Music

Friends Opportunities: An Interview with Deerhoof on Record Store Day

Ryan Reed
Photo: Eric Landmark

Saturday is the third annual Record Store Day, and to celebrate, PopMatters caught up with Deerhoof mastermind Greg Saunier about the re-releases the band is putting out for RSD, the revival of the MIDI format, and feeling like a king in Russia ...

It's the most wonderful time of the year! At least, it's the most wonderful time of the year for indie music lovers.

Tomorrow, April 17th, indie retailers across the country will celebrate the third annual Record Store Day, and will do so by selling limited-edition materials from bands like Gorillaz, LCD Soundsystem, Modest Mouse, and dozens more, all in the name of helping support the independent music stores across the country. Along with brand new singles, limited edition vinyl, and (in some cases) entire albums getting an exclusive release through these small outlets, Record Store Day allows everyone to rally behind the small record shops that have been struggling in our modern download age, not only introducing new customers to the shops they will soon be frequenting, but also to help establish a sense of community between music retailers and outlets alike.

To help celebrate, I sat down (via e-mail) with Greg Saunier, drummer/vocalist/writer for critically acclaimed experimentalists Deerhoof, who are re-issuing two of their albums -- 2003's Apple O' and 2005's previously-hard-to-find Green Cosmos -- on blue and green vinyl, respectively, with bonus live tracks and demos. Along the way, Saunier states that he doesn't know much about the term "accessibility", the revival of the MIDI format, and what it feels like to be a king in Russia ...

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Before we get into pressing matters ... it appears Deerhoof will be playing in Russia and Denmark this week. Where are you e-mailing from, and, well ... what's new?

Hi, Russian hotel business center. It is 11:35 and check-out is at 12. I am typing as fast as I can! The show in Moscow last night was so beautiful, I'm starting to think that the first show of every tour should be in Russia, the audience just gives so much energy. You feel like a king playing here.

On April 17th, for Record Store Day, you're re-issuing two albums: 2003's Apple O' and 2005's (once limited edition) EP Green Cosmos, both on vinyl with bonus live tracks and demos. How did Deerhoof get involved with this project?

Oh it's more like we got Kill Rock Stars involved with our idea. Actually our booking agent Erik, he's an insane vinyl collector and every time I talk to him on the phone, the first order of business is him pestering me about why Deerhoof doesn't have more vinyl, then at some later point we say a few words about maybe booking some shows. So really it was his idea that people should be able to buy the records for a normal price instead of paying $80 on ebay or whatever.

I of course wanted to go crazy and remix everything, add new overdubs, generally go the "New Coke" / "new scene with CGI Jabba the Hut" route on these reissues but thankfully everybody talked me out of it. So I just tinkered a little with the mastering and changed the track order for vinyl, and then we added some bonus stuff. Lo-fi live versions and stuff, kind of fan-only things probably, things only a mother could love as it were. Luckily Deerhoof has a lot of mothers.

In your Record Store Day-related note over at the Kill Rock Stars site, you mention all the critical praise thrown at Apple O' and also the unfortunate promotion of Green Cosmos. Were these the main factors in choosing these two particular releases -- to celebrate an acclaimed album and give a second chance to the underdog a lot of people haven't heard? Is there anything else about them that seemed about appropriate for re-issue?

Ha, the thing about these two was that I liked them, that honestly was the main reason. So I felt like they would be the easiest to deal with, just a few minor tweaks. I also like The Runners Four but there are still a lot of copies of that, so there was no need to reissue. I was only joking around when I said that Green Cosmos wasn't promoted in that blog. I had jetlag when I wrote that and we were also doing our 2009 taxes so I was in a "mood" let's say. The kind of mood that makes me want to write blogs, and also the kind of mood where it is probably not advisable for me to write blogs ...

Photo: Richard Saunier

Do you plan on re-issuing any of the other albums in the future? Not that The Runners Four isn't already a long piece of work, but I think we could all dig some unreleased nuggets from those sessions!

Oh well thank you. There are some unreleased things actually, and some really good live versions of some of those, stuff with Chris singing and whatnot. But somebody has to buy up the rest of the copies of the existing LP first! Hopefully we'll put all of our records on non-limited edition vinyl sometime. I was just listening to some of The Man, The King, The Girl when I was on the plane to Russia. I was a little surprised that I thought it sounded pretty good, like I think people might actually like it. I feel like this kind of more aggressive music might be making a comeback. As much as I love all the acoustic guitars and strings and the love rock stuff I think there's still a lurking need to bust out a little bit, show how intense music can really be.

In that same, previously-mentioned note, you discuss your first experience at an indie record store, purchasing a Keith Richards solo album. I think anyone who frequents an indie retailer has had a comparable experience. I also remember that uncomfortable and exciting combination of awe and embarrassment while walking to the counter. It's a humbling experience understanding that no matter how much you think you listen to, someone listens to more.

I have that humbling experience all the time. The weird thing is especially when we are outside the US, that's when everybody is asking me "do you know such-and-such American band" and of course I have no idea what they're talking about.

Why re-issue these albums on vinyl? Is it just simply due to personal preferences to vinyl? Also, a lot of bands are noted for being "better on vinyl". Do you think there is any relevance to this, and if so, do you think Deerhoof is a band that simply "works better" on vinyl?

I don't know - I think the sound of the vinyl has perhaps only a little to do with it. More like you can listen to half and then decide whether to listen to the other half. And even then, you get several songs, so it's not like shuffling on an mp3 player. But for me it's never been about format, I'm happy to be a "vinyl band" but only if I can also be a "CD band" and an "mp3 band" too.

Speaking of vinyl, there has obviously been a huge resurgence of the medium in the last 10 years or so. People are attached to the large artwork, the cracks and pops of playback -- even the sense of an exclusive community that comes from it. Listening to vinyl is obviously a different experience than listening to a CD. Are you a "vinyl" kind of guy? What do you think has caused this recent trend? And is it a passing fad?

No, I think it shows that CDs were a passing fad! I think everybody suspected this anyway from the beginning. I think the next big format is going to be MIDI. Stuff that your computer plays for you, and that if you have the right program, you can change the speed or the pitch or the instruments. MIDI is really fun, I've been getting into it in the past 2 months. Also the file sizes are ridiculous, like a Beethoven symphony is smaller than this email ...

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