Deerhoof become a truly global band with “Vs. Evil”
After traveling the globe, Deerhoof has gone international pop. Now singer Satomi Matsuzuki is losing sleep keeping up with all her friends on Skype.
Each morning, when Satomi Matsuzaki wakes up, her friends are thousands of miles away, but watching her, waiting. Matsuzaki, the front-woman for the indie band Deerhoof, is addicted out of necessity to Skype. She grew up in Japan, went to high school in London, studied film in San Francisco, and formed a band that over 16 years has played everywhere from basements to large outdoor amphitheaters. Her friends are scattered across the globe, and Skype is the cheapest way to keep in touch. So she leaves the software running, letting a webcam forever peek into her life and out at others.
Matsuzaki watches her friends cooking, petting their cats and returning from the grocery store. “Welcome back, what did you get today?” she asks someone across the Pacific Ocean. Obviously, it can screw with your internal clock. When I log onto Skype to chat with her, Matsuzaki is working through a severe case of jet lag. She’s just flown from her home in Toyko to San Francisco, joining the rest of her band for a tour that will take them from Korea to Africa over 11 months.
Deerhoof is celebrating what the quartet calls its “sweet 16.” When gathering last year in guitarist Ed Rodriguez’s house to record the new Vs. Evil, the group, formed in 1994, went with the birthday as a theme. “It’s a good concept for a pop album,” Matsuzaki says. “Sixteen is a time when teens are rebellious and colorful, with short attention spans.” Which is why the artwork features pink, green and skulls. The band willingly forced itself through a pop puberty—switching instruments, trying their hand at every instrument in the room and focusing on upbeat rhythms. “Deerhoof is so hard to dance to,” she explains. “We said, Let’s really make it danceable.”
The end result is a remarkable step forward that genre-hops between Tropicalia, flamenco, ’60s film scores, Japanese lullabies and classic rock—all filtered through Deerhoof’s clever, skewed arrangements and Matsuzaki’s adorable vocals.
It’s all the more remarkable considering that when the four started as a noise act, they could not play any instruments. Matsuzaki would lay a bass on the floor and swipe at it with a cow hoof. During junior high in Japan, she got an F in music. She became the manager of the school band in hopes of getting a better mark. She pulled it up to a C. Now, she plays a Hoffner bass, like Paul McCartney (but mostly because it’s little and lightweight), and proficiently sings Vs. Evil’s first track, “Qui Dorm, Només Somia,” in a strange tongue, Catalan.
A Spanish friend, living in England, wrote the poem about sleeping problems in the language. She sang him the melody and fed him the concept. He coached her on how to pronounce and sing the song. All over Skype, of course. He played the finished result back to Catalonian friends, who believed Matsuzaki was from the island of Majorca.
“I wanted to do different languages, different feels,” she says. “We’ve become more international each year. I wanted something everyone could understand.” Well, not entirely universal: “My friend called Deerhoof pervert pop. That describes it so well. It’s not Top 40. It’s pervert.”
Soon, Deerhoof will fly to the Congo to collaborate on new music with Konono N°1 and Kasai Allstars, two “Congotronic” bands that weave electric thumb-piano into heavy African dance. That means more friends, in another time zone, for Matsuzaki to add to her buddy list and keep up with. “I don’t have a home this year,” she says with a sigh. That is the life of a band. But at least, with her laptop, she’ll be able to bring her loved ones along.
Deerhoof visits Bottom Lounge Tuesday 15. Vs. Evil is out now on Illinois label Polyvinyl Records.