Four-piece Bay Area indie act Deerhoof debuts new material from its forthcoming release Offend Maggie at the Great American Music Hall this week, marking unlikely new heights for the fourteen-year-old species of noise music.
Deerhoof’s prior release, 2006’s Friend Opportunity, hit a surprising number three on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and number fourteen on the Independent Release charts, landing them starry-eyed slots opening for Radiohead at the Greek Theatre and several other dates. Veteran road dogs from multiple world tours, the pan-Pacific act starts a 28-date international tour at the Avalon in Los Angeles October 3 and ends it in Madrid, Spain December 13. All the while, Tokyo-born vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki, SF resident guitarist John Dieterich, percussionist Greg Saunier, and new guitarist Ed Rodriguez run a charity drive, cover song promotion, and handwrite sheet music for five hundred true blue fans.
Longtime percussionist Saunier said luck and an atypical recording style are responsible for the band’s ongoing rise. “It’s more a testament to good fortune and our forgiving and friendly audience than it is a real testament to, you know, any particular quality in our music,” he said. “I think that actually one of the things that was lucky for us, and it’s weird to say it, is the fact that, you know, we were not an overnight success and we never had a big hit. We never had a sudden jump in popularity.”
The band’s stop-start, genre-smashing mix of discord and twee — fronted by the provocative Satomi — is inoculated against any expectations, even by fans. “If our fans expect anything at all, it may be just they expect to be surprised actually,” said Saunier. “They kind of prefer to be surprised. It’s just such a privilege if you’re a musician or an artist.”
Offend Maggie, out October 7, was recorded from January into the summer of ’08 at San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone and Oakland’s New Improved Recordings. The addition of guitarist Rodriguez fueled a return to form for a band that never had any, says Saunier. Usually the band records near-spontaneously and spends years mixing, sometimes sending multiple final copies to its vexed record label, Kill Rock Stars. “And then they make a panicked call to the factory and the factory goes, ‘OK, maybe, but it will cost you an extra couple hundred dollars and you are gonna have to send the thing over again and your album might not come out on time’ and other scary, mean stuff,” he said.
“This time we decided to try an experiment and basically record an album like a normal band would record an album, which I think actually is a very nice way to do it, and I recommend that any band who’s doing it this way continue to do so, ’cause it actually works pretty nice,” Saunier continued. “Which is to: first you learn the songs and you learn to play them for a little bit. Then you go record them. And then mixing doesn’t take nearly as long ’cause you already sounded pretty good when you recorded it ’cause you’ve been practicing it.”
Still, Deerhoof found itself lost in the woods, sending multiple final versions of the Maggie album as well. What ultimately helped was the intriguingly garish cover art from Japanese artist Tomoo Gokita. Different snippets from the same Deerhoof song can work in a Cadillac Escalade commercial or a scene from Saw. Gokita, who met them via prior cover artist Ken Kagami, dialed into their Saw aspect.
“My feeling was he saw something about the music that I really didn’t want to see in the music, which was this kind of masculine side to it and a potentially, slightly threatening, slightly brutal kind of attitude,” Saunier said. “This play between those different types of forces is actually really basic to all of the music and all of the lyrics.”
Even though the band opened for Radiohead last tour, they’ll be pulling into the Great American Music Hall loading spot in a rented minivan from Fox Rent A Car, says Saunier. The recent decay of America’s economy hasn’t hit the Tenderloin-housed bunch, which splits a practice space with Oakland act Tussle.
“I get confused when I’m trying to get my ‘Fresh Born’ player on MySpace to go into shuffle mode,” Saunier said. “That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. As much as possible I try to hide my money under the mattress; it’s not actually under my mattress, all you thieves out there. But basically I try to stay out as much as I can from any contracts or legalese that I don’t understand.”
That might not be the best banking method, but when it comes to making music, clearly Saunier and Co. are doing something right.