Intricate, disparate, sing-song articulate – Deerhoof deserves to be called much more than just the standby “experimental.” The San Francisco art-rock quartet has deftly evolved from ephemeral noise to catchier pop since their 1996 inception, and had seen their stock rise recently with glowing reviews from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sonic Youth, legendary BBC DJ John Peel and even the terribly hipster New York Times.
Deerhoof is still riding on the success of their 2005 release “The Runners Four,” but their schedule is busier than ever. This week alone, they perform in conjunction with director Harry Smith’s works at the San Francisco International Film Festival and also at the massively popular, utopian Coachella Festival.
Last week, guitarist John Dieterich took a moment to breathe and chatted with The Art Beat about interpretive cartoons, vocal cord violations and intolerantly disco Sicilians.
Art Beat (AB): “The Runners Four” was Deerhoof’s eighth album. That’s a lot of albums.
John Dieterich (JD): I don’t know, is it? (laughs) I guess I can’t tell. We’re about to get started on the next one and it feels like forever since we’ve been working on an album. We’re all really excited to get going on the next one. Hopefully there will be a ninth.
AB: What can we expect from that one?
JD: There will be musical material on it. We don’t know much beyond that.
AB: OK, so let’s talk about “The Runners Four.” It seemed like your most melodic album yet, and also was almost twice as long as past ones.
JD: Basically, what happened was – well, this isn’t that crazy an idea for a lot of bands, but was for us – everybody wrote independently from each other and then brought in everything we’d written, then tried to collaborate as much as possible on every aspect of everyone else’s music. – Everyone was really just trying to synthesize all of our voices as much as possible. This time around, a song would be a failure if we didn’t have everyone’s voice in it. In the past, that was never part of the idea.
AB: With “The Runners Four,” the guitar parts seem to match the vocals closely, especially on such tracks as “Scream Team” and “Twin Killers.” Was that a group idea, too?
JD: Yeah. We’ve used that effect a little bit before, and it’s one I really like. But to me, that doesn’t sound like something new – I guess on “The Runners Four,” it’s used inside another sound.
AB: 2004’s “Milk Man” was a concept album based on the art of Ken Kagami. What were the ideas behind it?
JD: Basically, all of our albums, to some degree, are concept albums. “Milk Man” started simply with the idea that we wanted to collaborate with Ken, and feeling very connected with his artwork. We started with the character Milk Man.
AB: The one on the cover?
JD: Yeah, and we had other images of him, too. So we started free-associating: What would a world be like where there would be this character? And not sort of trying to pin the character down necessarily; I don’t think any one of us could synopsize what he’s like or his exact persona. I think the four of us don’t know any better than you do in your impressions of seeing the pictures of him and hearing the music. We were just trying to present some potential ways of thinking about him, and putting him in situations and seeing how he reacts.
AB: Have you had any great or really terrible experiences on the road?
JD: Oh! We played one show in Palermo, Sicily.
JD: Yeah, it was several years ago. It was incredible – that city is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s so old and just so complicated – little tiny winding streets you can barely fit your car through. But we played a show there and it was before a disco – there was the band part and then the dance part after we were done. So we were playing and there was this movie screen going all night on the side. It was like a calendar of what was happening. The tour was Deerhoof and another band I play in called Gorge Trio, and the screen kept showing both of those names completely misspelled. (starts laughing hard) So misspelled – like, I can’t even try. You almost couldn’t even tell what they were trying to say.
AB: Like “Deerhoof” with three extra Js?
JD: Yeah, seriously! And so we were playing our show and in the middle, someone yelled, “Basta!” which means ‘Enough!’ in Italian. They wanted to dance; they weren’t feeling the Deerhoof that night.
AB: So do you have bad feelings against the Italians now?
JD: Oh, no, hopefully we’ll be going back there sometime soon.
AB: That’s a funny story – very different. Speaking of which, there’s so much music out there, presently and before, and so much calculated difference, do you think it possible to have a truly unique idea in rock now?
JD: I think it is. OK – say I decide that what I am doing is playing a certain kind of music. I think the capacity for difference is in people’s abilities to redefine themselves and what they’re doing. It’s endless – you can decide anything. Anything can be original if you infuse it with yourself.
AB: That reminds me of something you said in a past interview, when you mentioned Bob Dylan and suggested that the depth of some music comes from the person singing it.
JD: Right. I was saying that in the context that I sang a song on “The Runners Four” and wanted to perform it live as well, but was feeling frustrated because I thought I couldn’t perform it that well every night. I have this thing where when I play guitar live, and we’re playing very loud and very excited, I make sounds with my voice. I kind of sing or shout my guitar parts when I’m playing them.
AB: You’re into it.
JD: Yeah but I kind of screw up my voice that way. … By the time we got to the song I was supposed to be singing in the set, I would have been shouting for the entire show! (laughs) And that made singing very difficult. So what I was saying is that I wish I could be the one who was singing it, but that wasn’t working out. I’m trying to teach myself not to injure myself while I’m playing guitar.
AB: At least in that way. So I’ll have to watch for your screaming when I catch you at Coachella.
JD: That’s embarrassing. I probably shouldn’t have told you that.
AB: Yeah, probably not.
Stacey Anderson is a journalism and music senior, KCPR DJ and doe-eyed fawn. Catch her Sundays from 7 to 8 p.m. and Wednesdays from 3 to 4 p.m. on 91.3 FM or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.