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Q&A with John Dieterich of Deerhoof

Their Evil Ways

Deerhoof’s style of music might best be compared to a library of a genius professor whose shelves are completely disorganized, but upon careful inspection of each title, a vast breadth of knowledge is revealed. The rock group, which started in San Francisco before splitting for other locations around the world, releases its eleventh album, Deerhoof v. Evil, this week and celebrates with a release party at the Great American Music Hall on January 28th. In a phone interview with guitarist John Dieterich, SF Station asked what the band put in its coffee to keep the creative juices flowing to which he replied, “I’m attempting to get off coffee right now, so hopefully soon it will be irrelevant.” We delved further into the creative process of one of rock’s most creative bands.

SF Station (SFS): Recently, you’ve been creatively diverse working with Busdriver and making an alternative cover for the Kasai Allstar’s remix album of the Congotronics series. Do you have any other projects planned?

John Dieterich (JD): As far as projects, we do have some things planned for this year, but they’re not for sure.

SFS: How did it come together that Busdriver did a song over one of your instrumentals?

JD: We’ve been friends with him for years. We’ve toured with him several times. Greg and I both have contributed to his last album.

SFS: So it’s much less random then it sounded.

JD: In fact, that’s a potential collaboration. I would like to work more with Regan if it was conceivable. We’ve been talking about making a record for a long time but it just hasn’t come to fruition yet.

SFS: I’ve read that many of your albums have basic concepts behind them. What is particularly defining of Deerhoof v. Evil?

JD: In some cases, yes, but with varying degrees. Sometimes the band will go in and develop some ideas that are extremely vague, which we develop as we work.

SFS: As a concept, I know that on one of your past albums the whole group recorded together, and another you tried to be as minimalist as possible.

JD: Doing the Kasai Allstars cover for their Congotronics CD, we had a practice space in Oakland. During the process of trying to figure out how it [Congotronics] worked rhythmically and its timbre, we decided to play the song with the minimal instruments we had. Something about that worked in a way, whether consciously or unconsciously, we used some of the ideas and thought about sounds in similar ways [on Deerhoof vs. Evil].

SFS: What does it mean that you were looking at the different rhythmic patterns and timbre? Are you literally taking four bars and dissecting it?

JD: It’s pretty big picture stuff. For the Kasai cover, Greg discovered a free downloadable program that allows you to slow down a song and it keeps it at the same pitch and is relatively clear.

We could tell there was something rhythmically going on very sophisticated and wanted to understand a little more intimately what it was. So we’d slow it down, realized that the third note of the phrase was slightly late, and the next one was slightly early. It wasn’t random. The sort of rhythmic template was very specific, and it wasn’t natural for any of us. So it was really a process of trying to understand and get to where we could feel it, as opposed to mechanically recreating it.

When I was saying we learned something from this process that we applied to our album, I would say that the guitar in the cover in the Kasai song is playing a part that was originally a thumb piano part. We thought it would be cool if we could get it close to sounding like that thumb piano. So it’s purely a technical kind of things of playing around with the sound of the instrument until we got something that communicated the mood in a similar way and energy.

SFS: Your album’s release party is in San Francisco. Is there anything when you come back that you hope to relive or do?

JD: Historically, playing for me in San Francisco has always been a nerve-wracking experience because we are playing to a lot of our friends and people who are very familiar with our music, and potentially very critical. You know your friends are your best critics, and it’s also nerve-wracking for that reason.

Deerhoof performs at the Great American Music Hall on January 28th. Tickets are $16. Doors open at 8pm. The performance begins at 9pm.