October 3rd, 2008 | Interviews

claire cronin

Download: Deerhoof “Offend Maggie”


(from Offend Maggie out Tue., Oct. 7, on Kill Rock Stars)

Deerhoof made the milkman a threat again and deliver the most extraterrestial pop on Kill Rock Stars. Their newest full-length Offend Maggie is out on Tuesday. Drummer Greg Saunier speaks now to L.A. RECORD’s Daiana Feuer.

What’s your favorite thing on which to percuss? Isn’t that a word? ‘Percuss’?
Greg Saunier (drums): Ah, yes. ‘Percuss’ is a word. You know, I love playing drums but they’re so loud. Especially when we’re in a rehearsal studio, which we’ve been every day now getting ready for the tour. In this little room. I’m so jealous of Satomi and John and Ed who all have volume knobs. They can play as hard as they want and just turn it down. If you get even a little bit physical with the drums, it just becomes deafening so fast. But once the tour starts it’s OK—we’re playing in big rooms. My favorite thing to play? Actually, I’m changing my drums around all the time. I’m not even sure what I’m going to bring on tour. Sometimes I have a cymbal or a high-hat, sometimes I use a floor tom, sometimes I don’t. I keep changing it every time.
And it doesn’t matter in terms of the songs? You just substitute?
Our songs are not so much specific sounds. They’re more just about this melody and this chord or this rhythm or something. It doesn’t really matter what instrument it’s on, or who’s doing it. Sometimes we switch around instruments and it sounds about the same.
When you get an idea do you write it down in musical notation?
I usually do. That’s kind of the easiest way for me to remember it. That’s part of it too. Rather than trying to play it on a guitar or piano or some instrument—which I don’t usually happen to have sitting there at that second anyway—if I write it down then it doesn’t have to be any particular instrument. If I come up with a melody, it’s just sort of notes and rhythm to me. The way Deerhoof ends up recording it or playing it, it could be anything. It could be any instrument, and I never know what it’s really going to sound like once the band starts working on it. A lot of times songs I had written thinking they were going to be some acoustic singer-songwriter ballad end up turning into some sort of heavy rock or pounding thing or some dance-y kind of—it feels almost random you know, the way the idea ends up actually turning into sound.
Do you hear the ideas, or visualize them as notes?
I hear them. A lot of times I’ll hear them in dreams, and then I’ll wake myself up and write it down. Maybe I’m dreaming about something totally unrelated and then maybe there’s music in the background of the dream—sort of like a movie soundtrack. Sometimes it’s actually a musical dream, but it’s never Deerhoof in the dream. It’s always like the Rolling Stones have a new album and I’m listening to it in the dream and then suddenly I’m like, ‘Wait a second, this isn’t the Rolling Stones—this is a dream, and my brain is making this up.’ Or sometimes I dream that I’m in the Rolling Stones, like they needed a quick replacement. In the dream we’ll be playing through some song but it won’t actually be a Rolling Stones song. I’ve gotten so in the habit of trying to write down these ideas that a lot of times I will dream some music and then I will dream that I am waking up and writing it down, and then later I will actually wake up and I’ll be like, ‘Wait a second—I thought I wrote that down?’ But no, I just dreamed I wrote it. That sort of answers your question—sometimes I see the notes as I’m writing them down in the dream.
Is it always the Rolling Stones?
Do you think there’s infinite possibilities of songs to be made? Do you think they could ever run out—like, in general?
I guess it could run out, but it’s hard to imagine what that would be—running out. The fraction that’s already been done is so tiny. I feel like it’s not only infinite because people could write any kind of music, but its also infinite because even if the music is already written, there’s always new listeners to listen to it. So you might take Mozart and say, ‘Ok, this music is more than 200 years old and people are still listening to it and new listeners are listening to it.’ Even Mozart is being infinitely recreated by every new performer and then every new listener who’s listening to it. You or I listening to Mozart in 2008—we’re not hearing the same thing as a listener in the 1890s listening to Mozart.
Because of our frame of reference?
Because everything’s different. The society is different. We’ve heard other music. We listen to other music than what they listen to then and there. History plays into it. The context plays into it. And the listener plays a big role. Haven’t you ever noticed that there’s a song that you love but your friends can’t stand? I mean, why? We seem to be hearing two different songs. I can’t understand why they don’t love this song, you know? It’s because you’ve got two different sets of ears. That’s the fun of it.
I want to think…
Don’t think too hard!
I like the idea of thinking of one note in time and also through an ear…
Yeah! Even the same person can hear differently at different times. Think of fairy tales or traditional stories. You tell the story to a toddler and they get one meaning from the story but tell an old grandfather the same story and the story takes on a different meaning. It turns out the story is a metaphor for something else. The power of interpretation is a big power. We always feel our music is never finished until the listener hears it and decides for themselves what is it. What is this music? What style do we play? What is the mood of this music? I think we tend to make music that’s sort of ambiguous so depending on how you’re feeling, a song sounds funny or maybe it sounds really sad or angry if you’re feeling angry. Or depending on what you’re in the mood to listen to, our song might sound like abrasive noise or really cute pop tunes. It just sort of depends on who you are at the time the song’s coming into your ear.
Do you think vagueness, or ambiguous…ness…whatever—do you think that’s the current step in the evolution of music? In terms of pushing the structures of composition?
Deep down I don’t think it’s a trend—it’s just built in. It’s built into music. Because really, what is music? All it is—is what you just said. It’s a note going into your ear. It’s abstract sounds put together and so it’s not as easy to pin down as say language or even images if you think of photography or movies. Music seems to be the most ambiguous or the hardest to pin down. Unless you’re talking about strictly computer music, it requires some person to make the sound happen. But then once the sound happens, it’s just floating in the air, vibrations, it’s like intangible. You can’t grab it. You can’t touch it.
And then you’ve got the vagueness of description that can be put on it.
Exactly. How do you describe music? At the same time, somebody else can hear the same music and hear a completely different thing. But I don’t know—I think that’s the fun of it.
Would you call music a language or would you call it something else?
I wouldn’t call it a language. When you think of a language, it’s this one thing and it has these rules and you either understand it or you don’t. I don’t think music is like that. And I definitely don’t see our music as being that way—as a language. But at the same time I really love this idea that sometimes music can sort of sound like language or it can feel a little bit like language. The way it’s grouped into phrases—even if you can’t translate the music into English or Japanese or something, you still might get the feeling that it means something. ‘Oh, I understand this. I get it.’ Like you might with language. You ever notice, like, you’re walking down the street, and if a stroller goes by—the way it doesn’t matter how old you are, what country you’re from, what the situation is or even if you know the baby in the stroller, whether they’re part of your family or it’s a total stranger—everybody starts doing the same kind of baby talk to these babies. It’s really quite universal. Everyone starts talking in a high voice and starts making these weird nonsense sounds. What is that? Is it language? Or is it music? Or is it right in between? And I like that we’re a kind of a right-in-between kind of sound. It sounds like you’re saying something but it’s also kind of musical, too. It’s just made of these sounds. Of course we don’t have nonsense—we have actual lyrics—but I’m not really talking about our lyrics. Just the music part. Sometimes I think of our music as sort of like that kind of baby talk or whatever.
Just imagine you all in a stroller together with little bonnets on.
The gaga-ing baby!