“I Feel Like I’m Going To Catch Fire”: An Interview With Deerhoof
Breakup Song is the 12th record from noise pop supergroup Deerhoof (Satomi Matsuzaki on vocals and bass, Greg Saunier on drums, John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez on guitars), but don’t let the title fool you. Deerhoof isn’t going anywhere — actually, they’re keeping the party hot for you. With an unruly sound that marries the exciting aggression of drum and guitar with the sweet calm of pop, Deerhoof has created a unique, precise sound that is as intelligent as it is catchy.
On Breakup Song, out now on Polyvinyl, Deerhoof offers an upbeat record about breaking up that you will actually want to party to. “Why are breakup songs always sad? Like they take a sad person and make them feel worse. We wanted to write a breakup song that makes you feel better, gives you back some strength, makes you feel cool, motivates you to dance and make jokes with your friends,” Saunier told us.
We caught up with Deerhoof and talked about “Brooklyn” as a brand, the best party they’ve ever been to, and how to make a record when everybody lives in different cities.
Thought Catalog: How did you decide to write a fast paced party record after 2011’s Deerhoof VS.Evil?
Greg Saunier: We formed a band with Konono No. 1 and Kasai Allstars last year. Toured all over Europe. We played like two-hour sets, all fast-paced party music. There was no way we weren’t going to make a fast-paced party album after that.
TC: And speaking of parties, can you describe one of the best parties you’ve been to?
Saunier: OK. We pull in. Unload our gear, set it up on stage. People start arriving at 8 or 9. Some are dressed as Milk Man and some are dressed as themselves but come to merch table and buy a t-shirt. We go on stage. The songs we made up in our heads in our bedrooms and recorded for months in isolation, everybody is now singing them back at us. People are shouting and dancing. The lights are really bright and colorful and I feel like I’m going to catch fire.
TC: What’s the significance of “breakup songs”? Deerhoof isn’t breaking up, are you?
Saunier: We’re not breaking up. This is our contribution to the genre. Why are breakup songs always sad? Like they take a sad person and make them feel worse. We wanted to write a breakup song that makes you feel better, gives you back some strength, makes you feel cool, motivates you to dance and make jokes with your friends.
TC: What was the process of recording this record? If you’re all physically in different places, how do you put it all together?
Saunier: Every Deerhoof song has a different story. We never used the same method twice. Not for lack of trying. Just seems like a process gets used up when it gets used once. So we didn’t know how we were going to make a record while living in four different cities. We just winged it. Some songs were just one of us playing all the instruments, and others were really painstaking collaborations, sending little overdubs and remixes through email. We met up at the end, the last week. You can see pictures of us recording Breakup Song on our Facebook page.
TC: You released a 30-minute video filmed at nighttime around Brooklyn with the album as the soundtrack. How did you come up with that idea? How was it recorded?
Saunier: YouTube offered to premiere the record so we said we can’t just have a picture of the album cover for half an hour. We need a video. So we tried to bring the album cover to life. The album cover is a picture Satomi snapped with her phone of a spectacular garbage truck that had stopped near her apartment. So we made videos over three nights, walking through that same Brooklyn neighborhood, looking for garbage trucks. Becky James had a tiny camera that we attached to balloons so it would float. Sometimes it was steady and sometimes it would shake like crazy in the wind. We blew out the colors and the brightness. With video you can really see into the night. There’s no black in that video. At one point Satomi takes the balloons to a show in Manhattan, at Webster Hall. Real Estate was playing. When she showed me the footage I couldn’t believe no one stopped her. The balloons were floating right over the stage. Bouncers were looking at her and saying “cool.” Everybody felt like she brought the party.
TC: That video was filmed in Brooklyn, and you recorded at least part of Breakup Songs in Brooklyn. Do you think “Brooklyn” has become a brand, maybe synonymous with the term “indie”?
Saunier: I wouldn’t know. I’ve lived here only for two years. I was a year in Tokyo and many years in San Francisco and people having been talking about indie since then, before Deerhoof even started. If indie means independent, well some of the most well-known Brooklyn bands, like TV On The Radio, are on major labels. If indie is a sound, well I’d have to disagree there too. Brooklyn is a big city, one of the biggest in the country even without the rest of New York. There’s every kind of music here. Brooklyn is synonymous with Dominican Bachata, or free improv, or K-pop. So I’d have to say no.
TC: While you were in Greenpoint, did you ever eat at Five Leaves?
Saunier: You can see Five Leaves in the video. You can’t go there too often if you want to remain solvent but yeah it is delicious. One time Eddy Crichton took me out to dinner there. He was paying me back for mixing his band’s record. His band is Formica Man and that record will be on sale at the merch table in Richmond because Formica Man is our opening band. Don’t miss them, they are seriously crazy.
TC: New York magazine recently did a cover story on how indie-rock bands make a living, focusing on the band Grizzly Bear and how they may sell out Radio City Music Hall, but some of the members of that band don’t have health insurance. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as independent artists?
Saunier: Well it’s not only rock bands that have trouble affording health insurance. It’s so funny when we go on tour to other countries, they all think we’re insane not to have socialized medicine. Anyway, yeah, Grizzly Bear, I love those guys. I was heavily into their song “Little Brother,” the original version, and then they came up to me at a festival and told me how when they first started playing together they’d come see Deerhoof every time we played in New York. They said they liked our jazzy chords. I was happy as a clam. Of course it’s challenging to have a good band. It’s supposed to be challenging.
TC: What, for you, is the significance of the night?
Saunier: It’s when you have to make your own light.
TC: 12 records in, do you ever think about your own fame?
Saunier: Yes and I have since before we had even one record. Deerhoof’s fame has always been more than I expected. When I thought two people would come to our first show, ten came. When I thought ten would come to the next one, 30 came. It’s been like that ever since. Deerhoof is really fun.
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