Expecting the unexpected is your best bet when taking in Deerhoof's quirky and decidedly experimental brand of pop-rock. Considering the group's influences requires a similar approach.
Take Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier's thoughts on the impact of Star Trek star William Shatner on the band's music: "His strange sense of timing hits me in a really deep way I can relate to and it has ever since I was a kid watching Star Trek... this overly intense delivery of his lines that seems to really distort what will look like an ordinary leading man's lines on a piece of paper. He'll twist it and distort it in his delivery in such a way that it becomes what I consider to be an almost musical performance," says Saunier.
The drummer laughs a lot while talking over the phone from his San Francisco home, in anticipation of Deerhoof's first trip to Halifax, as part of the jazz fest. The alternately playful and serious way Saunier talks about Deerhoof is in step with the band's music. Bouncy pop tones and driving indie rock frequently meld with strange shifts in tempo and hard-to-place sound effects, sometimes all in one song. Add to this the distinctive, airy voice of main singer Satomi Matsuzaki and you have the recipe for one of the last decade of rock music's most unique, consistently rewarding ensembles.
It's a band that's hard to pigeonhole, and Saunier prefers the situation stay that way. "Everybody has their own version of Deerhoof and I think that's really great, because it gives the audience a role in finishing or defining the music for themselves."
Deerhoof released its eighth album, Friend Opportunity, early last year on Kill Rock Stars. Recorded after the departure of guitarist Chris Cohen, the album was short and risky, with many songs relying on samples. Operating as a trio for the first time in a while, the group often used post-production to actually compose the songs, Saunier says, "almost embarrassingly so." Taking snippets of ideas for songs, the group would then arrange them on computer and record overdubs to flesh tracks out.
The band will be releasing Offend Maggie, a studio album recorded with new guitarist Ed Rodriguez, on October 7. Saunier refers to the album as a return to the real from the surreal, with songs being written and recorded in a more traditional fashion.
"We keep sort of going back and forth, between recording in a way that sounds more like an actual band playing live at the same time and something that sounds more produced or artificial," he says.
Before Offend Maggie's release, Deerfoot has invented a clever pre-release promotion. The ability for fans to illegally download albums on the internet prior to their official release date---typically called "leaking" an album---has created problems for bands and record labels trying to build up hype for their newest releases.
Saunier came up with the idea of creating a website where musicians can download a song's score in musical notation or guitar tablature. Fans can then record their own cover versions and upload them to the website, making their cover versions of the new songs publicly available before Deerhoof's own recording is even released (or, hopefully, leaked). "I'm really looking forward to hearing the results," Saunier says, with a giggle.
The drummer always knew he'd be playing music at this point in his life, but he never imagined being involved in such a rewarding and long-lasting project.
A career in academia was once an option for Saunier: He'd taken a degree in music composition at Oberlin College in Ohio. But playing in grunge bands on the side eventually led him to move with one of those groups to San Francisco, where the seeds for Deerhoof were planted with the release of its first seven-inch single on Kill Rock Stars in 1995. Thirteen years later, Saulnier is still surprised by Deerhoof's good fortune.
"I never in a million years expected to be on the phone to Halifax, getting ready to play a jazz festival, on tour all the time, recording albums, having thousands of people know our music and like it. It so far exceeds my wildest dreams."
Deerhoof w/Rich Aucoin, Dog Day, Saturday, July 19, at the Marquee Club, 2037 Gottingen, $14 advance, $16 at door, 429-2442.