Way back in 1994, a little San Francisco band called Deerhoof formed to try to get the improvisational urges out of their systems. Instead, they only got stronger. Fast-forward over two decades, and singer and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, drummer Greg Saunier, and guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez are still coming up with new ideas not just in their discography, but in indie rock’s at large.
Their brand of hyper noise pop tries on new shoes with Mountain Moves, their latest album. Deerhoof teamed up with a phenomenally talented and somehow underrated roster of musicians to bring the songs to life. Juana Molina, Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, Violeta Parra, Awkwafina, Xenia Rubinos, Matana Roberts, and more join them for some of their most vibrant and politically charged songs yet.
“Collaborating wasn’t just what we planned for this album, but really for every album,” says Saunier. “Some of the people on this record, like Awkwafina, are people we toured with previously. When you get to the end and you’re sad to part, you want to find a way to do something. This time it was fueled by the scale of derangement of people in power who will terminate the human species; we suddenly had someone at a higher end of that spectrum than we’d ever had before. We, and a lot of people, felt a weird urgency that translated into a realization: All those things we said we wanted to do in life suddenly have to take place now.”
To help Deerhoof shake off some extra energy before headlining Brighton Music Hall, we interviewed Greg Saunier for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. Unsurprisingly, his answers feel as in-the-moment as the songs on Mountain Moves do.
1) “Slow Motion Detonation”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever experienced an intense situation where it felt like time slowed down? If so, what happened?
SAUNIER: Yeah, for sure. Today, I was at a vegan smoothie restaurant in Baltimore ordering something called “blueberry pie.” It has, among other things, blueberries and maple-flavored walnuts. As I was enjoying sucking this thing through a straw, I realized I was going to be late to Baltimore-Washington International Airport to fly to Scandinavia and do a tour with a bunch of Norwegians that I’d never met before. I started sucking just a little more rapidly, went to BWI, and got on the plane with no trouble at all. Then I arrived in Chicago and had a five-hour layover. Suddenly time slowed down again.
2) “Con Sordino”
DIGBOSTON: If you could mute anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
SAUNIER: Did you see that crazy thing the other day that Twitter put up, a half-assed thing a year and a half after Trump declared presidency? About why they don’t block world leaders? Doesn’t matter if they’re a serial killer or a mass murder or a known rapist. They aren’t going to block them because they’re important? It’s the most inverted logic possible. The fact that those people have that much power means they should be that much more muted. The fact that it took Twitter a year and a half to come up with that excuse for why they don’t block Trump is incredibly weak. I’m lacking in words. It shows an incredible fearfulness of getting on the bad side of damaging their profit margins. So yeah, I think the majority of Twitter users in this world would choose to mute Donald Trump, myself included.
3) “I Will Spite Survive”
DIGBOSTON: What’s a far-fetched goal you tried to go for, despite friends or family advising otherwise?
SAUNIER: About every time I’ve ever fallen in love. Isn’t that what it is? Unless you’re talking about an arranged marriage, you’re talking about taking a ridiculous chance, placing your heart on the chopping block, making yourself vulnerable to every possible kind of hurt—all with no guarantee that it will not only succeed or last, but that it will even start in the first place. The fact that humans are still doing that every day all over the world is very inspiring and amazing, and it makes me think that what they are is still so far beyond the ways they’ve been turned into statistics, AI algorithm targets, and mere customers. We’re still rather illogical, and we are driven for emotional reasons to do unreasonably beautiful, kind, self-sacrificing things. I may be in love in the moment, hence the answer [laughs].
4) “Come Down Here and Say That”
DIGBOSTON: Let’s vent anonymously. What’s an insult you’ve wanted to say to someone for a while but can’t because of your relation to them?
SAUNIER: Wow, that’s amazing. I don’t know. I’d feel that I’m being mean. It feels like a situation all of us are in every day, where somebody is our representative but we don’t have any say. What was that crazy moment from last year where they took years’ worth of data on a wide variety of issues and divided it up by income. They found that 90 percent of the population of America over 20 years that the actual policy aligns with their opinions 5 percent of the time. If you’re a millionaire, it aligns with your opinion a good 10-20 percent of time. If you’re a politician, it’s almost 90 percent. That’s the way I think a lot of us deal. We have all kinds of things we want to say, but sorry, we don’t get to have a say.
5) “Gracias a la Vida”
DIGBOSTON: When closing out 2017, what are two things you realized you’re incredibly thankful for?
SAUNIER: Oh my god. That question, man. That’s trying to make me well up [laughs]. One is falling hard for a polyamorous human being who teaches me every day to re-examine and question my assumptions and expectations, a lifetime of white male hetero middle-class privileges. The other thing I’m thankful of is the same thing I was thankful of by the end of 2016: Deerhoof is still a band. It’s totally incredible. This band shouldn’t have lasted five minutes. Here we are still going 20 years later, and it’s only gotten more fun. The members of the band that should be at each other’s throats by now for tumultuous life changes are still close. We feel like we’ve gotten over hump after hump. Every new year we can make music together is like a gift and a celebration.
6) “Begin Countdown”
DIGBOSTON: What are you currently counting down the days until?
SAUNIER: That’s a tough one. That’s like something you say on a rocket launch, but in this case the rocket that the president has his fingers on is the one that will cause the annihilation of the human race. To begin countdown is not something you’re looking forward to, it’s something that you’re dreading. The band’s survival and the human races survival against the odds. You can’t expect it will continue, that your luck will never run out. It will at some point. The band will, for whatever reason, cease to be a band. There’s a feeling of extreme dread that the same fate may befall the human race. We will no longer go on tour to Boston.
When looking forward to something, though, I’m counting down the days to a piece I wrote. I just wrote an orchestra bit with Casio keyboards. I’m counting down the days until that show. It’ll be nuts. It took me several years to write because of constant revisions. Now that I’m putting it in writing in your publication, it’s official. I’m not changing it anymore.
7) “Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You”
DIGBOSTON: Are there any negative vibes, words, or actions you have put out into the world that you’ve since tried to redact?
SAUNIER: A hard one, obviously. Once in high school, we were out really late, some friends and I, and we went to Denny’s since that was the only thing open. The server on the late-night shift seemed to be a bit fatigued. When they had taken our order and left the table, I made a wisecrack that those are the type of servers you get at 2 am. Unfortunately, they overheard my wise crack as they were walking away. I didn’t need to say it, of course, and I felt terrible. Truly. I read that book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s incredible and so well-written. It’s about a feminist, academic scholar deciding to move cities and go incognito trying to get a job as an unskilled laborer. She was a waitress, a hotel cleaning lady, and told the story of how she found it to be. To have this book written from the point of view of a restaurant server and the potential traumas of that lifestyle and the lack of rewards, or the surprising rewards you don’t expect, the toll it takes on the human psyche, was so humbling. It made me think back to that egregious experience from the mid-to-late ’80s.
8) “Ay That’s Me”
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you tried to draw a self-portrait? How did it turn out?
SAUNIER: It came out really bad [laughs]. The last time someone asked me to try to draw an album cover or sign their shirt, sometimes I put my name. They ask you to draw, though. So I’ll try to draw a picture of myself playing the drums and it’s horrible. On a scale of 1 to 10, the drawing would accurately would be a 1.
9) “Palace of the Governors”
DIGBOSTON: Who would you elect for governor if you could choose?
SAUNIER: Oh God. Wow. Dang. I always thought maybe RuPaul.
10) “Singalong Junk”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the “trashiest” song you always sing along to when it comes on?
SAUNIER: These questions! [laughs] This is a rough one. Dang. Maybe I’ve come around to whispering sad ones. The reason I think it’s trashy is because it’s one of those songs where you feel really sorry for yourself. Those do so little good in this world, but sometimes you can’t help yourself. You want to sing along with some sad song where the singer feels sorry for themselves too, and it’s pathetic. The answer I should’ve given is “Junk” by Paul McCartney. Actually, the trashiest song to sing along with is your own band’s song. Nothing more trashy than that.
11) “Mountain Moves”
DIGBOSTON: Which memory was the hardest one to learn to let go of?
SAUNIER: You’re making me have to lay my soul totally bare in this interview. The answer I give is completely incriminating, too. Any experience in life of being dumped. It’s a major blow to the ego. I’ve always felt very tempted to replay those, and at some point, your own fantasy depends on letting that go. It’s a funny thing because I’ve only recently, like a week before New Year’s, decided to start meditating. It was for this purpose. I wanted to strengthen my ability to let go of exactly that: recurring thoughts that do you no good. I’ve found that a song called “Mellow Down Easy” by Little Walter, the first bar of the intro, if I loop that into my mind’s ear so it’s playing in my head, and then breathe deeply? It’s incredible. It’s an antidote to the need to play painful memories in your mind. I don’t know if Deerhoof’s music has ever been used by a fan for that reason, but I hope so, because helping people let go of things would be incredible. Blues music, especially Chicago blues from the ’50s like that one, which takes a comical but philosophical take on life, is a gift.
12) “Freedom Highway”
DIGBOSTON: Because Deerhoof tour so often, I imagine you’ve seen hundreds of roads. What’s the most liberating highway to drive down?
SAUNIER: All of them are when you’re on tour. It’s such an amazing feeling to hit the road. It’s a road trip. It become[s] animalistic and simplified. Your responsibilities are still daunting, but there’s very few. You need to maintain a humane relationship with the three or four people you’re spending 24 hours every day for weeks with and then let loose at the show. It’s incredibly liberating to have your life’s goals be narrowed down to something that simple, even though it’s actually very simple. Because we don’t want to be on tour our entire lives, and also want to have homes, we play shows that are an hour away. Instead of doing seven-hour distances, you know? When we talk to bands who said they went swimming at places or camping, I don’t understand how they do it. Buke and Gase were like that when we toured together. Not only did they arrive before us to the venue, but they would tell us about how they got up at 6 am, went skinny-dipping, went for a hike in the mountains, and did all this stuff. Meanwhile, we slept forever, jumped in the car, and still got there late.
13) “Sea Moves”
DIGBOSTON: If you texted someone saying you were at the beach, where could they find you?
SAUNIER: You can find me with one toe in the water waiting for them to get there, because I’m not someone who goes in the cold water alone.
DIGBOSTON: What’s your least favorite fruit?
SAUNIER: Ripe papaya with lime juice.
[Editor’s note: Saunier misheard the question as being “What’s your favorite fruit?” and answered as such.]
15) “Small Axe”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have a favorite indie video game?
SAUNIER: Yes, yes I do. Patatap! It’s so good. It’s an online, very simple website where you can basically hit the keys and they will make different drum sounds or samples. It’s really cute. It makes a bunch of visuals while you do it. If you press the spacebar, it will switch to another set of samples. You can’t win or lose. You just always win—so fun!
DEERHOOF, FAMILY PLANNING, OLIVIA NEUTRON-JOHN. THU 1.18. BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL, 158 BRIGHTON AVE., ALLSTON. 8PM/18+/$16. CROSSROADSPRESENTS.COM