Come to My Party!
Deerhoof Returns to Maine
by Adam Perry for the Portland Daily Sun
Satomi Matsuzaki, a Japanese-born, self-taught musician who moved to San Francisco from Tokyo in 1996, highlights the avant indie-rock of Deerhoof with her childlike vocals and thunderous bass guitar. From the simultaneous irreverence, innocence and brilliance of Matsuzaki’s lyrics, you’d think the tiny frontwoman would have a lot to say on stage. Surprisingly, bombastic (and very tall) drummer Greg Saunier hilariously emerges from behind his sparse drumkit after nearly every song when Deerhoof performs, towering over Matsuzaki’s microphone to tell straight-faced jokes while she giggles beside him.
There’s no method to the routine beyond expediency, according to Matsuzaki.
“Greg is speaking for me while I am taking a break from singing between songs. Why not drummer speaks? Greg actually doesn’t like to talk on stage but we encourage him. We think his speech is funny!”
Not unlike rock fans who’ve never been able to warm to Sonic Youth and the Velvet Underground, some consider noise the only method to Deerhoof’s magical madness. Based in Oakland, the cult sensation actually debuted as a duo in 1995, with the Oberlin-educated virtuoso Saunier on drums and since-departed Rob Fisk on bass. Through wild experimentation, intense practice and heavy touring over fifteen years and ten albums, Deerhoof has evolved into one of the most interesting bands in American popular music
Offend Maggie (2008), Deerhoof’s most recently album and their triumphant return to life as dual-guitar quintet, saw the band’s art-rock beginnings come full circle with Matsuzaki’s adorably creative lyrics—alternated between English and Japanese—tempered by twelve-string psychedelia and Saunier’s spastic drums. Unlike the stripped-down and playful bomp of 2006’s Friend Opportunity—which suffered from the loss of second guitarist Chris Cohen—Offend Maggie’s enjoyable depth again proved Deerhoof worthy of the big-time opening slots the band was given by Radiohead and the Flaming Lips a few years ago.
Matsuzaki says the band was happy to return to their customary two-guitar format by bringing along Ed Rodriguez, an old friend of longtime Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich.
“[Now] we have to feed one more person—ughhh. Just kidding. It’s good to have Ed in the band. He is easy going and can play anything. Funny too! Musically of course better than three piece, especially since Deerhoof writes songs that have thick harmonies. Not possible to play them live without more fingers and one more brain to throw ideas.”
The foursome is excited to unveil its newest release, probably by the end of 2010, Matsuzaki told us.
“Finished! Lots of rhythmic variations, layers of colorful sounds and danceable album! You can play it at home party.”
Over the years Deerhoof has made headlines with quirky experiments, like releasing sheet music for Offend Maggie’s “Fresh Born” to fans before the album was released, urging them to record their own versions of the song before they’d heard Deerhoof’s. Or the time, in 2005, when Deerhoof made it possible for fans to download band members’ individual parts from the song “Rrrrrrright” and post remixes online. The group also performed an original, live score for a Harry Smith film for the 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival, but the most memorable Deerhoof stunt took place right here in Maine, and it wasn’t even the band’s own idea.
Milk Man, a ballet/performance/concert conceived and performed by children and teachers at the North Haven Community School in the fall of 2006, juxtaposed the Who-meets-Sonic Youth music of Deerhoof’s landmark 2004 album Milk Man with kiddie performance art. Although Matsuzaki’s truly surreal lyrics–such as “Milk Man smiles to you ‘Hi’ in a nude/this banana stuck in my arms, oh my love”—don’t necessarily seem like a fit for elementary-age kids, Deerhoof attended the show and loved it.
“The Milk Man ballet idea came from the teacher,” says Matsuzaki. “She orchestrated other teachers and some students to play the Milk Man album. She made it sound like the real album. Their arrangements sounded real similar to what we sounded in the album. Impressed! Three- to ten-year-old kids danced with surreal movement with balloons and funny props. Singing together was so cute!”
Videos of the performance are available online, and the sheer weirdness of the spectacle makes viewing it worthwhile. As for Deerhoof’s own shows, weirdness is always matched with serious musicianship and serious fun, creating a wholesome, eccentric and loud night out for people of all ages. Lately, Deerhoof has transitioned to supporting bands like Radiohead at huge venues to pleasantly packing smaller clubs and art spaces, such as Space Gallery, where the band plays Monday night with Xiu Xiu and Father Murphy.
“It’s hard sound-wise to play in small places,” says Matsuzaki, “but I like intimacy aspect of small shows. Audiences seem more like friends in that situation. Hey you all come to my party!”