There are two kinds of music listeners in this world: passive and active. The passive listener is the guy who, when you ask him what kind of music he likes, replies, “Oh, I like everything,” or “Whatever,” before nonchalantly slipping a Now That’s What I Call Music! 27 CD into the stereo.
The active listener will take the question as a starter’s pistol, spouting off names, genres, producers, CD illustrators, and rare B-sides, possibly pulling out an iPod to give you an earful of what’s been recently altering her world view.
If you’re a passive listener, you may want to skip Wednesday’s night Deerhoof show, as the band visits Charleston on tour behind their buoyant new album, Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars/5RC), released on Jan. 30.
The impish San Francisco/Oakland-based group completely defies labeling and, although they were once approached about using one of their songs (“Twin Killers,” from 2005’s The Runners Four) in a Payless Shoe Source ad (which they turned down), you won’t find them listed on the back of a Now That’s What I Call Music! CD anytime soon.
The trio blasts through the boundaries of traditional “rock” or “pop,” opting instead to forge an entirely new genre, one where lead singer/guitarist Satomi Matsuzaki’s whimsical, childlike voice is just the entry point for listeners who enjoy spelunking through mysterious aural caverns in search of shining gems of fantastic newness.
Founded in 1994 by Rob Fisk and Greg Saunier, Deerhoof’s line-up has fluctuated throughout its 13 years as band members have come and gone with the shifting tides of side projects and the touring life. Conservatory-trained, thundering drummer Saunier has remained the constant, recruiting Matsuzaki in 1996 and guitarist John Dieterich in 1999, after Fisk left, spawning a fresh approach to birthing songs that resulted in the irresistibly groovy and exuberant 2002 album Reveille.
“One thing that the three of us share is an interest in lots of different styles of music,” says Dieterich, “which I think we probably share with most music listeners nowadays. All three of us have totally different backgrounds and ways of hearing music … to me, it’s actually more difficult to write a song with a more kind of traditional form. It would be much more unnatural for me to try impose some sort of arbitrary rules on each song.”
When Reveille made it onto best-of lists across the world, years of rabid underground adoration eventually hit a rolling boil and the members took the leap into full-time banddom in 2003, quitting their day jobs for life on the road.
“I always had an office job until we went full-time,” says Dieterich. “I was at 120 words-per-minute before I left … I actually have a weird obsession — when you’re on tour, everybody has weird things — when I’m driving, I type out all the signs on the wheel as I pass them.”
After a 2006 that included a headlining tour; jaunts opening for Radiohead and the Flaming Lips; Saunier producing Xiu Xiu’s last album; the departure of bassist Chris Cohen; scoring their friend Justin Theroux’s directorial debut, Dedication; and traveling to a remote Maine island to watch the elementary school students at North Haven Community School perform a ballet based on their 2004 album Milk Man, it doesn’t look like any of the members of Deerhoof need to worry about returning to day jobs anytime soon.
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