Q&A: Deerhoof's Greg Saunier On Keeping Communication Open, Releasing A 7-Inch With Jeff Tweedy, And Finding Beauty On The G Train Platform


After a recent boisterous and discordant performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Deerhoof's dressing room briefly felt like the center of the indie universe. Hanging out and sipping on the beer and wine that usually go to waste (Deerhoof is more of a tea-swilling bunch) were members of The Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer, The Fiery Furnaces, The Soft Circle, and Lichens—young, boundary-pushing musicians at the heart of their scene, all ardent admirers of a band whose music usually belies a greater sense of calamity then cool. Before the impromptu after-show party took off, though, two other sets of visitors popped backstage to gleefully meet the band: a pair of wide-eyed stoner adolescents, and Kronos Quartet violinist David Harrington and a friend. The amazement and appreciation on all the visitors' faces was far from dissimilar.

That broad-ranging appeal has allowed Deerhoof to continue to make challenging music the way they like, even if they admittedly never have any idea what they want to create. Having recently completed a tour of Europe and Japan with Congotronics Vs. Rockers—an African street music meets American avant-garde collaboration between Deerhoof, Konono #1, Kasai Allstars, Juana Molina, Wildbirds and Peacedrums, and Skeletons—the band's own U.S. tour continues with an appearance at this weekend's ATP I'll Be Your Mirror Festival in Asbury Park. Deerhoof's free, just-released live album, 99% Upset Feeling, captures the mystifying urgency of their performances; it also contains covers that illustrate the band's devotion to both childlike bliss (Canned Heat's "Going Up to the Country") and caustic uproar (The Ramones' "Pinhead"). Drummer and recent Brooklyn transplant Greg Saunier talked with us about the lack of structure and prognostication in his band's creative endeavors, the coolness of Jeff Tweedy's offspring, the chaotic beauty of helming a 19-piece band, and whether or not one can have a perfect New York moment.

You've been in New York for a little bit. Does it feel like home yet?

It would be going too far to say that I was a New Yorker, but actually it's funny because it always felt a little like home because of all the people who moved here from all of my previous homes. By the time I arrived, it felt like the gang was already here.

Have you had any iconic or indelible New York moments? Something where you thought, "Wow, welcome to New York"?

Well, according to all of my friends, no. In other words, they are all trying to drive my optimism out of me, they're just like, "Give it another year in New York; you'll understand how hard it is," and I say, "I like it—I think it's nice. All of my friends are here!" There's something for every interest. I almost don't believe in there being an iconic New York moment. Maybe I'm not familiar enough with popular culture to know what it would have been. For me it's just constant surprise and constant variety. Every walk of life and every type of person. I did ride bikes through Brooklyn the past couple of days, and that was fun. I've never ridden a bicycle in that kind of traffic before.

Since you've been here and Ed [Rodriguez] and John [Dieterich] have moved out of San Francisco, the group has been quite spread apart. How do you keep the lines of creativity and communication open over such a big distance?

First of all, we just got home from an eight-month tour, so to make it sound like it's hard for us to stay in touch wouldn't be entirely accurate. Being on tour is being with someone 24 hours a day, and in our case it's been years—it's just constantly being together. That said, we did just set up a once-a-week Skype chat to keep the lines of communication open.

And creatively?

Creatively, I don't know. It remains to be seen. The question assumes we had a pattern. As many years as it may have been, I'm not sure we ever fell into any kind of routine. I don't know how we are going to do it starting now but I never did, really. The whole time it's been something where I never could see a feasible way for us to work together, actually. It's never really been that natural. Every time we have come up with something, it's felt like a surprise—a miracle that we got a song together.

Does that keep you motivated? The unknown?

No. I don't think it does at all. I think it repels us from each other and makes it that much harder to work together. Since I've come to New York, I've started playing in three other bands. One is with Sean Lennon that's just improv, [called] Consortium Musicum. The second we sat down together and played it was instant chemistry. Everything else feels much easier compared to Deerhoof. I started this other band, Les Bon Hommes, with Bill [William Kuehn] from Rainer Maria and my friend Deron [Pulley]. And I'll start playing something on the guitar and immediately they pick it up, and five seconds later we have a song. It never happens with Deerhoof. It's always this crazy struggle; we always have to overthink things. Or someone will play something and the other three will have a blank stare, like I don't get it all, what in the world are you playing, it doesn't even sound like music!

What's motivated us, to be really honest about it, is the fact that people listen to us. I think we have fans, which is the most incredible motivation in the universe. It's not that we know what the fans want, and it's not even that the fans know what they want us to do, or that we even care, but it's the fact that they are there. The fact that they exist makes us feel so lucky. We get so much encouragement that we feel that we gotta do it.

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