Deerhoof: In the Headlights
The influential SF band launches tour in Omaha.
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
I don’t know if Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, the mastermind behind the art-damaged band that has stoked the flame of indie’s more adventurous musicians, is telling the truth or bullshitting when he responds to the question: “Who have you always wanted to collaborate with?”
His answer: “Keith Richards!”
But it’s not such a surprise when you consider — like Richards and the Rolling Stones — how influential Deerhoof’s music has been.
Odd, quirky, adventurous and never boring, Deerhoof’s sound melds rock, jazz, classical and noise to create a hybrid that’s as disturbing and unusual as it is catchy and beautiful. The band has been cited as aninfluence by an army of today’s most creative musicians, including Sleigh Bells, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Of Montreal, The Flaming Lips, Fiery Furnaces, Sufjan Stevens and St. Vincent. Locally, Deerhoof’s influence can be heard shining through on UUVVWWZ’s debut album. It’s the San Francisco band’s habit of taking a melody in the most unpredictable directions that has made it a touchstone for other artists searching for their own voices.
Saunier said he doesn’t mind when Deerhoof is name checked. “Are you kidding?” he said. “Flattery will get you everywhere. We never thought we’d be a touchstone for anything. And anyway, it’s not just journalists – I’ve had musicians tell me that Deerhoof has been an inspiration to them, and I’m so moved by that. It means the world to me.”
Since its formation in ’92, each Deerhoof record has taken a slightly different sonic path. That shift in sound sometimes also reflected a shift in their lineup, but in the past few years, the band has settled on core players Saunier, John Dieterich, Ed Rodriguez and Satomi Matsuzaki. Their latest album, 2008’s Offend Maggie released by Kill Rock Stars, could be their most accessible, thanks to its infusion of heavy-metal guitar riffs, traditional rock rhythms (or as close to traditional as they ever get) and Matsuzaki’s cooing vocals.
In fact Matsuzaki’s voice is as much an instrument as a way of conveying the songs’ meaning; especially considering that half the lyrics are in Japanese. On the jumpy, childlike song “Basketball Get Your Groove Back,” Matsuzaki can be understood chirping the triplets “Basketball, basketball, basketball” followed by a syncopated “Rebound rebound rebound.” Does it matter if anyone knows what she’s singing?
“Satomi writes most of the lyrics, but not all,” Saunier said. “John (Dieterich) and I both (write a lot). For us the words are a big deal and we spend a lot of time on getting them just right, putting all our themes in place. We put all our lyrics in all of our CDs or LPs, although I guess that doesn’t really help anyone who is downloading the album.”
There’s little doubt that Deerhoof’s music can be an acquired taste. But despite their challenging sound, the band has cultivated an intensely loyal following that continues to grow.
“Oh we were so obscure in the mid-’90s,” Saunier said. “We lost money when we made a record or went on tour, let alone making a living. There’s no comparison (to today). What’s been great about the change is how gradual it’s been. We never had an overnight success. I guess it must be a thrill, but it can backfire so easily. Our listeners have been so loyal to us.”
Saunier said the band is in the middle of recording a new album. “Even though we are really excited about (the new songs), I don’t know if they’re going to be ready for the stage by the time we leave (on tour),” he said, adding that The Waiting Room audience might get “a little taste” of the new material Friday night.
He said it was no accident that Omaha was chosen as the first date on this latest tour that will take Deerhoof north to Canada through the PNW and California. “We just loved playing in Omaha the last time – both the venue and the audience were just tops,” Saunier said. “I have a real strong memory of it. We decided right then and there that we have to come back whenever we can.”
Which makes me wonder if he was bullshitting me again.
Deerhoof plays with Southeast Engine and Broken Spindles, Friday, June 25, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $12. For more information, visit waitingroomlounge.com.
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A trio of shows are happening this evening. First, the Burger Records Caravan rolls into The Hole, 712 S. 16th St., tonight at 7 p.m. Burger Records is a label and record store based out of Fullerton, CA, that started out releasing cassettes from bands such as Nobunny, Black Lips and Harlem. These days they’re also releasing music on a new-fangled format called “the Compact Disc.” This time, the caravan features low-fi garage punkers Todd C, Audacity, Cum Stain and The Cosmonauts. Also on the dance card are locals The Prairies and Baby Tears. 7 p.m., $6.
If you decide to continue hanging out downtown after the show, swing by The Slowdown for the Benefit for Nebraska Friends of Foster Children featuring Simon Joyner, Outlaw Con Bandana, S.A.M., Sean Pratt, and Conchance. $8, 8:30 p.m.
Last but not least is the 30 Days ’til MAHA Showcase at The Waiting Room, a “battle of the bands” competition where the audience votes for their favorite performer. The one with the most votes will be invited to play on the Kum & Go second stage at this year’s MAHA Festival July 24 down at Lewis & Clark Landing. The five contestants tonight are The Matt Cox Band, Midwest Dilemma, Honey & Darling, Tim Wildsmith and Landing on the Moon. If I had a vote in the talent show I’d cast it either for Honey & Darling or Landing on the Moon, but it’ll be Tim Wildsmith that will walk away the winner. Show starts at 8 p.m., and admission is absolutely free.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.