Deerhoof: 20 Years In and Still Blowing up Amps
The bonkers SF-based band return with their thirteenth album which they recorded in a basement in just 10 days.
Deerhoof’s charismatic frontwoman, Satomi Matsuzaki, is sitting in her first floor apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, gazing at the grey day outside her window. The crummy, blah weather is the complete opposite to her summery Snoopy t-shirt (organza on the back, cotton in front) and short-shorts. We know all this because we asked her a bunch of creepy questions as soon as she picked up the phone. “Where are you?” she demands in return. London, as it happens, where it is also grey, and additionally, pissing with rain. But this interview isn’t about me, it’s about four feisty noise-punks who came together in San Francisco and who are about to drop their thirteenth album, La Isla Bonita (which shares a name with one of Madonna’s finest compositions, let’s not forget). This year Deerhoof also celebrate their twentieth anniversary.
Rewind to May 1995, when a young Satomi was fresh off the tarmac from Japan, drummer Greg Saunier and former bassist Rob Fisk had already been making music as Deerhoof for a year. A mere week after meeting Satomi they upped to a trio and hit the road. Roll on 19 years, 13 albums, six broken amps, four more lineup changes (currently it’s Satomi, Greg, and guitarists Ed Rodriguez and John Dietrich), and a shift from minimal noise improv to pop-infused noise-punk, and you have Deerhoof in a nutshell.
Noisey: Wow, 20 years! What’s that like?
Satomi Matsuzaki: In short? Deerhoof officially became my life today.
What’s been the best point in the past two decades?
My favorite moment is always when the amp is about to break on stage because amps sound the best right before smoke comes out. When that happens we all look at each other, thinking, “Wow this bass amp sounds so good tonight” and then BOOM! The smoke comes out and we all know why. Adrenaline runs high when that happens.
How about the weirdest?
Once when we played in Palermo, Sicily the people weren’t expecting Deerhoof. Many of them showed up for the disco party afterwards, so they were just waiting for us to be over. We were doing a Shaggs cover, so I was singing “My Pal Foot Foot” and this Italian lady came right up to my face and said: “Faster! Faster!” and then “Stop!” in Italian. But you know, that kind of thing happens. In the beginning there was always some weird lady on drugs telling me sing louder.
When the crowd is unhappy, does it make you feel crappy?
I don’t mind; it’s punk. My favorite thing during a show is observing people in the audience. Its funny, I love it. People are feeling awkward, they’re not sure if they should go back and get beer; they’re talking to their friends. I enjoy everything about people’s reactions.
La Isla Bonita is album 13—do you think it’ll be unlucky?
Oh I don’t believe in that because I’m from Japan. Thirteen is a normal number in Japan. The number nine is bad in Japan and four. Four means death in Japanese!
Shit that’s dark stuff, let’s keep it light. What’s La Isla Bonita about.
On the last song, “Oh Bummer,” Greg sings and I play drums, and I think that song expresses decline and decay. But this album is about… like I said in the beginning: the feeling that Deerhoof became my life. The album came out naturally and really quickly. I hope people can enjoy that momentum.
Rumor has it the record only took two weeks to make.
We recorded in Ed’s basement for 10 days in a really small room. You can see how small in our video [below]. We finished writing the songs one week and recorded them all the next week. It was super fast.
Did you work in Ed’s basement as a way to get back to your roots?
In the beginning we always recorded in our kitchen with the cats and dogs. In the first album you can even hear their footsteps because they were stepping on our microphones. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it was so DIY. I think the location matters to be punk rock.
Because you’re so punk, do you guys still have day jobs?
No we don’t. Lucky, lucky! Because we do everything ourselves we spend less money than most bands. And we’re humble. That sounds weird to say, but we don’t require nice hotels, or high cost venues where they hire 50 security people. We’re still underground, you know?
Which means someone, somewhere on this earth, hasn’t heard of you. What album would you recommend they start with?
This album because it’s new and we’re all so excited: I always say the new album when people ask that.
Twenty years is a long time. Do you all still hang out together outside the band?
We’re really good friends, we love hanging out. We go out to eat. We play soccer. In fact John brings a soccer ball on tour so after soundcheck we play in the parking lot with all the audience members who arrive early. Team spirit heightens when you’re playing sports together!
To witness Satomi’s sweet, sweet moves please watch the first 30 seconds of this video.
You must love exercising—even your dance moves look like aerobics. Have you ever considered releasing your own workout tape?
Nooo, but we just made a music video for the next single in London, in Manor House, and that could be a good exercise video in the future. But can I add one thing?
Sure thing, Satomi.
I used to teach three-four-year-olds Japanese in San Francisco at the weekends, when I was going to college, and we always started school with exercise. You call it aerobics, but my dance moves come from pre-schoolers.
Danielle Goldstein’s milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, but they’re all lactose intolerant. Follow her on Twitter.
Deerhoof Tour Dates
11/4: Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right (w/ Tim Barnes, Xenia Rubinos)
11/5: Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right (w/ Assembly, Zannie Owens w/ Mount Yucca)
11/6: Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right (w/ White Reaper, Trans Am)
11/7: Falls Church, VA @ State Theatre (w/ White Reaper, Xenia Rubinos)
11/8: Charlottesville, VA @ The Southern (w/ White Reaper, Xenia Rubinos)
11/9: Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer (w/ White Reaper, Cibo Matto)
11/11: Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge (w/ White Reaper, Priests)
11/12: Kalamazoo, MI @ Louie’s Back Room (w/ White Reaper, Priests)
11/13: Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace (w/ White Reaper, Priests)
11/14: Montreal, QC @ Cabaret Piccolo Rialto (w/ White Reaper, Priests)
11/15: Pawtucket, RI @ The Met (w/ Priests, Lightning Bolt)
11/17: Los Angeles, CA @ The Troubadour (w/ Go Dark, Crystal Skulls)
11/18: San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall (w/ Go Dark, Crystal Skulls)
11/20: Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge (w/ Go Dark, Busdriver)
11/21: Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s (w/ Go Dark, Busdriver)
11/22: Vancouver, BC @ Fortune (w/ Go Dark, Busdriver)
12/2: Tokyo, Japan @ UNIT
12/4: Nagoya, Japan @ APOLLO BASE w/ eastern youth
12/5: Matsumoto, Japan @ ALECX w/ ZAZEN BOYS
12/6: Shizuoka, Japan @ Freakyshow w/ Mitsume, herpiano
12/8: Osaka, Japan @ Shangri-La w/ group_inou, Wedance
12/9: Kyoto, Japan @ Takutaku w/ Siamese Cats
12/10: Okayama, Japan @ Pepperland w/ Oshiripenpens, Lonely
12/12: Fukuoka, Japan @ INSA FUKUOKA w/ folk enough, EXTRUDERS, Hearsays, the perfect me
12/13: Naha, Japan @ Output
12/16: Tokyo, Japan @ Fever w/ Shugo Tokumaru Plus, younGSounds, Dotsuitarunen
12/17: Tokyo, Japan @ WWW w/ Tokyo Karankoron, Awesome City Club
12/18: Sapporo, Japan @ Sound Lab mole w/ Phew
12/19: Sendai, Japan @ PARK SQUARE w/ Ogre You Asshole