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Interview with Greg Saunier of Deerhoof

photo: David Garland
(photo by David Garland)

Deerhoof is expected to play in front of one of its largest Minneapolis crowds when the band returns to the city tomorrow, playing the main stage at First Avenue. In preparation for the show Culture Bully’s Chris DeLine caught up with the band’s Greg Saunier to discuss the band’s new album Offend Maggie, Henry Rollins and playing to an audience of Kiss fans.

Chris DeLine: In preparation for the release of Offend Maggie the band offered sheet music online for the single “Fresh Born,” encouraging musicians to submit their own renditions of the song. How did you come up with this unique method of interacting with fans? Do you think we’ll see more and more of these sort of promotions as bands continue to build on online presence?

Greg Saunier: Funny you should ask – looks like Oasis is now doing the same thing and claiming to be innovative trendsetters. I don’t mind actually, I think it’s a nice idea and I’m glad if other people are picking up on it. It actually wasn’t my first choice for a pre-release promotion… I was pestering everyone with some email brainstorms a couple of months ago and tried to suggest that we try to get people to do some remixes of the songs and release a remix album before the real album even came out. At the end of the email I mentioned in passing that if that didn’t work maybe we could just put up the sheet music for one of the songs. Well everyone ignored my remix suggestion and wanted to do the sheet music. It turned out great, so much better than I ever expected. Over forty people uploaded their own versions of the song and they are all so different, I really love what people did with it.

CD: When I first heard Friend Opportunity I thought that the album was a step towards accessibility for the band; it was still funky and raw, but it was a bit of a departure from The Runners Four. With Offend Maggie I hear a continued progression away from what might be referred to as “classic Deerhoof.” Is this continual shift just a part of making music or has there ever been a concerted effort to push Deerhoof’s sound in a certain direction?

GS: Actually I’ve always tried to make Deerhoof sound accessible, whatever that means. I always wanted to make something that people would like. I appreciate your question but I guess to me there isn’t any such thing as classic Deerhoof, since every record sounds pretty different from the next. The first two might be the most different from each other out of all of them, they are almost totally opposite musically. Even if there is such a thing as “classic Deerhoof” I doubt we would know how to do it…

CD: I’ve long since been fascinated by the album art on Deerhoof records (the multiple covers for “Friend Opportunity” especially), “Offend Maggie” being no different. In the liner notes the drawings are credited to Tomoo Gokita, an artist who has a vast collection of fantastic work available for viewing online. How important is it to have memorable artwork associated with an album?

GS: Well we’ve been very lucky to be able to collaborate with artists we really like over the years. It all started with Rob, who founded the band. For him Deerhoof was fifty percent music and fifty percent visual art, and he always put so much care into the record covers, our fliers, our posters, anything he worked on. He’s really still my favorite. But he set the tone for the band and even after he quit we still try not to fall below his standard.

CD: Henry Rollins recently said of the band, “They do what a band should do. They do a thing and they keep reinventing the thing. You scratch your head and wonder ‘How did they pull that off?’” How do these sorts of accolades resonate with you?

GS: To me his comment isn’t just one of a “sort”. He is a unique person and a longtime influence on Deerhoof so this comment is very special and much appreciated. Any of us bands that travel the underground touring circuit are just following in the footprints created by Black Flag.

(editorial note: Henry Rollins is pretty much Chris’ idol)

CD: On October 14 you’ll be headed my way, playing First Avenue with Experimental Dental School an AU. How did the bands come to teaming up for the tour?

GS: Oh we are very excited too. John and Ed both used to live in Minneapolis and have been to so many shows at First Avenue, it’s legendary. We’ve played the Entry before and peeked into First Avenue, but this is our first time playing there. That was a pretty funny night actually. It was Patti Smith at First Avenue, Deerhoof at 7th St Entry, and a triple bill of Kiss/Ted Nugent/Skid Row at the big arena across the street, don’t remember the name. Well it turned out that Kiss’s plane got grounded in Chicago due to bad weather, so their concert was canceled totally last-minute. The sidewalks were teeming with tons of very confused-looking dudes in Ace Frehley face paint, and some of them ended up at our show…

Deerhoof “Offend Maggie” [MP3]

Also: Deerhoof “Friend Opportunity” Review


    I know that you wrote this review about a year ago, but upon stumbling across this review i felt compelled to respond.

    deerhoof are a disturbing lot, not because they are particularly “radical,” (they are not) or what not, but because they could not be more anti-music if they tried. they despise melody, rhythm, and although saunier can boast of being a classically trained musician, one is left to wonder if he left music school because he couldn’t hack it, or if was because his hatred of music became internalized.

    deerhoof continues down the post modern spiral of nihilism, and belches up tunes that are a mockery of melody. in a sense, they are the perfect sound track for the age. the era where what is good is discarded, and beauty is mocked and trampled under foot. instead of dreams, or impressions, we live in an artistic era of hyper-realism, that is neither a reflection of the truth, nor a critique of it.
    in deer hoof we have un-distilled reductionism, where music reduced to its basest components, and all but the skeleton remains. the time signatures are jarring and psychotic, and the melodies are non-existent. in truth, the singer can’t sing, and of course saunier held this up to be a virtue. a singer who can’t sing and no songs are there to be sung anyway.
    of course deerhool is a “cool” band. they have a loyal following of artistically stunted and disheveled masses, who hear bland tunes such as “panda, panda” as a backdrop to their ever bland and artless lives. deer hoof is obscurantist in the extreme, and when one really delves beneath the surface one discovers that the emperor is indeed wearing no clothes. this is just another indier-than-thou band that creates sonic nightmares that are the musical equivalent of a five year old’s crayon drawing. and like the five year old’s crappy crayon drawing, you are obliged to leave it hanging on the fridge door til time immemorial. with deerhoof one must not admit that this band sucks terribly, lest one be cast out of the cult of the “cool,” where originality is daily massacred, and the group-think is alive and well.

  • hmm, you sound rather upset about something and taking it out on poor ol’ deerhoof.
    i’m personally not a big fan of their earlier recordings and only like runners four and onwards (friend opportunity is my favourite). i don’t like them for any hipster indie cred as i don’t have many friends at all into music let alone ‘indie’ music. don’t listen to much other current indie music myself and have no interest in any cult of cool so don’t paint everyone with the same brush.

  • Still in reply to Magnolia :

    in my opinion you couldn’t be further of the mark. To me Deerhoof plays some of the freshest melodies and rhythms this side of the millenium.

    You might be confusing beauty with ‘melodies I can understand or at least refer a bit to a structure we know from the past’. Deerhoof’s goal (to me) seems a bit to make something new and beautiful out of tiny particles of the past. But to achieve this bliss, casualties have to be made and in this case more formal melodies have to be killed in order to achieve this level of “five year old’s crappy crayon drawing” as you call it (which by the way is the level for instance a acceptably talented painter as Picasso aimed to achieve, at only reached after his 40-ies). What’s wrong with the creativity of a 5-year old by the way ? And do you think a 5-year old could play like Greg Saunier ?

    And as for dishevelled kids : I’m mid-thirties and live in Belgium, how’s that for indie hipness :) ?

    You just don’t like Deerhoof but maybe you’re expecting something from them they don’t want to give, although I’m pretty sure they could play (write?) a mean Satisfaction if they really, really wanted to. They just don’t want or need to I guess :D !

    I’m sorry if this felt like a rant but I’m a bit taken aback by the fact that one of the few bands that give me a total musical energy boost these days, get slashed for the very thing that makes them great…

  • I’m pretty sure that Mangolia just doesn’t understand what melody means, what rhythm is, or what music is for that matter. And I could be wrong, but I’d guess that Greg “left” music school (one of the best music school’s in the country for that matter) because he graduated…not because he couldn’t hack it.

    The song used as an example of this “anti-music” is Panda, which is all about the jarring rhythm, but then releases into a melodic “break down” almost. Building and releasing tension is one of Deerhoof’s greatest strengths, in my opinion, especially when they play live. So I suppose if you don’t enjoy tension in your music, you would have more trouble enjoying Deerhoof, but it has nothing to do with Anti-music, or lack of melody and rhythm.

    Bands can maybe get some minor acclaim because people feel pressured to like them or be deemed un-cool, but it’s impossible to build the fan base and respect that Deerhoof has achieved without legitimately resonating with folks

    And I won’t even get into your mis-application of “reductionism” or your general mis-understanding of post-modern theory.

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