Deerhoof makes the sort of music that’s best described as oddly endearing: a crunchy combination of jagged guitars and Satomi Matsuzaki’s pixie-like vocals set to irresistibly catchy melodies. While its new full-length Offend Maggie features a tighter sound than in its previous outing, Friend Opportunity, its odes to basketballs, the Styx ferryman Charon, and phone calls to the wrong number make it just as fun to listen to. As the band embarks on its supporting tour across the States, I put some questions in an e-mail interview to proud new Deerhoof guitarist Ed Rodriguez, who joined the band for this album.
Derrick Teo Wee Ghee: Hi, Ed. Congratulations on releasing your tenth album! Are you celebrating this milestone in any particular way?
Ed Rodriguez: Thanks! It feels like this whole tour has been a celebration! A few days before the release we started a six-week U.S. tour and people have been so excited about the new record that everyday feels really fresh and fun. One of our first stops was in Portland where Kill Rock Stars brought us a cake with the cover of Offend Maggie on it! We couldn’t believe it! We had been anxiously waiting for people to hear the new album for so long that it is a thrill every day to finally see how people are feeling about it.
DT: Listening to your songs and the energy in them, I’d imagine that you guys never get bored writing and playing music. Was there any point in time when you had trouble coming up with material?
ER: The atmosphere in the band really encourages everyone’s creativity. Being together really inspires and energizes each one of us. The creative process is so mysterious, there’s always that feeling of—how did I write that song? Did I even play a part in it? It came through me but how I did it, I’ll never know! Will I be able to do it ever again? Working in a situation like this band gives you endless ideas. You bring something in that you might be stuck in, and the minute it’s played and given life, your ideas start to flow and you see everyone else’s ideas start to flow, and that not only gives you a lift in continuing, but also might take a song in directions you never would have imagined. But of course, some days nothing seems to work (and we all have those days), and we know that sometimes you just need to take a break. Your mind seems to keep working on the song, and inspiration strikes while you’re on a walk, at the movies, or even in your sleep!
DT: The dynamism in your music also makes it sound playful and a bit theatrical (in a good way), and indeed, Milk Man was adapted as a stage performance by North Haven Community School (which you guys helped out with.) Have you ever thought of doing a “rock opera” album à la Bowie or Pink Floyd?
ER: A whole concept album! Who knows? I think that the records are put together with an idea that keeps a common thread going; some element that ties it all together. With Offend Maggie, we had an idea of starkness, in every aspect of the album. We thought of this when approaching the artwork, the recording, even when to even put in a single overdub asking ourselves “is this truly necessary?” We wanted it to be skeletal, making every gesture have meaning. Whether or not there is a story that unfolds, that’s up to each listener!
DT: Offend Maggie is your first recording with Deerhoof. How are you finding the Deerhoof experience?
ER: I’ve known everyone in the band for quite a long time. John [Dieterich, on guitars] and I have been playing music together for more than a dozen years; it’s great to be playing with him on a regular basis again. I was always a fan; I’ve seen the band at least 40 times. They were the only band that I would never miss one of their shows. I found joining the band to be extremely natural, and after doing so, I felt more like myself than I had in years. I knew how hard they worked (it’s kind of legendary in the Bay), plus I heard about things they were doing from John all through his experiences because we’re such close friends. Nothing was really a surprise. But they were all incredibly sweet, worrying about me burning out or feeling like it was too much. The first thing that happened after we finished mastering the record was they all turned to me, thanked me for all my hard work and asked me if I was doing OK! They were so worried that I was feeling like it was all too much! I really appreciated that.
DT: For this album you guys are back to a quartet [former guitarist Chris Cohen left after 2005’s The Runners Four to focus on his other band, The Curtains], and it sounds like you guys spent more time jamming as a band in the studio, and there’s some serious shredding going on in songs like “Eagaru Guru” and “Numina.” Has your addition to the band changed the way Deerhoof records?
ER: There was a definite shift in the normal mode of operation after I joined. It was the first time in years that the band was able to play the record before going into the studio! Many of the other albums were done piece by piece, and the performance aspect came later! This time we worked for months, writing and refining the songs until we could go into the studio and play everything as a band. That’s a big part of why the record sounds like you could be sitting right in front of us.
DT: In the publicity for Offend Maggie you had a competition for “Fresh Born” where you invited fans to interpret the sheet music for the song. What did you think of the responses you received, and did you chance upon anything that caught your ears? I’m sure you all had fun listening to your song from totally different perspectives.
ER: First off, it was really amazing that so many people got involved in the project. I think that we found each and every version amazing and interesting in its own way. Some of the versions sounded like they must have heard our version, but of course they couldn’t have. Some other versions were light years away from anything we could have thought of, it blew us away. It was amazing that so many people were interested enough to contribute, we felt incredibly touched and honored. It really showed that people cared, it was as if each version sent was a love letter. We couldn’t believe the response! I still can’t!
DT: “Eagaru Guru” sounds like a politically charged song (“eagle sings for freedom/ what is it waiting at the other end of tunnel”), which is not necessarily what you guys are known for. Was it in any way linked to or inspired by the upcoming elections?
ER: I think it’s impossible to not be touched by what’s happening around you. I wouldn’t say that there was anything specific in mind, but we’re as sensitive as most people in the world are today, noticing the changes in what you’re forced to think about in your day to day.
DT: Satomi sings quite a bit in Japanese on this album. Does Greg [Saunier, drums] have a Japanese track of his own on the horizon?
ER: I hope so! Everyone is always delighted when he speaks Japanese! Their faces light up!
DT: You guys will be touring through Halloween. Any plans for that date?
ER: We definitely have some ideas brewing. Trust me, we would never let the day just slip by, business as usual....
DT: Thank you for your time, and all the best on your tour!
ER: Thank you!... Take care!
Deerhoof plays at the Metro on October 17, with opening acts Experimental Dental School and Flying.