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Deerhoof: Live in the Democracy Now! Studio

Web ExclusiveSeptember 08, 2017
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The critically acclaimed independent rock band Deerhoof stops by the Democracy Now! studio to perform five songs and talk about music and politics. The influential music site Pitchfork has called Deerhoof “the best band in the world.” The New York Times described them as “one of the most original rock bands to have come along in the last decade.” Their new album, “Mountain Moves (Joyful Noise),” has just been released. In addition to the performance, Amy Goodman speaks with drummer Greg Saunier and vocalist and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we turn now to a musical special: the band Deerhoof live in Democracy Now!'s studios. The influential music site Pitchfork has called Deerhoof “the best band in the world.” The New York Times described them as “one of the most original rock bands to have come along in the last decade.” Earlier this year, Deerhoof premiered their new song “I Will Spite Survive” here on the airwaves of Democracy Now! It's their first song off their new album, Mountain Moves (Joyful Noise).

DEERHOOF: [performing “I Will Spite Survive”]

You could outlive your executioners
You could outlive your executioners
You could outlive your executioners
You could outlive your executioners
But you’re on TV, you’re expendable
But you’re on TV, you’re expendable

Sleep at night, if you can stay alive
Sleep at night, if you can stay alive
Stay alive, if you can sleep at night
Stay alive, if you can sleep at night
City breaks, if you can stay awake
Let her dance, all night long!

You could outlive your executioners
You could outlive your executioners
But you’re on TV, you’re expendable
But you’re on TV, you’re expendable

Sleep at night, if you can stay alive
Sleep at night, if you can stay alive
Stay alive, if you can sleep at night
Stay alive, if you can sleep at night
City breaks, if you can stay awake

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today, Deerhoof share some of their music and talk about what it means to make music in the age of Trump. I’m joined now by two members of the band, drummer Greg Saunier and vocalist and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

GREG SAUNIER: Thanks for having us!

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: Thank you for having us.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. So, we just played a clip of “I Will Spite Survive,” Greg. We premiered this, with Deerhoof.

GREG SAUNIER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the words. Talk about what made you write this song, made the band decide to release this now. It’s the first song on Mountain Moves.

GREG SAUNIER: Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s the first song that we premiered from Mountain Moves, because it was kind of like the thing that we wanted to say first, as a way to announce the fact that we had a new record. And we were—I mean, had you guys at Democracy Now! said no to our desperate plea to premiere it here, I don’t know, you know, if the—if our whole like publicity plan would have worked as well as it has. It was really important to us that we be able to premiere the song with a specific media voice that we thought was telling the stories that are missing from the mainstream.

What the words say is “You could outlive your executioners, but you’re on TV, you’re expendable.” So the idea there is that, you know, normally—like I’m a talking head on TV right now, but the talking heads you often see on the mainstream TV are sort of spouting talking points that seem to originate from lobbyists or from the powerful, and not whatsoever a voice of, you know, the average person in the population. And so, I guess the idea with this song was that because these lawmakers that threaten us with lack of healthcare and nuclear escalation or the hastening of climate change, they tend to be old, and the pundits that champion them and operate for them on TV tend to be old. Our fans, who listen to this song, tend to be young. They tend to be the much-maligned millennials, who are blamed for everything that goes wrong in our society nowadays. That being the case, I wanted to write a song directed at the millennials, saying if you can just stay alive, you know—and that’s why there’s kind of like Bee Gees references to the song, too, you know, like “Staying Alive,” which I think is a great song. The idea of staying alive, you can just do that, out of spite. You will actually outlive the people who are—who seem to be hell-bent on killing you, and possibly turn things around.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you read that first verse for us?

GREG SAUNIER: Yeah. “I Will Spite Survive.” “You could outlive your executioners, but you’re on TV, you’re expendable. Sleep at night, if you can stay alive. Stay alive, if you can sleep at night. City breaks, if you can stay awake. Let her dance, all night long!”—exclamation point.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Satomi, you come to the United States from Japan, and, within a week, you’re touring with Deerhoof?

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: What year was that?

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: ’95.

AMY GOODMAN: Wow!

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: Yeah, April.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, so this is over 20 years ago.

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you hook up with them? How did you know them in Tokyo?

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: Yeah. I went to shows to see this band from San Francisco in Tokyo. And I’m from there, so I became friends with them, because I went to their shows like several times. And then they were so nice, that we just met, but they, you know, wrote me, and like, “Hey, come to San Francisco, and we will take care of you.” So I went to, you know, actually, San Francisco. And then they introduced me to Deerhoof.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another song, “Paradise Girls.” Can you talk about this song, on a previous album?

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: Yeah. “Paradise Girls” is like a cheerleading song for girls. I wanted to connect to girls, you know? And then, I feel like when I play—when we play this song live, I feel like girls are also dancing, and I have so much like good interaction with them. And, you know, I just like the feeling of—usually it’s sports, you know, when people are cheering and have these cheerleading girls. Kind of, you know, the guys are enjoying the girls. But then like girls can enjoy the cheerleading each other.

DEERHOOF: [performing “Paradise Girls”]

Girls, girls, who are smart
Girls, who are smart
Girls, who will test
Girls, who will test
Girls, who will test
Girls, who will test
Girls, girls, girls
Girls, girls, who play the bass guitar
Girls, who play the bass guitar
Girls, who play the bass guitar
Girls, who play the bass guitar
Girls, who are smart
Girls, who will test
Girls, who will test
Girls, who will test
Girls, girls, girls
Girls, girls, who play the bass guitar
Girls, who play the bass guitar
Girls, who play the bass guitar
Girls, who play the bass guitar

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Paradise Girls.” And this is Deerhoof, here on Democracy Now! Our guests are drummer and founder Greg Saunier and vocalist and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki. Greg, the title of your band, your name, Deerhoof, where did it come from?

GREG SAUNIER: Well, I’m not actually the literal founder of the band. There was another guy in the band who started it in 1994, who, although he’s never been on Democracy Now! as a guest, will have a name that’s somewhat familiar, because he happens to have the same name as Robert Fisk. It is a guy called Rob Fisk, started the band. Big fan of animals and a big fan of coming up with band names. And I don’t know, he just came up with that one one day. He made it. It was—what it was was a little cassette that he’d put together. It started off as Rob Fisk solo. He would just play bass, made as much noise as he could, put it on this little cassette, glued some—it was autumn, so he glued some leaves to the outside of this cassette and sort of spray-painted it and made about five copies. And I received one of them and immediately felt that I needed to join the band.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Greg—

GREG SAUNIER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —let’s talk about Bob Dylan for a minute, because you wrote a song—

GREG SAUNIER: Bob Dylan!

AMY GOODMAN: —about Bob Dylan, “Come Down Here & Say That.”

GREG SAUNIER: Well, I mean, I don’t want to say that I wrote the song about Bob Dylan, but I may have borrowed a phrase from—there was that documentary about his mid-'60s tour of England called—what was it called? “Don't Look Back,” where he had just incurred the ire of his purist folk fans for having gone pop. Remember, he had an electric guitar as the band, you know, suddenly was behind him. He was playing loud music. And people were yelling at him, you know, were heckling him from Royal Albert Hall while he was performing. And at one point, he, sort of just off the cuff—

AMY GOODMAN: In London.

GREG SAUNIER: —was like—hmm?

AMY GOODMAN: In London.

GREG SAUNIER: Yeah, yeah, in London, exactly. And at one point, he just—you know, they’re heckling, and he says, “Come up here and say that,” you know, in this really threatening voice, but also kind of laughing. And I thought that it would be fun to, you know, do a song where Deerhoof also goes pop and sort of abandon our sort of like noise purist beginnings and do a very poppy-sounding song, you know, possibly incurring the ire of our longtime fans, but twist the—twist the line a little bit so that instead of “Come up here and say that,” it was “Come down here and say that,” where as though—you know, it was inspired a lot by all of these town halls with the ACA repeal threats, just the droves of people that were suddenly showing up to town halls, and particularly GOP politicians were terrified of their own constituents and, you know, were canceling their meetings or sending proxies or just, you know, not taking any questions and leaving in a hurry. And I just thought, you know, when you have—whether it be politicians or pundits on mainstream television who assure you that there is some mathematical economic reason that it will benefit us all to give a tax break to billionaires, that I would like them to come down here and say that, say that to the person who makes an average wage, come say it to my face, you know, and we’ll discuss whether or not any of us actually believes that. So, I guess the song was meant in that spirit.

DEERHOOF: [performing “Come Down Here & Say That”]

Who is the coward?
Who is the coward?
Who is the coward?
Who…

…is the crackerjack dreamer?
Crackerjack dream
Crackerjack dreamer?
Crackerjack dream

Come down here and say that
Come down here and say that
Come down here and say that

Who is the coward?
Who is the coward?
Who is the coward?

We dance merrily
We dance merrily
For we are sad
We dance merrily
We dance merrily
For we are sad
We dance merrily
We dance merrily
For we are sad

AMY GOODMAN: “Come Down Here & Say That.” That’s Deerhoof, here at Democracy Now! And we’re joined by two of the members of the band: one of the co-founders, Greg Saunier, and vocalist and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki. So, you’ve been doing this now for decades, and we’re now living in the era of Trump. Do you feel you have a different responsibility now? Do you feel like your audience is feeling more urgently about what’s happening now?

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: I think, you know, our attitude towards politics always is same.

GREG SAUNIER: Yeah.

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: You know, we were punk. You are kind of punk rock spirit, you know. And also like we are very, you know, diverse, too. You know, I’m immigrant and everything. And so, I think it’s good now we—like we can play music and actually get together and actually have a voice out, you know, together. And then it’s—yeah, it’s not so different, but I feel like now it feels more like emotional, or like internationally, I feel like—I feel like I like to connect with Asian countries, where, you know, there’s all this North Korea threat. You know, actually, it’s not just America who’s getting threat, but if—you know, I don’t want my parents, who live in Tokyo, to die because of what’s happening right now. I feel like it’s important that we, you know, speak out.

AMY GOODMAN: You also covered Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” in a Planned Parenthood benefit album?

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: Mm-hmm, yeah.

GREG SAUNIER: Yeah, Satomi was Flava Flav. And John, our guitar player, was Chuck D. What an incredible song! But, I mean, Public Enemy is a great example. I mean, it’s like—are we in the age of Trump? I feel like we’re in the age of Public Enemy. That’s how I feel as a musician, as a music fan and a music performer. I mean, the age of Public Enemy almost means more to me than the age of the current president. And the oppression that was described in Chuck D’s lyrics in the late-'80s remains completely relevant. I mean, that music does not sound dated at all if you listen to it now. It has to do with shutting down mega-corporate power. It has to do with “don't believe the hype,” you know, which should be near and dear to your heart, because it has to do with mainstream news versus, you know, telling something the way it is.

AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about the normalization of Donald Trump in the media.

GREG SAUNIER: Yeah, but I guess my feeling, I kind of agree with Satomi that, from our perspective, Trump represents, obviously, an escalation. For instance, civilian deaths in Syria have dramatically escalated. But it’s not like they were zero under Obama, you know. It’s true that his rhetoric against North Korea is stupider, but it’s not as if he’s the one who invented nuclear bombs that—I mean, North Korea has known for a long time that we’ve got a military base right next door and lots of bombs pointed at them. But many of the—many of the issues that, for instance, a band or anybody who sort of lives hand to mouth feels in our country are actually quite similar to how they were last year and the year before. And so, the current president represents a more crass and crude and exaggerated presentation of the same philosophies, be they neoliberalism or extreme corporate rights or extreme militarism, American exceptionalism. I’m just saying a lot of stuff that I hear on your program.

And that, actually, you know, there’s also a potential in 2017, right now, because everybody is now galvanized around these issues. I mean, you know, one candidate last year proposed the outrageous idea that we should have socialized medicine, that we should have single-payer healthcare. And it sounded like an outrageous idea when he first brought it up, and what a nutso, you know? Now, guess what. You know, almost the entire population in the country agrees, and it’s a mainstream point of view. It’s not mainstream in the news. It’s not mainstream among the sitting politicians. But it’s—you know, I feel that the age of—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about Bernie Sanders, of course.

GREG SAUNIER: Well, you know the guy, yeah. The age of the current president is simply a chance for people to be even more galvanized about issues that may have been kind of on the back burner or only brought to the attention of Democracy Now! listeners, are now front-burner issues, in many cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Satomi, talk about “Exit Only.”

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: OK. So, “Exit Only,” I wrote the lyrics, because when I remembered when I got my green card how hard it was in like—even at the time. You know, it was 20 years ago or so. Now it’s getting harder and harder. And I wrote this song before Trump even became president. So it’s such an irony. Like I wrote this song, and I’m like talking about, you know, “Oh, it was so hard to get the green card.” But it’s even harder. It’s crazy, because, you know, U.S.A. is one of the hardest countries to get visa or anything. So, many Japanese friends just left U.S. after, you know—in a certain trial. Like they applied again and again to get visa. But yeah, I’m just saying it’s not easy to come here.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s “Exit Only.”

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: “Exit Only,” yeah, because, you know, you pay money—it’s easy to extend the visa in America, but it’s hard to get the real—

GREG SAUNIER: Actual.

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: —actual legal status, you know? But then, yeah. So, bye bye. You know.

AMY GOODMAN: This is “Exit Only.”

DEERHOOF: [performing “Exit Only”]

I don’t let you, I don’t let you
I don’t let you
I don’t let you, I don’t let you
I don’t let you
Youkoso and Bienvenido
Youkoso and Bienvenido
Youkoso and Bienvenido
I don’t let you, I don’t let you
I don’t let you
You enter USA
Welcome to speech of freedom
You enter USA
Welcome to speech of freedom
Thank you for coming
Get out now
Too many choices to order breakfast
Too many choices to order breakfast
Too many choices to order breakfast
I don’t let you, I don’t let you
I don’t let you
Welcome to speech of freedom
You enter USA
Welcome to speech of freedom
Thank you for coming
Get out now

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Exit Only,” and that’s the band Deerhoof. And they performed that in our studios right here at Democracy Now! I want to end with “Mirror Monster,” Greg.

GREG SAUNIER: The words are “We are riders in the cavalry and will soon be”—what’s the words? “Will soon be the victims of our imitators.” I guess it was a kind of an idea of how incredibly obvious it is that if you take a militaristic approach to the rest of the world, the rest of the world will, rightly so, feel threatened militarily and feel that deterrence is needed, and therefore need to build up their own nuclear arsenal. And we are right now on that hair trigger of experiencing the possibility of the termination of the human race as a result of that via our dealings with North Korea. And I was actually specifically—I mean, this was from a couple years ago that we made this song, maybe three years ago, but it was, you know, pretty much as true under Obama as it is under Trump. He’s just more crude about it. I mean, actually, I remember the talk that you did with Chomsky in Boston—it was a couple months ago—where he was very detailed in his recounting of the Bush years, and, in 2005, how Bush—you know, there was a treaty between North Korea and the U.S. that was working just fine. And the threats were mutually deterred, and the threat was reduced, of nuclear war. And at a certain point in 2005, Bush decided to break the treaty and once again sort of buzz the borders of North Korea with planes and, later, boats. And as a result, North Korea—”Oh, well, OK, so you’re not following the treaty. Then we’re going to go back to building up our nuclear weapons.” And so, this idea that if you take a bully’s approach to the rest of the world, you will likely fall victim to them needing—feeling the need to take a bully approach back towards you.

DEERHOOF: [performing “Mirror Monster”]

We are riders in the
We are riders in the cavalry
And will soon be the victims of our imitators
What did we expect?

We are riders in the
We are riders in the cavalry
And will soon be the victims of our imitators

We are riders in the
We are riders in the cavalry
And will soon be the victims of our imitators

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Mirror Monster,” and the band is Deerhoof, in our studios here at Democracy Now! Their latest album, Mountain Moves, is released in September of 2017. Thanks so much, Greg.

GREG SAUNIER: Thank you for having us. Our pleasure, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Satomi, thank you very much for being with us.

SATOMI MATSUZAKI: Thank you.

GREG SAUNIER: It’s been a thrill.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The band is Deerhoof, here on Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us. If you want to go to our whole section on music and resistance, or, overall, art and resistance, go to democracynow.org. Thanks so much.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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