but at the same time it was exhilarating how much space there was there. Just in terms of sheer mass, there was one less instrument filling your mind. So one of the things we decided was, what would happen if we experimented with taking more things away, as opposed to trying to fill up all that space? And I think that idea carried itself into working on the album.

Friend Opportunity is available now. Deerhoof will be performing at Irving Plaza in NYC on Friday, Jan. 26 with Busdriver and Proton Proton. For more information, visit