Deerhoof is here to stay: An interview with Greg Sauniers

Labelled under the list of most progressive and influential bands of the 1990’s and you’ll find Deerhoof among there. With propulsions of guitar riffs, electronics, spectred by innovative drum patterns, the San-Francisco based band has been the front-runner for influencing profound bands such as TV on the Radio and the Dirty Projectors.

We speak to head honcho and drum wizard Greg Sauniers on how it feels to be on the road, innovative drumming and their previous tour in Singapore.

Hey Greg! You guys have just finished touring Bangkok and Japan as part of your Asian tour. How’s it been so far?
The Bangkok part isn’t finished yet, unless we played it last night and I have forgotten but actually I doubt it. Usually I am very good at remembering a show we just played. I can even remember very old shows, like when we played Singapore 2 1/2 years ago. The fried rice backstage. The craft fair. The red t-shirts of the student security. The frowning Australian couple who said our soundcheck was disturbing their sleep. The soft rock band playing covers in the restaurant right next to the stage. The offers of marriage from beautiful audience members. In other words, the tour is going great.

Deerhoof has an impressive record, having released 11 studio albums throughout your career. How important do you think it is to stay relevant to the original direction you started out from?
For Deerhoof it’s more important to try to be irrelevant. Our fans like to be surprised, which is why we love them. Every new thing tells another part of the story, so it’s relevant automatically.

It’s been two years since the release of Breakup Song. Any plans on releasing new material soon?
We have finished a new album, last night at 2am, which is why I am a little bit tired and maybe my answers are a little funny. It is about the death of financialization and it will be coming out November 4th.

Thats quite a piece of news! You’ve been labeled as quite a sizeable influence on artists such as TV On The Radio and Dirty Projectors. How does it feel to be cited as an influence to these bands?
It is not our main goal to influence other musicians, but I do remember how important some music has been to me in my life, ever since I was a kid, and still today. I remember the first time I heard the Rolling Stones, the first time I heard Stravinsky. Everything changed for me at huge moments like that. I’m so happy if there are musicians who have moments like that with Deerhoof.

Let’s talk a bit about drumming. Your drumming is an off-kilted, off timing sense of rhythm – it’s almost like a lead instrument in its own sort. What are the limitations and advantages of playing in an “unorthodox” way?
The advantage is I love playing the drums. To me it’s not so unorthodox. Sometimes when I play drums for other people, like in an orchestra for example, it’s so much weirder having to play without ever changing the rhythm, to play like a machine. It’s like I have to keep reminding myself not to be musical.

So I think you’re right that in Deerhoof we all play like we are the lead instrument, or at least we want each other to be free and wild and squeeze the most out of the song and have a musical conversation. We have been playing for years and it is more exciting than it has ever been. We feel like we’re just starting to understand how to play together.

Any heads up for the gig happening in Singapore? We’re excited to have you back!
I am always telling people back home how much I loved Singapore, the music fans, the incredible mix of people, the palm trees, how easy it was to chat to people and make jokes and laugh. It’s going to be a great concert.

By Evan Woon

Deerhoof will perform at *SCAPE The Ground Theatre with The Trees And The Wild on 19 June.

Tickets can be purchased here.

JamIt!: Giving Myanmar musicians a stage

It’s 7pm on a hot, humid summer night in Yangon at a faded bowling alley on the outskirts of town. Out in the parking lot (a loose term as it’s overgrown with grass and weeds) gather forty Burmese youth dressed in everything from short skirts and heels to tight black ripped jeans with punk-inspired t-shirts. Inside, the tireless owner is scrambling to get some air-conditioning units kickstarted and bands are milling about with lukewarm beers. The doors open, the fans pay USD3 to enter, and the music kicks off. Eight bands play sets of 20-45 minutes each and the styles
could not be more varied, from a Portishead-inspired duo to a three-piece hip hop act with plenty of rock in between.

Welcome to JamIt!, a year-old project started by musicians Eaiddhi and Ye Ngwe Soe to provide opportunities for local unsigned, underground bands to play live. The concept was inspired by days when the two friends, in their younger days, would sit out on the street at night and strum their guitars with friends — but this time one notch up by choosing a more public location and inviting friends.

As Eaiddhi tells us, “We got this idea just to perform in public places like Kan Daw Gyi park with our acoustic guitars and invite some friends. It’s more like a party. Just like the old times when we were young playing guitars in the streets and that’s what all the young Myanmar people do.”

Since that first gathering a year ago, JamIt! has quickly grown from its humble roots. The first show drew just twenty fans but recently shows are drawing a crowd of around 300. The frequency of the shows has increased and the variety of acts is growing. Myanmar fans are taking note and grateful for the opportunities that JamIt! is creating.

One fan, Py Soe, stated that, “There are many underground bands in Myanmar… and I think they should get the chance to play to an audience. JamIt! can give them what they want.”

The challenges of organising concerts are immense: there are few venues in Yangon willing to host live bands, power supplies are irregular, sound equipment is expensive, sponsorship is virtually impossible to come by and getting the word out to new potential fans is tough. Yet Eaiddhi and Ye Ngwe Soe power on and the hard work is certainly paying off. One cannot help but be impressed with the quality of what they are putting together.

When asked about what it takes to stay motivated, Eaiddhi replies: “Despite the frustrations, I love doing it and I really enjoy it. Me and Ye Ngwe Soe always talk about this: when we’re growing old, we still don’t want to go and hear this same old shit. There’s gotta be places and bands we can go and see for real, good music. This is part of our dream too. One band can’t create scene, if we are together this is something.”

JamIt! is just one example of the growing push by the younger generation to promote creativity and free expression. The arts scene has taken off and the entertainment sector is liberalising and expanding — compared to three years ago, Yangon’s events calendar has exploded. New multi-purpose spaces such as Pansodan SceneDeitta Gallery and TS-1 are hosting theatre, music and exhibits while organisations such as ‘FAB’, an LGBT events group, and Myanmore, an online portal, are driving the social scene.

Whilst some of the ‘new’ Myanmar projects aim for financial benefits, JamIt! simply wants to promote talented musicians to more fans. They sum it up by saying, “None of these underground bands become rich from playing music. We are not trying to make money but we need money to make music. We hope that if can make more gigs happen, the bands could get more and more fans and it would also be a place to get more albums out.”

By Anne Cruickshanks

Tully On Tully: To Asia and beyond

Tully On Tully are making waves wherever they go, and they’re not afraid to get out and try their brand of indie-pop on new audiences. This has taken them from Australia to the Philippines, to Canada, New York, and back to Singapore, and all in a twelve-month window.

Hitting Singapore at the end of May for Music Matters, Tully On Tully treated audiences to shows at both Crazy Elephant and on the Fountain Stage at Clarke Quay. Apparently, opening for K-Pop Night Out (the festival’s Korean showcase) brought back memories from their 2013 visit to Singapore.

“We played a show at Home Club (last year) but we got to come see some K-Pop. I remember walking down a street and all of a sudden there was a huge crowd of people like just in front of me, and I realized that we were walking behind this huge K-Pop star,” says vocalist Natalie Foster, “We were just there being like, ‘What? What’s happening?’”.

“You hear about that kind of stuff happening to other people… but we never thought it’d happen to us”

The Internet has played a pretty significant role in the band’s story of going international, with their first foray into the wide world being their 2013 trip to Manila for Wanderland Festival almost exactly one year ago. There, they played alongside established acts including The Temper Trap and Nada Surf.

The story goes that the band received an email from Stephanie Uy [the 23-year-old President of Karpos Multimedia and brains behind the festival] who had heard of the band from her sister. Finding their videos online, she got in contact, and the rest, they say, is history. “It’s sick,” says sometime piano teacher and Tully On Tully keys player Pete Corrigan. “You hear about that kind of stuff happening to other people — being discovered on YouTube or something — but we never thought it’d happen to us”.

Turns out that the Wanderland opportunity was the beginning of an exciting journey for the band. “It was a huge stepping stone for us, to be able to play internationally,” Corrigan continues, telling us that “it was a huge learning curve as well, in terms of organisation and getting ourselves ready”. Before this opportunity, though Tully on Tully was well educated on hitting the Australian road, only guitarist Greg Rietwyk had travelled internationally for gigs.

“…when they go out, they don’t wanna go clubbing; they want to go and watch a band”

And it certainly wasn’t overnight success for the band. Formed in 2011, they’d spent two years playing in and around their hometown of Melbourne (Australia), independently releasing their debut EP ‘Weightless’ and supporting the likes of local artists Tigertown and Whitley.

They attribute their success, and the success of other Melbourne bands, to the vibrancy of the independent music scene in the city. “Honestly in Melbourne, I think it’s a lot to do with all the venues around town. Also, I suppose, just Melbournites in general – they just accept Melbourne as a place of supporting the independent music scene,” says Corrigan.

“There’s a whole subculture of people who really thrive on that; who, when they go out, they don’t wanna go clubbing; they want to go and watch a band”. Both Corrigan and Foster believe that the x-factor that other cities lack is the supportive community of artists, who are both the producers of, and the supporters of, the arts there.

“It’s good having another voice in there to kind of balance us out and also throw in ideas that we never would’ve considered by ourselves”

But that’s not to say that there aren’t positive factors to getting out of Australia; the enthusiasm of crowds in South East Asia is one of the draw cards for Tully On Tully. “It’s great, we love it,” Foster says. “It’s almost like everyone is so much more receptive here. Like they’re so open and wanting to hear new music and stuff, whereas in Australia they’re a little more reserved.”

Recently, Tully On Tully have been making the most of being in demand overseas. In the last month alone, they’ve played shows in Toronto for Canadian Music Week, New York and Singapore. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind month for us!” Corrigan says.

And there’s more to come. With a new EP on the way, things are only heating up for the band. Whilst ‘Weightless’ was engineered by Rietwyk, the band are now looking for a change. For the first time, they’ve worked with a producer, and with positive results.

“Sometimes I think when it was just us working together it was easier to get on each other’s nerves and disagree,” says Foster. “It’s good having another voice in there to kind of balance us out and also throw in ideas that we never would’ve considered by ourselves”.

Embracing the new seems to be working in Tully On Tully’s favour.

By Eleanor Turnbull