With The Magic, Deerhoof Finally Captures the Energy of Its Live Show

Deerhoof has been unleashing frenetic, eccentric rock music upon the world since 1994. That the San Francisco-based band's sound is impossible to pigeonhole has long been a part of its appeal. It has never aimed to embrace a single genre, or any genre at all, beyond loosely categorized "rock."

“We've never thought of the band as being one thing,” says guitarist John Dieterich. “There is no goal. There is no 'we've arrived at something' or even 'tried to arrive' at something. I think we are getting to be better musicians, but it's more like exploring whatever obsessions we have at the moment, and it can be related to the broader cultural situation. We do have really disparate tastes. At this point I think if someone really likes something, it would be unusual for someone else in the band [to] totally hate it. It does happen, but there will be some crossover, and we'll see where the other person is coming from.”

Deerhoof's music has often been described as an alchemical mixture of punk, noise, metal, jazz and perhaps even prog. It all fits somehow, perhaps because the music doesn't begin with just one idea.

“One thing I will say is that the way influences come out in our music is all over the place,” says Dieterich. “One example that comes to mind is that Ed [Rodriguez] likes to study a lot of West African music and read books on West African rhythm and look at it very structurally and how the polyrhythm works, and apply it to write insane guitar music using a lot of these ideas. Then Greg will write a drum part for it that has nothing to do with that, a really straight beat or whatever. What comes across is not something that sounds like West African drumming or pop music or high life. It's in there structurally, and if you're not looking for it, you're not going to find it.”

That fusion of disparate musical ideas and sounds and the raw energy the band displays in the live setting came together perhaps more fully than ever on its latest album, The Magic. The rumor was that the album was recorded in an abandoned office building in the deserts of New Mexico. The reality is only slightly less unusual in that Dieterich moved to Albuquerque in 2010 with his partner, who is currently in a Ph.D program at the University of New Mexico. Rather than finding the Albuquerque of Breaking Bad, Dieterich's introduction to the city proper came about when his friends in the experimental band Fat Worm of Error invited him to play a show two days after he moved to town. At that show, he met many of the people who were at the core of the underground music world in Albuquerque, and he realized that he had found a group of like-minded artists. Dieterich now has a project with Raven Chacon, a noise artist who has long been a friend of the noise scene in Denver. Sister musicians Marisa and Monica Demarco, whom Dieterich met at that first show, have been a part of Denver's Titwrench festival since its inception, with projects like Milch de la Máquìna, Bigawatt and Chicharra

In writing the material for The Magic, the members of Deerhoof exchanged sound files and recorded at Rodriguez's house in the Bay Area, but found the results unsatisfying. Nine months later, the band reconvened at Dieterich's house in Albuquerque and listened again to their musical ideas, ultimately picking fifteen songs to develop and record. Then the group rented a space in an old office building in the center of town where several other albums had been recorded in third-floor studios. The studios weren't available, so Deerhoof rented an office space that shouldn't have worked for recording.

“The room itself was all no-nos,” says Dieterich. “All parallel surfaces, carpeted — just a box. And I have to say, those recordings were the easiest to deal with, and things sounded quite good. We used small amplifiers for the most part, and low-wattage amplifiers so there was no bleed into the drums.”

There is a spontaneity to The Magic that has a sense of physicality and momentum that is often difficult to capture in the studio. “Before, we had recorded our records in a clinical way,” says Dieterich. “The material is there, but you're having to construct the energy after the fact. We didn't want to have to do that. One thing we've gotten a million times over the years is people [coming] to the show, and they liked the records, but they see the show and they say, 'Ah, I get it now. You should make a record like that.' And we don't know what that means — should we make a live record? I think this record has come closer than the others — even though it's not a live record and has plenty of overdubs and whatever — [to communicating and conveying] the same thing as our live show.”

Deerhoof with déCollage and Blank Spell, Wednesday, August 3, 8:30 p.m., hi-dive, 303-733-0230, 21+.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.