.Deerhoof Attribute Their Success To Trust

Two things have helped Deerhoof withstand the last two-odd decades of touring in the ever-changing music industry: trust and genuine enjoyment of each other’s company. 

Formed in San Francisco in the mid-90s, the indie rock band has released seventeen studio albums (plus six live albums, two collaborative albums and three EPs) since 1997, with a consistent lineup (lead vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, drummer/vocalist Greg Saunier, and guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez) since 2008. Now spread throughout the country, the members reconvened to record a new album over the course of two weeks this past summer in Winnipeg.

Deerhoof play the Ritz this Saturday, on a short burst of West Coast tour dates. A single, “My Lovely Cat!” came out in September, which they recorded with producer Mike Bridavsky. An outside producer is a switch-up from the band’s norm, who hold close to their DIY roots on stage and in the studio (founding member Greg Saunier recalls recording 2003’s Apple O “after hours” one night at a studio in the South Bay now owned by audio/video software company Avid).

“Between us there’s inside jokes and we’re able to communicate without saying things out loud a lot of the time,” Saunier says. “I went in wondering if that was going to make it awkward and difficult, to have a total stranger we’d never worked with before, but really it was the opposite.”

The guitar on “My Lovely Cat!” has a sort of feline yowl as it winds in and out of Satomi Matsuzaki’s coo and Saunier’s backing falsetto. The two have developed a twin echo over time, less like two singers sharing microphone duty and more like a two-headed oracle completing each others’ prophecies.

Saunier recalls their very first rehearsal, where Matsuzaki met Greg and then-bassist Rob Fisk. Newly emigrated from Japan and a film student at City College, Matsuzaki was introduced to the pair by a mutual friend because she was “looking for something to do.”  With no prior experience in a band, she simply repeated his and Fisk’s lyrics.

“We handed her a microphone made out of broken Walkman headphones, that Rob had made [into] sort of a papier-mache deer’s leg. So she was singing into this crude blob of crudely-done papier-mache with this knob sticking out of it and she could turn the knob up or down…..she’d never met us, never heard the songs, but she’d just follow exactly what we were singing in real time.”

This spontaneous trust built the foundation for 28 ongoing years of musical experimentation, as much as it set a baseline dynamic for Deerhoof’s sound as a band. 

“There’s something kind of affectless about the way Satomi sings that always clicked with every lineup of the band….the instruments tend to have too much affect, over-expressive, you know,” Saunier laughs. “Her very….seemingly emotionless singing just really works, and for me it brings out the emotion that much more.”

In this way, Deerhoof play as a true band, a quartet of four voices, rather than instrumental support of a front personality. Their albums, in turn, are an ensemble cast of concepts and characters.

Next year’s forthcoming album features Saunier singing lyrics Matsuzaki penned for him in Japanese, an inversion of the band’s usual songwriting dynamic (both contribute to lyrics, with Saunier often writing parts for Matsuzaki).

“It’s an incredibly profound and joyous experience,” Saunier starts, “when you’ve written a song and it has vocal melody but no lyrics, and then somebody writes lyrics, and it’s like they understand the song better than you did when you wrote it. It’s a deeply appreciated gift when someone bothers to engage their imagination into yours. We had to do a bunch of takes [of the song] because I couldn’t get through the song without weeping because I found it very emotional…the lyrics, and just singing words she wrote in her language, right in front of her.”

For Saunier, Deerhoof’s ever-renewing sense of exploration remains rooted in their early years.

“We weren’t thinking about making it, we were just believing in some kind of musical vision worth pursuing. If nothing else it was just fun, even if the vision changed every couple weeks. We just trusted each other.”

Deerhoof

Sat, 8pm, $25

The Riz, San Jose

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