Q&A with Deerhoof's Satomi Matsuzaki
Deerhoof is weird. When the Bay Area experimental indie-pop outfit opened for Radiohead in Berkeley two years ago, Thom Yorke thanked them during his band's set with a caveat that included pointing to his oddly-shaped head and making the twirling motion that connotes "crazy." Yorke's got a point: For a band that has spent the past few years touring with the likes of Radiohead, the Flaming Lips and the Roots, while being showered with critical praise across the globe, Deerhoof’s original brand of avant-merry-go-round art-rock never quite adheres to any sort of blueprint or logic. And the group’s liberated artistic integrity is so apparent in concert that the experience brings one back to childhood, when you first discovered a favorite band; but returning to this joy with the discernment of an experienced show-goer is something essential and not just sensational.
In concert, Deerhoof juxtaposes a huge, almost deafening Who-inspired guitar-rock (with a twist of free jazz and J-pop) sound with the inspirationally child-like tone and expression (including bizarre Kabuki – or Air Traffic Control – hand-signals) of their Japanese-born front-woman. And there is indeed an authentic, childlike and utterly beautiful nature inside Deerhoof’s cute madness; but obviously the attention-catcher in Deerhoof is Satomi Matsuzaki, one of the most interesting and immediately captivating front-women in recent memory.
At around five feet tall and with a baby face to match her adorable voice, Matsuzaki illicits sighs of giddiness from audiences all over the world; and on top of her songwriting and vocal prowess she plays a mean Paul McCartney-style Rickenbacker bass that appears longer than she is tall. Arriving in San Francisco from her native Tokyo back in 1996 to study film, she met the folks that would comprise the earliest incarnation of Deerhoof (a duo consisting of Saunier and bassist Rob Fisk, who came up with the band name) and joined the group with no musical experience. But her irrefutably calm and angelic voice (not to mention her songwriting and multi-instrumental talents) has helped evolve Deerhoof from a trio that used Walkman headphones as a mic into a worldwide sensation, at least since a string of critically-acclaimed records (starting with 2003's Apple O and continuing through 2006's Friend Opportunity) made it possible for the band to quit their day-jobs as writers and waiters.
And they’re still evolving in exciting fashion: watching a video of Deerhoof performing a new song called "The Tears and Music of Love" at a recent Tokyo gig, it was immediately obvious that the band is once again at full power and enjoying themselves onstage more than ever. Guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez strum and sway in unison, sometimes "speaking" guitar lines that echo Satomi’s gentle vocals while spastic (and virtuosic) drummer Greg Saunier playfully freaks out.
And the whole sound present on the act’s new album Offend Maggie is joyously experimental but not so abrasive. Deerhoof has put out around a dozen records since forming in 1994, but Offend Maggie might be their most successful combination of weird, cute and free. There's also a Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles influence in there somewhere, along with the playful spirit of the Mothers of Invention circa Burnt Weeny Sandwich, but Offend Maggie is all Deerhoof. And, according to Matsuzaki, whom we spoke with recently in advance of the band's show tomorrow night at the Bluebird, Rodriguez, the act's new guitarist, helped inform the band's new approach to songwriting.
Westword (Adam Perry): How did the experience of making Offend Maggie differ from the other LPs? And how do you think it displays a musical evolution?
Satomi Matsuzaki: Offend Maggie recording was just like our live shows. We played it with spirit and high energy. We practiced songs for a month. We put our best thought into them. Difference from other LPs is we have a new guitar player, Ed, in the band and he understands Deerhoof so well. He is a long friend of John and he played with John for longer than he John played in Deerhoof. They are like twins, and he plays like John. They are like mirror images. We also made songs by doing jamming, which we never do usually. Usually everyone brings songs as finished products. This happened due to Ed, who brought his songs as unfinished. We jammed his phrases and we played and played and song was born. This is new to us.
WW: How did you decide on the new member of Deerhoof and how the integration going, both musically and personally?
SM: Ed is old friend of John. He is super nice. We knew him for a long time so integration was whipped cream smooth. Musically... you will listen in Offend Maggie. It's like a magic.
WW: What inspired you between Friend Opportunity and Offend Maggie?
SM: We toured a lot. We met so many people. We, as individuals, listened to a lot of music. We lived long and grew up. I think we became grown up and learned about music deeper than ever before. Living is experiencing. It's automatic for us to create something new and our goal is to make music that surprises ourselves and other people.
WW: What are the best and worst parts of being such tour warriors?
SM: It's strange we never had a disaster like other bands. Our equipments never got stolen. Our rental van always ran without accident. That's the best. Happy peaceful band. Worst parts is that I, Satomi, don't really like to go away from home that much. I wish I had a dog or cat at home. Meow.
WW: What's it like playing shows in Japan? How do the crowds differ from those in America?
SM: I love both shows!
[Ken Kagami --Satomi's Japanese friend who did the cover art for Milk Man)]: Japanese fans are quiet. Deerhoof seems less wild in front of Japanese fans. American fans act wild and Deerhoof seems to feed off of that energy on stage.
Deerhoof plays the Bluebird Theater 9 p.m. tomorrow night, Saturday, October 11, with Experimental Dental School and Coconut, $13, 303-830-8497.