Categories: artsmusicQ&A

Deerhoof’s Ed Rodriguez Answers Questions He Digs

Interview by Emily Echevarria

SANDSpaper: Hello. How are you doing?

Ed Rodriguez: Pretty normal. Nothing too exciting yet today.And you?

SANDSpaper: I’m doing pretty well, just finishing my work day here. I mean, I finished it. My legit workday; not my side job as a rock’n’roll reporter.

Ed Rodriguez: That goes all night.

SANDSpaper: [Laughing] Exactly. So, I wanted to ask if you’re familiar with Pensacola or if you’ve ever been or played here before?

Ed Rodriguez: Offhand, I’m not familiar and if we’ve played there before I’m really bad at remembering where we’ve been so I’ll leave that to maybe, but yeah, I don’t think I’ve spent any time there at all. My sister’s from St. Pete but that’s the only area of Florida I’ve really spent any time in.

SANDSpaper: We have kind of a bad rep, so…

Ed Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah, I won’t argue.

SANDSpaper: For you personally, what is your musical background, like how did you get into playing music and were you from a musical family, did you start playing guitar when you were very young? How did you get started?

Ed Rodriguez: Everyone in my family had to play an instrument so I started when I was about six, I told my mom I wanted to play drums but she told my dad I wanted to play the organ because she wanted me to play the organ. So I played the organ for years. And then my dad was a guitarist. He had what he calls a catalina tropical orchestra, where he played, more or less, like, more like the ‘50s Mexican bolero sort of style. So when I was 13, I never brought it up, but I just woke up one day and he had told me he signed me up for guitar lessons, so he took me to a pawn shop, bought me a guitar and an amp and I started playing. There were always like ten guitars in the house so I think it just — I don’t remember not really being able to play, and the second I started playing I stopped playing everything else and just really fell in love with it. And I did that, and then always was in bands, always played, and just did studies at the conservatory in Wisconsin where I’m from and then tried to go to music school but only lasted a little while. And pretty much just, ever since I was young, like, my dad was always encouraging me to tour and have bands and play.

SANDSpaper: Were you a fan of Deerhoof before you joined?

Ed Rodriguez: Yeah, actually, the other guitarist, John [Dietriech], he and I met in Minneapolis when we were about 19, and his first band was with me so we knew each other and were in bands together for years. At some point he moved from Minneapolis to California and he met Greg [Saunier]. They both were studying music at Mills there. So they met and John joined Deerhoof. That was around the time the album “Reveille,” you know, the first album he recorded with them was “Reveille,” so right away then he was mailing me — this was way before email — so he would physically mail me tapes and stuff up there of, like, songs they were working on for the record. So I was just so happy that he had met Greg and Satomi and that he was in this band that there was so much of him in it. I had known him for so many years and I was really happy that it was such a great match. And eventually, I had met Greg and Satomi through John, and John and I had our other band which is called Gorge Trio. We actually had a European tour set up, so just sort of last minute, we decided to do it with Deerhoof. So, Deerhoof came to open for us. That’s how we ended up switching back and forth. So, that was when Chris Cohen was the other guitarist, so even on that tour I saw the band like 20 times, so probably before joining the band I had seen the band like 40 times, since John joined.
I was always in other bands and then at some point I quit touring with these other bands and after I quit, I was available. I was working in an office and I went in and I got let go, cause they were downsizing. So I came in and they told me I was laid off, and I got a phone call from John at work and he asked me to dinner that night. So, I went and met John for dinner and he asked me if I would join Deerhoof. I was like, “Ah, I just got fired today!” So I went in to work the next day all smiles and nobody could understand why I was so happy when I just got fired. So, it worked perfectly. That was in 2008, so I’ve been in the band since then.

SANDSpaper: You guys all live in different places right now, right?

Ed Rodriguez: Yeah, we were all based around San Francisco, and about six years ago John’s girlfriend got into school in Albuquerque, N.M., so he moved with her there. And then the three of us realized we didn’t have to live in the Bay [Area] anymore if we were gonna be doing it long distance. So Greg and Satomi ended up in Brooklyn, and I moved to Portland. I got sick of visiting friends up here and seeing that they had a whole house for what I was renting a one bedroom apartment for. So I moved here, rented a house, got a dog, all the fantasy stuff.

SANDSpaper: Are you going on a full tour?
Ed Rodriguez: The record came out about a month ago, so at that point it kind of kicked off the touring period. We try to keep it at two weeks maximum. Everybody has partners and things. And kind of at day 15, we kind of break down as humans and start to be a little bit short with each other. We’re such good friends, that’s how we’ve been able to keep going for this long but just, as normal people, just being in a minivan for that long, it starts to wear on you. We keep things to two to three weeks and then go home for a week or two. So we did like a couple weeks on the east coast, took a week off. Then we just did ten shows on the west coast, have a two week break and then now we’re going out for two weeks sort of, a weird shape through the mid-west, over by you and then back up, like a big circ — not even close to a circle, like a big weird … I don’t think there’s any name for that shape. Then we’ll come back for a week or two and then go to Europe for three weeks and then back and then, you know, Japan. So, for the rest of the year, it’s pretty much, it’ll be like that. Like, on and off.

Bassist Satomi Matsuzaki and guitarist Ed Rodriguez of Deerhoof. (submitted photo)

SANDSpaper: What are your favorite or least favorite things about touring?

Ed Rodriguez: I think probably just the most obvious, being away from my girlfriend and my dog. That’s the stuff that gets hard. We’re all with people that, fortunately, met us when we were doing this and want us to be doing it, so in that way there’s little pressure but it does get — there’s always that grass-is-greener thing where, you know, the idea of having a nine-to-five and getting to go home and go to bed with your loved one, every night sounds pretty good. But, I also feel incredibly lucky to be able to be doing what we’re doing and I think it’s pretty rare that people are fortunate enough to find something they love doing, actually be good at it and then add that extra step of being able to make a living at it is kind of amazing. The good really outweighs any sort of negative stuff.

SANDSpaper: Do you create new music while you’re touring or incorporate what happens onstage during your live shows into work for your next album?

Ed Rodriguez: Yeah, definitely. We really reflect on everything that’s going on at that moment, and that’s how we’re able to stay engaged and actually positive about everything because we don’t just leave things the way they are. So, while we’re touring we’ll talk often about, like, “Oh, this song’s working really well, I like playing stuff with this feel, I wish we had more of this.” And so everything with us is constantly about the next thing. So somebody might play something, like Sotomi might be playing a bass line to test her bass at sound check and then Greg will hear it and he’ll remember it and that’ll come up later. Or even vague things of just , like, “I wish we had more dancey stuff, or like, fast stuff.” We tend to talk stuff to death, where we’ll spend months, like, just coming up with those ten words that we want to define the next record. Since we are traveling so much, everybody has kind of developed a style that — in the van, we don’t listen to music because one or two people are usually on their computers working on stuff. Sotomi writes music on her phone, she has, like, apps and stuff where she does sequencing on her phone so there’s not really, like, a division, like, “Oh, we started tour, so now we’re in this mode and then that tour’s over so we write for two months and then we meet.” Just everything is constantly mixed up. Everything is happening at the same time.
This last record was a little different in the way that we didn’t really talk that much about what we wanted it to be. We just decided to just show up and just do whatever and whatever things people had that they were working on — we just were a little bit more laid back. So, we’re constantly just trying different things and different ways to kind of have creativity.

SANDSpaper: Speaking of the latest album, I read that some of the songs were written for the show, “Vinyl.” Did that kind of guide the creative prompt for the album in any way or did it just kind of fit into it in the end?

Ed Rodriguez: I think it did kind of open our eyes in a way. Like I said, we normally give ourselves guidelines as to what we’re trying to do with a record, but when we ended up writing those songs, we didn’t know at the time, the show hadn’t started airing and they barely gave us information on what it was. They just gave us a few bands they wanted it to sound like, which were actually, strangely enough, most of the bands they mentioned weren’t even from the time period that “Vinyl” takes place in. So we wrote these songs and we sent them to each other the next day and it was a thing of, “Wow, these are great. We love all of these.” Like, it was really fun and funny to see, like, to be given this vague description of what they were looking for and then to see what that meant to all of us, it was, like, “Wow, that’s what your mind does?” It was, like, sort of just a reminder, a reminder of what everyone is capable of and sort of also like a reminder that we can just do whatever. I think really often for us, we see the dissimilarities as opposed to where we meet. So, when we write for a record, we’ll be thinking about this magical whatever Deerhoof is, this creature in the sky that we never can define, so it’s this thing of where we’ll be like, “Oh, I’m gonna work on stuff for Deerhoof so I’m going to get in this mindset. I’m going to try and make it like something that the other three would like.” And that’s a lot of it is we’re trying to write music that we think the rest of us would enjoy and things that, like, how we were talking about aspects that we want to bring out in what we’re doing, we think about that. But then, when we did these songs, we realized, oh, we all really like all this stuff and we just played. We just wrote songs that we liked. And I think that really helped us see that we can maybe open it up a little and just have fun and just see what happens, which I guess makes perfect sense but it hadn‘t been something we were doing for a while.

SANDSpaper: It seems like a really interesting creative prompt for a band.

Ed Rodriguez: Yeah, it really is. You hear those things all the time, just like when Brian Eno would do those written instruction things or just like sort of a lot of people do more like musical games where it’s, like, you know, just to kind of take things out of your own hands, and that was kind of, like, a little bit like that for us, where somebody else set up these guidelines for what they wanted us to do and we were like, “OK,” and it turned out we all liked it. They sent us this email that was just mentioning Wipers and Dead Boys and Stooges and we’re like, oh yeah, and then hearing songs like, yeah, Greg’s song sounds just like the Stooges and John’s song, sounds like Queen or something, this, like, some weird sci-fi adventure. It’s just great to see, like, how weird your friends are sometimes. You see them so often that you forget that they’re weird, but then they remind you and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s why I like you so much.”

SANDSpaper: It’s interesting that you were talking about you all writing songs that you think the others would like, because when you read descriptions of Deerhoof’s music, it always talks about how each album is very different and yet there’s something kind of hard to describe that is very distinct where you can tell it’s Deerhoof when you listen to it, but it seems like something that is difficult to put into words, so maybe that’s the cohesive thread.
Ed Rodriguez: Yeah, everybody writes and once they write something then it’s open to whatever, which is what ends up making it the same. We’re really big on separating the art from the artist where if you bring something in and somebody goes, “Well, this part’s horrible, but this part’s good,” that you don’t let your feelings get hurt. I think that’s really hard for a lot of creative people, because, you know, a lot of creative people are incredibly sensitive. But we’ve worked to get at a point where there’s that level of trust where if somebody brings something in and, like, if John brings in a song and I don’t hear it, I don’t understand it, I trust him enough and he’s done enough great stuff that I know, “OK, let’s work through it and see what you’re talking about here.” And he trusts us enough that if we’re like, “Well, actually this isn’t working. Maybe if you drop this chord and do this…” and he’s like, “fine.” But also, if he’s like, “Well I think it needs to be there,” we’ll say, “Well, OK, we’ll keep trying it.” It’s just really open to any sort of input from everyone. So by the time we get to the end of something, it’s usually couldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for all four of us being involved. No song I’ve brought in is like it was when I wrote it. You just kind of have to be open to what you did being something else and I’ve seen it enough that what it ends up being I’m so happy with. Part of the joy of working with other people is that aspect, and it’s what we all want. None of us want to be like just tinkering alone in a room by ourselves, just being the mastermind behind all this stuff. We’re really about relationships and working with other people.

SANDSpaper: So, tell me a little bit about your recording process. “The Magic” was recorded over a week in a rented space, right?

Ed Rodriguez: Yeah, my friend Jeremy Barnes, who’s in Neutral Milk Hotel and A Hawk and a Hacksaw, his dad owns an office building in Albuquerque, and they only have businesses on the first floors and the next few floors are all empty so he let us use one of the office rooms. So there’s really nothing special about the room, it’s just like you would expect when you go in, there’s an old desk with a land line, like a multi-line phone, and that’s it. We just brought everything John owned over there, like every guitar, every amp and every mic, he brought mics from some friends and we just set up in there, and would just get up in the morning, make some food, go over there and work all day and come home and make dinner together. It always changes. We don’t really have like a set method of what we do. “Breakup Song” was mainly written through email, sending each other stuff. “La Isla Bonita” was recorded in my basement. We had gotten together to just practice for our recording session that we had set up with an actual studio and then we just set up a few mics quickly to just do demos to listen and then when we listened to those demos we were like, “This sounds good.” So, we cancelled our recording session and just used the demos we started recording in my basement. Everyone has different ways that they record. Satomi has that song on “The Magic” that she just recorded on her phone. She just was working on stuff and she put it up and it sounded great so we just put it on. Everything’s kind of open to whatever happens and everyone has their methods.

SANDSpaper: But it seems like you do have a DIY sensibility about your recording. You don’t do a lot of studio sessions?

Ed Rodriguez: Yeah, we have always been really big on the whole ‘do the most with what you have’ idea, and we’ve made a living off of playing music for like a decade, all four of us, and we’re not like a huge band. A big part of why we can do that is that we don’t have anyone else do something that we can do. We don’t have managers. I book hotels, Satomi is our accountant and books flights. John drives and Greg advances shows. The recording stuff is just an extension of that, where we kind of find it liberating to not be paying all this money in a studio and looking at a clock. Sometimes magical things happen when it’s, like, you only have six hours, and there’s this tension and you have to do it. But there’s also something about just being able to sit together with everyone and not worry about everything. The labels always love us because we just hand them a free record. There’s zero cost of us doing anything. We all started out like everyone does with just really bad versions of, like, early Deerhoof records were recorded on a version of recording software that was Pro Tools Free, that was like a demo version that they put online for people to use. So they only had four tracks, so the band would put, like, three computers together and all hit the space bars at the same time to record multiple tracks. It started at that, where it was just four tracks, to doing that. Each record that we do we discover like a keystroke or something that would’ve saved us like 20 hours on the previous record. So it’s a constant learning thing where we just figure it out. And that’s the thing, for everyone, there’s gonna be a time period where you’re not that great at it, but that’s the only way that you get good at it. At this point everybody kind of knows what they’re doing but it was through years and years of making mistakes and I think we’ve made just about every mistake we could. That’s the same with our touring stuff. Our tours are really boring because we have made every mistake. We know exactly how our machine operates. We always come back making money, we always have zero surprises. Most great tour stories are because some just horrible thing happened. Most times I come back and nothing happened on our tours. We get there, everything goes fine. We meet a bunch of great people, we get back in the van and that’s it.

SANDSpaper: My next question was what can people expect from your show, or what do you hope people will take away from it, so hopefully the show isn’t as boring as the logistics of touring.

Ed Rodriguez: Well that’s the thing, the rest of it, the 23 hours are so boring that the one hour that we get, it’s just pure energy. It really is, it’s so much waiting that we’re just dying to play by that time. There’s a bunch of things I think about when we play. I hope it comes across, the ‘do the most with what you have’ sort of thing. It’s, like, tiny gear and we work our own merch table. I talk to young bands all the time and they’re like, I think it’s important for other musicians and artists to realize that they’re not that far from us as they might think. We just throw stuff in a little van and just drive around and do this. We have fun and we think people enjoy it. And we don’t have some big corporate machine behind us to fund everything. We don’t get, like, tour advances. We didn’t need to do like a $20,000 KickStarter to get funding to afford a bus or something. That’s one thing I always tell everyone, if you play guitar and your friend plays drums, don’t feel that you can’t start playing music until you have a bass player and another guitarist or anything. Just start doing whatever. Anything you wanna do. Don’t wait; just do it. There’s a lot of things I think about like that that I hope is one of the takeaways for people.

SANDSpaper: Is there any artists that you’re currently getting into or listening to?

Ed Rodriguez: I think I respond more to live music, so from us touring so much I’m lucky enough to see a lot of bands and then I kind of, their records and thing — I kind of connect to their live performance. We just did a tour with Skating Polly, White Reaper, who I really love their record. Priests. We were gonna do a tour with this band from the UK, Cow Town, but everything fell apart with their visas, but they’re great. Just what we’re doing with Blank Spell from Philadelphia were really great. And I think I spend most of my time listening to the records I pick up at shows.

SANDSpaper: That is all my questions. Do you have anything you want to add about the show or the album or anything at all?

Ed Rodriguez: No, I think this was great. These are really great questions. Yeah, I appreciate that you know what to ask. There’s always, we’ve had many times — like we’ve even had MTV interviews where the first question will just make everybody in the band go, “Ugh.” But these are all really good, so I appreciate it.

SANDSpaper: Thank you. That is such a good compliment.

Ed Rodriguez: I don’t know how a person got assigned — like, a lot of people volunteer to interview us or get assigned and it’s just always amazing when it’s like, “Oh, you don’t know anything about us or have a question relating to anything.” We did an MTV interview and the first question was, “Who do you hate?” And we were all like, “What? What does this have to do with anything?” Like, it was like, “So what does your name mean?” And it was MTV so it was filmed. It was so funny cause it was like, “Who do you hate?” and we were like, “What do you mean?” And they were like, “Well, most people say, like, ‘George Bush’ or something.” And we were like, “Is that what you want us to say?” What is going on here? Then it was like, “Who do you love?” And I was like, “my mom.” These are really weird questions. Like, is somebody going to check us out because they saw this and “This guy really likes his mom. I wonder what the band’s like.” Thanks for having good questions.

SANDSpaper: Thank you for loving my questions.

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