Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier discusses the influences behind the band’s new LP ‘Miracle-Level’
Deerhoof's 19th full-length album Miracle-Level comes out tomorrow, March 31, and ahead of its release the band have shared "Phase-Out All Remaining Non-Miracles by 2028." It's arty and guitar-driven and, like the entire album, is sung entirely in Japanese. The song's lyrics pertain to ecological ruin, as Deerhoof explain:
Through the eons of human existence, trees had souls, mountains told stories, bees whispered secrets to us, the wind helped us make decisions. The world was literally filled with miracles. 500 years ago, a veritable blip in time, a handful of people tried a brainwashing experiment: make everyone believe the world is actually inert and mechanical. That it's only there to extract and exploit, and the real goal of life is profit. If some people don't fall for your scam, enslave or exterminate as needed. Of course the first rule of being a smart parasite is don't kill your host. As we all can see, they are killing the host. The experiment has failed.
Listen to "Phase-Out All Remaining Non-Miracles by 2028" below.
Ahead of the release of Miracle-Level, we asked drummer Greg Saunier to tell us more about the inspirations behind the album, which include Rosalía, Nirvana, The Beatles, Star Trek, and more. Read his list and commentary below.
Meanwhile, Deerhoof will be on tour supporting Miracle-Level starting this week, and that includes a NYC show at Elsewhere on April 4 with Sound of Ceres and Scarlett. All dates below.
DEERHOOF'S GREG SAUNIER - INFLUENCES BEHIND NEW ALBUM MIRACLE-LEVEL
OK so like, I’m thinking through my influences, I want to seem clever, but what are influences really? Sure there are all the clever things we tried to sound like. Then there are the things it accidentally actually sounds like.
1. So yes, the piano in “Phase-Out All Remaining Non-Miracles By 2028” is very much a conscious homage to the piano part in “CUUUUuuuuuute” by Rosalía, because it comes out of nowhere, what is form, what is structure, why must verse and chorus bear any relationship?
2. But then as I was thinking about influences for this article, I was musing on our most tender piano ballad, the very title track to our new record, when it occurred to me that the melody of “Miracle-Level” is really just “Territorial Pissings” sung more slowly.
3. Now “Territorial Pissings” has got three chords, just like “Heart-Shaped Box,” but so many Nirvana songs have four. And it’s true that four is exactly how many I was looking for, in the later part of the song, the part where Satomi sings “uta atteru.” I tried to figure out the chords at the beginning of “Albumblätter op 124: 9. Impromptu” by Robert Schumann, and once I had done so, I put them straight into the song.
4. If you come to our shows you often hear Cajun music in the PA between bands. This is from our Deerhoof-between-band-playlist. My absolute favorite is “La valse de Tante Adèle” by Les Frères Michot. We hear it every night on tour for years now and it never gets old. I thought, “Surely if I put my mind to it, I can write something inspired by this.” That’s when I thought of the beginning of “Sit Down, Let Me Tell You A Story.”
5. But I didn’t know the best way to strum the chords, for I didn’t want it to sound too much like Les Frères Michot. I was scouring the memory banks for a solution. And I found it when I remembered “Awufuni Ukulandela Na?” by Izintombi Zasi Manje Manje. The way they strum the chords!!!
6. The chords needed to sound chunkier though, so I got influenced by “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” by Nirvana and other grunge music, where you hit the low string that would not normally be part of your A-form barre chord.
7. I thought of a great high part to come next, but it was just going to be too high. Then I remembered who Deerhoof’s guitar players are, and how they can play so high. I thought of “Manzaneando” by Manzanita y su Conjunto. I was living in Peru around the time this song came out. I was 2 so it probably was not an influence. Many years later I bought it on iTunes as I was writing this Deerhoof song. Those high guitars in thirds!!!
8. I was listening to “Soave sia il vento” from Mozart’s opera Cosí Fan Tutti, and thought to myself let’s make a section near the end of the song that sounds like that. Ultimately this became the section where Satomi sings, “Bakuhuu hyuuu uuuu rara ahah un.” I did not realize until right now as I am writing this, that both Satomi’s lyrics and the Cosí lyrics are about wind. Miracle!!!
9. During Miracle-Level’s planning stages, I thought to myself, “We only have one week to record and one week to mix this whole record, we’ve never done anything that fast, I had better not use hi-hats.” Hi-hats are always the main problem when it comes time to mix. We record our songs in an hour or two and then spend the next 6-7 months trying to get rid of the hi-hats. So I listened to “Baby Come Closer” by The Troggs, because this drummer solved that problem by just playing the hi-hat part on the snare drum, such a great sound, I used that technique for almost every song on this record.
10. So the hi hat-snare issue was squared away, but then our producer Mike Bridavsky emailed me asking what I wanted the kick drum to sound like. It was obvious what to say: “the last 30 seconds of 'Yellow Submarine.'” Only obvious to me as it turned out. I had never met him when he asked this, so I didn’t realize Mike had never heard The Beatles. In the end he did me a solid and achieved this exact sound. I was influenced by Mike to think about the question and he was influenced by me being influenced by Ringo, or whoever was marching around Abbey Road with a parade bass drum.
11. Some, though not all, Deerhoof records are about some episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. “Behold a Marvel in the Darkness” is a line of dialogue in the episode “Balance of Terror.” “Damaged Eyes Squinting into the Beautiful Overhot Sun” is based on the face the Klingon commander makes when the Organians turn into balls of light at the end of “Errand of Mercy.” Our new album is based on “The Alternative Factor.”
12. In the end, I couldn’t find a way to describe my influences that made all that much sense. Under capitalism we tend to think of influences as “stuff we bought” or at least “other humans I agree with.” But we don’t always know how our decision-making might be influenced by, say, the wind. The Nutmeg’s Curse by Amitav Ghosh is an incredible book about how through the eons of human existence, it was understood that wind, plants, and animals had souls. Mountains could sing and tell stories and make decisions. It was only in the last 500 years, a veritable blip, that a few greedy Europeans had the idea to pretend that the Earth is inert and mechanistic and that the point of living there is to extract maximum profit. This annoying philosophical experiment has turned out to be a catastrophic failure and now we are at the brink of extinction. This book is also about spices, and it is our album’s deepest influence.
DEERHOOF -- 2023 TOUR DATES
3/31 - Toronto, ON - Wavelength Winter Festival @ TD Music Hall
4/01 - Montreal, QC - La Sala Rossa
4/02 - Greenfield, MA - Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center
4/04 - Brooklyn, NY - Elsewhere Hall
4/05 - Philadelphia, PA - Underground Arts
4/06 - Providence, RI -Columbus Theatre
5/04 - Seattle, WA -Neumos
5/05 - Portland, OR - Aladdin Theater
5/07 - Sacramento, CA - Harlow’s
5/08 - San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall
5/10 - Los Angeles, CA -Lodge Room
5/12 - Salt Lake City, UT - Kilby Court Block Party @ Utah State Fairpark
5/13 - Boise, ID - Treefort Music Hall
7/07 - Des Moines, IA - 80-35 Fest
7/08 - St. Paul, MN - Turf Club
7/11 - Louisville, KY - Zanzabar
7/12 - Grand Rapids, MI - Pyramid Scheme
7/14 - Chicago, IL - Lincoln Hall