Rollo & Grady Interview :: John Dieterich of Deerhoof

Rollo & Grady Interview :: John Dieterich of Deerhoof

I first met John when I emailed him about Deerhoof’s initiative to have their fans chose which charity they would donate 10% of their new album’s digital proceeds to. What struck me about our dialogue was John was in the middle of releasing his new album [Offend Maggie] and about to start their world tour, but kept in touch on a regular basis. He gave me one more reason to love Deerhoof.

Dieterich, the self-taught guitarist joined the San Francisco-based band in 1999. He was a perfect fit for the experimental group. Deerhoof does what comes naturally to them no matter how unnatural that is. The highly talented group is always pushing the envelope, which makes them so special. Their music is dynamic, mixing noise and pop melodies, and is appealing because it’s unpredictable. What may seem like a mellow pop song can turn into a Fugazi inspired jam.

Deerhoof’s unique sound combines Ed Rodriquez and John’s heavy guitar riffs with Greg Saunier’s high-energy drum play; he is hands down one of the best drummers out there today. And, it’s all thrown off a little with lead-singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s childlike voice and off-beat lyrics.

During our email exchange we discussed Marilyn Manson trance dancing, inviting his best friend to join the band and his favorite groups.

Rollo & Grady Interview :: John Dieterich of Deerhoof

RG: Where are you guys right now? What type of vehicle are you traveling in?

John: We’re on the east coast, just played DC last night. We travel in a minivan. It’s a little tricky trying to fit the five of us (the band and our soundperson, Ian Pellicci) with all of our gear in here, but it saves gas, and it’s a lot easier to drive than big passenger vans.

RG: Who were your primary influences when you were teaching yourself how to play the guitar?

John: I grew up in the mid-west, so I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock and things like that. My older brother was one of the first people in my hometown to get into punk and hardcore. He introduced me to all kinds of things and took me to my first concerts. He also played in bands which practiced in our basement, so I got to see them experimenting with recordings, and he let me hang around while they were working on things. My parents and grandparents were all musicians, as well, so there was always music around, and there were plenty of instruments to play around with.

RG: I read that Satomi said during your live performances that you sometimes look like Marilyn Manson with your eyes rolled back in your head in a trance-like state. What’s that all about? Do you give her hell about interpretive dancing?

John: Sometimes I come out of these trances, or whatever they are, when I’m playing and when I look over at my band-mates, they’re all looking at me like I’m crazy. But, yeah, I think it’s safe to say we all look like idiots at various times during our concerts. We’re just trying to make something cool happen.

RG: How excited were you about bringing your best friend Ed into the band?

John: To be honest, I was very hesitant about adding another member for a long time. The trio format forced the band to grow, and I think we learned a lot by doing it. I was in Minnesota last December, though, and I woke up one morning completely convinced that asking Ed was the best thing we should do. And we haven’t looked back since! The funny thing is, that when I asked him, he had just gotten laid off the day before, so he was trying to figure out what he was going to do. Good timing.

RG: During the recording of “The Runners Four” the band made an agreement that everybody had to 100% approve and love each song. Does this philosophy still hold true today? If so, has it gotten easier to put songs together?

John: Well, that’s always been the philosophy of the band. The difference with “Runners Four” was that we made the decision that we were all going to try to get as involved as possible in everybody else’s material, and we were going to try and do it every step of the way together. That is, every song was written, recorded, mixed and mastered with everyone in the room together, working out every decision by committee. We sometimes still work that way, though I think in general we learned from that experience that it’s best to give each other a little more latitude. If there’s something anybody doesn’t like, we always fix it, but we don’t have to all sit in the room for every decision. It’s a lot more efficient, as we can all be working on different things at the same time, and then we’ll convene to show things to each other and tweak everything as needed.

RG: You guys have done an excellent job connecting with your fans. You invited your fans to compose music for “Fresh Born” by offering the sheet music to the song. You also asked the fans to pick a non-profit that you would donate 10% of “Offend Maggie’s” digital sales to. Can you discuss Deerhoof’s fan-centric approach?

John: I guess the philosophy of the band has always been that the music isn’t really completed until it reaches other people’s ears. The listeners are a big part of the process. As for the digital sales going to a non-profit, we just thought it made sense for the people who are spending the money on the album to choose which organization their money should go to. And Doctors Without Borders, a great organization, ended up getting the most votes.

RG: Children are even getting involved with the band. The kids of North New Haven Community School put on the “Milk Man Ballet” based on your album “Milk Man.” I imagine that was a surreal experience.
Rollo & Grady Interview :: John Dieterich of Deerhoof
John: Well, that was definitely surreal. Or hyper-real. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it other than to say that it has always been a goal of ours that children would be interested in the music and relate to it. It really turned out to be incredible. Both the kids and the musical director took the music someplace new. They actually finished it in a way that we couldn’t. It was really an amazing experience.

RG: You guys toured with Radiohead. What do you think of their pay-what-you-want for “In Rainbows” experiment?

John: I thought it was an amazing idea. As an artist, your ultimate goal is to get your art out into the world, and you don’t want to exclude people because they are unable to pay for it. It gave people the opportunity to choose for themselves.

RG: Rumor has it that you guys are planning on recording a children’s album. Any truth to that?

John: They’re all children’s albums [laughs]!

RG: There is something to be said for a band staying with the same label for their entire career. What’s Kill Rock Stars secret?

John: I’ll just say that they’ve treated us very fairly over the years, have supported and nurtured the band, didn’t force us in any direction artistically at any point and have just been honest with us. We’ve developed a great rapport with them, which is not something that every band can say about their label. We’re very, very lucky.

RG: What’s your favorite Deerhoof song and why?

John: I don’t have a favorite. When I joined the band in 1999, I will say that the song that really caught my attention was “Queen of the Mole People,” from “The Man, The King, The Girl.” I think it’s really gorgeous. We’ve never played that song live, though.

RG: Pick two to three bands or albums that Rollo & Grady’s readers should know about?

Well, we already picked several, and those are the bands that we asked to come on tour with us! And we were lucky that they were able to come. On this tour, we have played with the Happy Hollows, Okay, Experimental Dental School, Coconut, Au, Flying, Fertile Crescent, Nymph, Fat Worm of Error, and KIT. We are fans of every one of these bands!!!

Deerhoof is playing tonight @ The Echo (Sold Out – Check Craigslist)

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