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On their long drive from California to Calgary for Sled Island 2010, the members of Deerhoof won’t be playing 20 questions or arguing about politics or getting into fights about what should be on the stereo. They’ll be carefully listening to the first takes of a new album they spent the past month recording.
“I know that it’s very different for us,” says longtime member John Dieterich of the upcoming followup to 2008’s Offend Maggie. “I know that I’m very excited about it, but I also definitely feel like I don’t know how to talk about it yet. For us, every album takes into consideration all of the previous albums. If all of the previous albums, not only our albums but all music that we take in, not even just music... if all of those things are questions, then the new album is a possible answer. Then the second it’s made, it becomes another question, and we respond to that next time.”
Dieterich’s mercurial musings are hardly surprising. Deerhoof’s music is as diverse as it is difficult to classify. From catchy tunes about basketball including lines like “dribble, dribble, dribble” to palate-cleansing 12-minute sandblasts, the band’s approach to composition tends to evince innocence and even naiveté. With the boldness and adventurism of unsupervised children, Deerhoof crafts unvarnished music as you would hear it in your head or even in your dreams, with no dilution or inhibition.
“That’s something we’ve actually talked about a lot over the years,” says Dieterich. “Wouldn’t it be cool if an album was this very direct transcription of abstract musical ideas? Maybe sometimes it would sound very childlike and sometimes it would sound just like nothing — a melody for four seconds and that’s it. That act of creating childlike music feels very much adult. It is very much a part of us and it is something that we need.”
Given the resulting musical entropy and the band’s recent penchant for writing with no restrictions on instrumentation, production style or studio trickery, it’s a bit shocking how stripped-down Deerhoof’s live shows tend to be. This was particularly evident during the tour for 2007’s Friend Opportunity, during which the band — a trio at that point — attempted to distil a coherent live experience, based purely on instruments and musicians, from an album that was utterly chaotic. According to Dieterich, any band looking to thoroughly galvanize its players should put itself through the same sort of process.
“In the case of that album, the answer to ‘How did we do it?’ is ‘In a panic and completely, desperately trying to find something that works,’” he says with a laugh. “But also I think we definitely grew as a unit in that period. Something about rhythmic connection, I think. Paring things down to this really simple setup helped us key into each other’s characteristic ways of hearing, fundamental ways we attack our instruments or the way somebody tends to be very slightly late. If we really wanted to lock in, we would zero in on this stuff, and the stripped-down instrumentation allowed us to hear each other that much better.”
Since then, Deerhoof has added another guitarist, powered through yet another album cycle and prepared for a new one, so fans and newcomers alike should look forward to the band’s first-ever Calgary performances during Sled Island. For its part, the band is feeling just as much anticipation.
“This is really an opportunity for us,” says Dieterich. “We’re excited to be a part of the festival and get an idea of what’s going on in this different place. It’s going to be really exciting for us.”