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  • Interview: Deerhoof

    Thu, 02 Oct 2008 14:57:03

    Interview: Deerhoof - Guitarist John Dieterich talks <i>Offend Maggie</i>, physiology and finding creativity in restrictions

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    Over the past decade, Deerhoof have established themselves as an inimitable voice in indie music without glomming onto a single aesthetic. Their albums are akin to a shed skin; each record preserves a snapshot of the band's sound while signifying that they've already outgrown it and moved onto their next form. Looking over this erratic catalogue of sonic exoskeletons, it's clear that the band can't be defined or summed up by any single release. Instead, Deerhoof is the creative force that furtively ran through each one, graciously casting us a memento of their shape-shifting imagination.

    On their latest offering, Offend Maggie, the quartet discarded the bombastic production of Friend Opportunity to adopt a more traditional and intimate sound. The results perch effortlessly among the band's most endearing work, and ARTISTdirect was lucky to talk to guitarist John Dieterich about crafting Deerhoof's new sound, the effects of physiology on creation and the difficulties of interfacing imaginations.

    You guys had a great idea before the album release to put out the sheet music for "Fresh Born," so people could create their own versions of it before hearing yours. Where did that idea come from?

    Well, that was Greg's idea. Everybody is releasing all these things online nowadays. People are constantly releasing remixes and things before the album comes out. We were trying to think of something where it actually added to the feeling of the album instead of taking away from it. Basically, it just amplified the song and made it so our version wasn't the ultimate version; it was just one of scores of versions. It put it in a context, you know? When people hear our version, hopefully it will just be one more fun version. I think it's really interesting; there are definitely a lot of similarities and of course a lot of versions that are incredibly different than ours. It's funny now because, we've listened to all these covers a lot and now we're starting to learn them and implement aspects of them into our version.

    Compared to the complex arrangements of The Runners Four and the dense production of Friend Opportunity, Offend Maggie feels really natural and intimate. How has the songwriting and recording process changed on this album?

    Basically, the approach itself is exactly the same. We have no idea how we are going to approach it, and we also don't know how we are going to record it. We just discover along the way. We've used acoustic guitars in the past, but I think there's a sound to the guitars that we haven't used. Some of that was just happening upon things, like "happy accidents" [laughs]. Like, "Oh, that's what we were looking for and we didn't know it."

    In the past you guys have created albums around specific inspirations or experiments, such as the drawing on the cover of Milk Man or the heavy production of Friend Opportunity. Was there any specific driving force behind Offend Maggie?

    That's a good question. I think individually, definitely the answer is yes, and as a group, there were things that we talked about collectively pursuing. For myself, I would say that anytime anyone enters into a creative project you are constantly reassessing what you are attempting to accomplish and what tools you have. Everyday our vocabulary and our language, whatever language we speak, are constantly changing. We're getting new abilities to say new things, and we're probably losing the ability to create other things. In that process as someone who is trying to create something, you just take stock of what's there and what you are trying to achieve. I had a lot of approaches and things that I was very interested in trying, and it's hard to explain what they were really. One of the things that immediately got me very excited and inspired was when we asked Ed to join. That really opened some doors as far as ideas.

    Satomi's [Vocalist] reaction to the album artwork really reflected that idea of finding creativity within your own restraints, and I know Greg has said similar things about limiting the sounds of his drum set because it increases his creativity. Is that something that you do to?

    Yeah, absolutely. I think that's something that every band deals with. You can open yourself up to every possibility, and sometimes people do that, and sometimes I do that, and it's great. But ultimately when we're making an album, like for Friend Opportunity we didn't restrict ourselves in terms of sounds at all. We really wanted to allow ourselves any possibilities. The reason being that technically, physically and time wise we were incredibly limited, and we wanted to really give ourselves a lot of possibilities within those limitations. I'll put it this way; we didn't need to add more restrictions to something where we were already going to be extremely lucky if we ever finished it anyway.

    For Offend Maggie, we all were excited with the idea of attempting, once more, to capture the actual sound of the band playing. Not just playing together in a room, which is one thing, but also develop our ideas to a point where we were able to approach the material in a little bit more of a free way. Like how we approach it live. Particularly with the older songs that we have, songs that I've been playing since I started eight or nine years ago, those are the songs where you feel like anything can happen. With the newer songs, it's not that there is anything wrong with the song itself, it's that we haven't learned the meaning yet. We don't understand the parameters and we don't understand how we can stretch it. It takes years and years of playing the songs hundreds of thousands of times. So we attempted to give ourselves the time to work on things before we recorded, and to a certain degree it worked and to a certain degree it didn't [laughs]. Obviously we didn't give ourselves nine years before we recorded them, so we never got 100 percent. Let me put it this way actually: I would say we felt 100 percent comfortable, but we weren't right in the sense that if you had given us another thousand tries at playing those songs they would've developed more and they would have turned into something else. Not necessarily better, but we would have more of an understanding of what the song was trying to say. Not that it can only say one thing, it can certainly change over time.

    Do you think that style of writing will lead to more improv on stage?

    I would say, yes and no. Basically we approach all the material that we play with the goal of feeling the music in such a way that it's totally ingrained, so that, when we play it, all we have to do is feel. We can listen as hard as we can, and we can open up all of our sensors, and we can try to play the song and play it exactly as it needs to be played in that moment, which is different everyday and every time that we play it. That's what we try to do. There are sections where it's a lot more explicit that we don't have anything written for a part of the set or a part of the song, and that's something different. It's very interesting; over the years we've gone through all kinds of permutations of this. I mean, there are some times when we've gone out and had no set list. All we had was the songs that we played, and we would go out and someone would just start playing, and we would keep playing for half an hour or 45-minutes. There's a whole range, and it's always shifting.

    I know that you haven't had formal guitar training, so how do you approach improv and writing parts for the record? Is it emotion, texture or just what is sonically pleasing?

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