Breakup Song marks Deerhoof’s 11th album. Here at Art Wednesday we think that alone is pretty damn impressive. It’s also possibly the most accessible record in their entire back catalogue; “noise jingles for parties” is the term Deerhoof have coined. We had a nice natter with John Dietrich and got the lowdown on Breakup Song.
AW: Deerhoof have been making music for 18 years now; does that amount of experience make releasing new albums easier, or is it harder to keep things ‘fresh’, as it were?
JD: I guess it feels exactly the same, which I suppose is hard. There are certain technical aspects that have gotten easier in terms of us recording ourselves, and I definitely feel like I’ve learnt a lot over the years, but ultimately the whole point of making an album is to confront yourself and do something that you don’t know how to do. So, it’s always hard, but good hard.
AW: How do you push yourself to be inventive?
JD: I don’t really push myself to be inventive, but I do try to stay on top of whatever my imagination is doing. Maybe that’s the same thing, I don’t know. I think the main thing I’ve realized is that you get better at this stuff by working at it, which is something I didn’t necessarily assume when I was younger. The more I work, the more comfortable I am working, and the less the time lag between getting an idea and executing it. I’m also slowly beginning to trust myself, something that feels very unnatural indeed.
AW: Your latest album is called Breakup Song, but it’s certainly not your classic R’n’B album of break-up ballads! Where did the name come from? Is this album, in a sense, a ‘break up’ from the very sonically dense sound on previous albums?
JD: It’s just a product of seeing a lot of breakups around us and some of us experiencing breakups of various kinds in our lives. I don’t feel like it’s musically really breaking from anything in particular. Rather, it’s just another step forward or sideways or whatever direction it is we’re going. We had musical goals with the album, but they weren’t about breaking with the past, necessarily.
AW: Does this album have a theme, per se?
JD: There’s a subtle subtext about our obsession as a band with semi trucks and the movie ‘Maximum Overdrive,’ but as I say, it’s quite subtle…
AW: Your drummer Greg Saunier said: “Pop has always marked the spot on the Deerhoof treasure map.” That surprised us at first, because pop isn’t a word we’ve heard used before to describe Deerhoof…
JD: Oh no, we’ve been referred to as pop for as long as I’ve been in the band, though it’s usually accompanied by a whole bunch of other descriptives (and usually a few four-letter words!)
AW: Do you think Breakup Song is a pop album? It feels more immediate than some of your previous records.
JD: I guess the thing that maybe is pop about the album is its sort of relentless feeling.  It doesn’t give you a lot of time/space to process what’s happening. The whole idea was that it would be something that you could put on, strap on some waders and go dig a ditch in the back yard, and it would provide you with the energy to do so. I think the best of pop music can do that. It propels you to dig ditches!
AW: After ‘Deerhoof vs. Evil’ in 2011, you did a huge amount of collaboration; Congotronics Vs. Rockers, the gig with The Flaming Lips, Shuffle Culture. Does working with other artists bring different ideas to Deerhoof? 
JD: Definitely. I think working with Congotronics in particular really taught me a lot as it was such a long-term, intense collaboration. I had never been in such a big group before, and so many language barriers and musical hurdles. It was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life, though there were times where it really drove me crazy. Shuffle Culture was great, simply because the vision for the concerts was so worked out, in advance, by Rich Jacobs (the Roots’ manager), and we simply had to execute his vision. So, it was very fun trying to play this role and be the band that he saw us as. It forces you to try and be good at something that you might not even be good at… Working with the Lips was amazing, though it’s not like we had lots of time working together. We had about 10 minutes at a soundcheck, and then we just blasted it. It was very, very fun! Holy God, is Steven’s guitar amp loud, though?! It’s the loudest amp I’ve ever stood in front of, with the possible exception of Keiji Haino’s.
AW: Lots of people try to define your sound, but it’s very difficult to pin down. How do you feel about people’s constant need to catagorise things?
JD: I mean, I understand it. I am happy that I don’t have to do that most of the time and I can just experience this stuff and analyse it in a more intuitive way. One interesting side note, though. I do notice that people don’t come up to us after our concerts and ask us what kind of music we play. I think if someone comes and sees us, the need to define what we’re doing goes away. They see it for what it is, and that’s it. I do think that the way most of us listen to music nowadays forces us to categorize things and compare them to the other 25 days of music we have on our computers.
AW: Can you sum up Deerhoof for Art Wednesday in 5 words?
JD: You try hard to feel.
AW: You’ve worked with a huge amount of other musicians over the years; who would be your dream collaboration?
JD: You know, I still have so much work that I want to do with the people I’ve already collaborated with. I’ve been playing with Deerhoof forever, and I feel like we’re just getting started together. I still really want to work with the Congotronics group again if we can, though that’s a very complicated group to get going. Hmmm, dream collaboration? I would love to work with Elizabeth Fraser someday! She’s a real hero of mine. Talk about a pipe dream.
AW: If for whatever reason you weren’t allowed to be a musician, what job do you think you’d pick instead?
JD: I would choose something that used my body more. I’m so sick of sitting in this ridiculous chair… bike messenger?
You can catch Deerhoof live with Buke & Gase on 3 December (Brudenell Social Club, Leeds) or the 4 Dec (The Garage, London). The band will also be playing The National curated ATP at Camber Sands on 7 Dec. For more info, visit their website [here]
Words by El Hunt.