Settling down in a gloomy London flat to speak to Deerhoof's Greg Saunier half way across the world via video conference was initially daunting. But to ask Greg a question is to receive an essay in reply, and therefore plenty of material and grounds for discussion. He proved, as I had read, to be articulate, amusing (he chuckled to himself constantly) and highly passionate about his music and the creative process.

As it turned out, this was his last press commitment of the day and in his own words he "didn't have anything to do until next week." Not to miss an opportunity, this 20 minute interview turned into a 90 minute sprawl. We talked about the new record, La Isla Bonita, which came out earlier in the month, Deerhoof's Japanese frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki, how the music industry works and where he feels Deerhoof are placed in that system.

The fact he turned the camera to point out of the window to show a beautiful, sunny American skyscape while I sat in the encroaching drizzly British 'Autumn' was soon forgotten as we both got quite lost in this interview...

Do you consider returning to Deerhoof, like returning to your family home?

Yes and no. In terms of playing music it's with those guys that I think I've got the most ESP going after all these years. It's relaxing playing together and it's that relaxation that allows us not to relax. You feel the most confident to be the most risky. It feels like home in that sense. When it comes to making the record it's actually much more difficult than with anyone else. When producing for others, by the time it gets to me it's already done. But with Deerhoof it's from scratch. We have no idea what we're going to do next. Each note is fought over by four people with different opinions. A lot more doubt creeps in with these records than anything else I work with. It was recorded in guitar player Ed's musty basement in Portland, Oregon, which is a very wet place; mustiness is unavoidable! We'd be stuck there 15 hours a day in a tiny basement, all together for 10 days. Recording was not studio perfect where every track is completely isolated from the next. It was a rough rehearsal recording. We were going to go to another studio with a producer but we liked the rough version and decided to keep it and cancel the studio time. [The producer we had planned to work with] produced the vocals but we kept all the instruments we'd recorded at Ed's. There were lots of extraneous noises. Mics would fall over and we wouldn't realise it but kept it in anyway.

On 'Tiny Bubbles', there's a random squeaking sound like a rubber duck. What was that?

It's a pedal called a pixel fix. A guy made for Satomi. A shoe pedal, all handmade, all insane sounding. She stepped on this thing when we weren't expecting it. It's moments like that, when we all ended together, moments like that, reading each other faces that we couldn't recreate in a fancy studio later. A lot of magic on every song just happened. [We thought] we've got to keep this version. It's so fun. Some songs were only 3/4 written when we pressed record, feeling our way through it, intuitively, reading each other's thoughts. Now of course, we're rehearing for a tour, basing our live version on the rough version. We're never be too polished. We like it to be different every night, these songs are really simple - think of them as folk songs, like The Troggs, super bare bones, Joan Jett songs, really leaving lots of room for interpretation. Faster, slower... [you can] turn these sketchy songs into almost anything given your mood or the audience's mood.

Picking up on how songs change. Would you say the 'record is dead' and only comes alive on tour?

The music industry has changed, the album comes out as an excuse for you and me having this interview and going on tour. The record is only a provocation, a beginning, the written score version, it's sheet music we try to interpret in many ways from night to night, year to year. Some of my proudest moments [are] when I hear a cover of our song and I understand they've interpreted it as a jumping off place; provocation to do something else; wild new versions.

I've read that a lot of inspiration came from your Ramones cover of 'Pinhead' and you thought why don't we do more of this?

Exactly. At the end of 10 days in a basement, we had finished recording our rehearsal demos with the tour coming up, [so we thought] 'we'd better get ready'. When we got to 'Pinhead' we suddenly felt a surge, a charge of stampeding energy. We'd been gritting our teeth, struggling to play this new material that we'd come up with the previous week, trying to imagine how it could sound from these little fragments; we didn't know if they were any good. Then a song like 'Pinhead' that's so basic and easy to play, there was a feeling of abandon when you can play so freely, not having to worry.

We got the computer back out again. I wanted to write another song really quick and slam through. Here's some chords and a baseline, no melody. Like The Ramones song, they all went together, everything was in parallel.

Was this 'Exit Door'?

Exactly. I just showed it to them, pressed record, played it, just one take... just sort of a run through of a possible song. I didn't think we were going to use it, it was a sketch for the producer... we listened back... this was cool... let's keep it.

There's a lot of dissonance on the record making it sound chaotic. Looking at basic chaos theory, do you like the idea of order emerging out of the chaos, or do you prefer chaos?

[Laughs] I love it when our band, or our music, is described as chaos. It makes us sound like pioneers or heroes, like we're starting riots or something. Just because you don't understand something ,doesn't mean it's chaos. Reciting Greek poetry, to me it would sound like gibberish, but that doesn't mean it is. What often sounds like chaos at first is an attempt to speak a new language, not just repeating musical rules from the past. Inherited 'basics' are used to intimidate prospective musicians and discourage them from getting into it. They think that's something that has to be learnt before they can make music. Since we didn't believe that, what often sounds like chaos is us going into a gestural mode. There are lots of mistakes, hitting the wrong thing and adjusting in real time to try and make music out of that gesture, interrupting myself, getting suddenly quiet or loud for no reason, completely off the cuff. I didn't see what was coming until I played it - it was an improvisation.

I often think music is the chance to be an animal again, to be wild, throwing off the shackles of what someone older, more conservative has said is proper... one isn't given that opportunity in life all that often. The world could blow up tomorrow, so let's celebrate the chance to be free.

Have you got that that carpe diem attitude from somewhere in particular, perhaps you parents or other influences in your youth?

I think I've always got it from music I've admired. I couldn't always put my finger on it when I was a kid. I remember the first time I discovered The Rolling Stones on the radio, how rough it sounded compared to everything else on the radio at the time. I instantly gravitated to it even though I had no words to describe it at the time - the sense of risk, not caring whether it's neat or polite. I believe one's life is missing something if one is always playing a servile role. I felt that I've had to teach myself that mind set over and over.

I find it interesting that there are three American guys and Satomi in the band. What kind of dynamic does that create and what does she bring as a Japanese, female presence?

That's been huge for the band since she joined in '95. But even 'the '3 American guys' are not that similar to each other either. In hindsight it amazes me how we managed to stay a band because of how different we are. Satomi is a special case too. She is hardly a representative of Japan. She left and came to the US... I don't think she was prepared for a life of domesticity, servitude and sexism that's incredibly common in Japan; you'd have to ask her. Far be it from me to sum up a culture but conformity and formality are big elements of life decisions that she saw in front of her at college age.

She went to High School in England. She was already a self-invented, multi-homed personality. That takes incredible bravery and strength of character to be that independent, to create a life from scratch. She had never been in a band and the only music she had learned was the recorder in Japanese school. The moment she came over to our kitchen in San Francisco and started singing into a distorted microphone (all of our equipment was broken) the sound of her voice through that distortion instantly took the band that we'd been struggling to find the sound for, and made it complete. She came in and sang in a totally expressionless style which completely clashed with this over expressive style that we were doing, bombastic and loud, speeding up and slowing down. Ever since then, 20 years later, she's been a professional musician, world-travelled and respected. She is an executive power; if it doesn't fly with her then it's going to get axed. A song/lyric/mix has to jive with her personality or it doesn't work. We are three dude musicians getting wrapped up in guitar scales, drum fills or stuff like that. But it's under the watchful matriarchy, loving, but testing and judging, that Satomi creates in the band.

I see you are not a big Twitterer. Your last tweet from ages ago said you'd written a riff that feels green and magenta!

I do very much like green and magenta together. It's a constant source of hilarity that every time we get to a new venue it'd be my job to see the lighting designer each night and I'd ask for green and magenta. Bands never want that because they're two colours that they use the least: green makes you look sick, or from outer space, and pink is seen to be in poor taste. The two together... are really bad taste.

Can you explain the Spanish elements/references in the album and the title?

John, our other guitar player, speaks Spanish. A lot of songs are in Spanish, even one in Catalan, which is fun to play in Barcelona. Satomi likes to sing in Spanish, the syllables are easy to pronounce for a Japanese speaker. She sings in Japanese a lot and in English. It's not Satomei's first language. Living out of Japan for such a long time, her English is skewed and so is her Japanese. In Japan, I have to do the microphone. All her friends laugh so hard as she uses slang from 20 years ago. She's like a time capsule of how cool people used to talk in Japan. We've just started to explore touring Asia, Thailand, Singapore, Korea and China and realising there's all kinds of other audiences that are extremely different and looking for extremely different things. We try to use lyrics that can be easily understood. Not say anything too fancy and make it easy for someone with English as a second language to understand. Not quite how you would talk. Simple material, but at the same time confusing.

And the title? La Isla Bonita is also a Madonna song, was that relevant?

It was Ed's wife who suggested that title. We were in a hotel in Bangkok with the record sent off to the label but it didn't have a title yet. Ed's wife (who is super funny) texted a ridiculous list of titles in one quick text. Most of the song titles and the album title came from that text. We were on the plane cracking up. That one struck us as perfect because the songs were based on the sound of a certain era of Madonna and Janet Jackson, kind of over produced pop that happened in the final days of America when you still could manage not to be cynical about our culture. In the early '90s, cynicism had crept in, the Nirvana factor, disillusionment at the possibility of the good life and the beginnings of both the decline of paradise and also the understanding that, to an extent, it has been a paradise at great cost; a lot of crimes committed around the world so we could live a high standard of living in our country. On the one hand, the songs are celebrating that decadence.

I'm reading One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Ken Kesey talking about getting forced into a corner and something emerges out of that forced situation? Is that a feeling you appreciate?

It's a metaphor for creativity too of course, being forced into a corner, feeling that your existence is threatened. It's often what spurs you on. We're not relaxed about making records and we don't take it take for granted that we are going to get to make another. We can't assume that this will continue forever. Each time we get the chance to do one more record we attempt a complete reinvention in order to save ourselves from obliteration.

As a random group of four different people we wonder how we can manage to cook up a record. How can we dream up another one? That's the fun of it along the way; both incredibly frustrating and incredibly fun. Now is the most fun when the record is done... interviews, going on tour and playing our songs. In an interview I've got to try to and go back and take this very messy random series of events that leads to an album coming out and tell the story. It allows me to take the time to realise how lucky I am. I might not think about it during the day very much, but you'll ask a question about my bandmates and I'm overcome about how great they are and how much I care about them.

What is the best question you've ever being asked in the last 20 years?

Your last one, that question, that one is too difficult. I don't think I've ever been lost for words!

The refrain "girls that play bass guitar", who did you have in mind?

It's an homage to female humans, whether or not they are rock stars. The most obvious is Satomi herself though. I would hardly know where to start in terms of listing female rock star heroes... there are too many.

What's the plan for touring?

In December we're going to Japan. Early next year we are in Europe and the UK, then back to US. The US tour was so quick we're going back to cities we've missed in spring. That's planned way in advance and depends on the success of the record. If people continue to be interested in Deerhoof then we'd like to come and play.

I saw a quotation where you mentioned you thought about what a 5-year-old would think of your music and at the same time what a 70-year-old would think. What would they make of La Isla Bonita?

I actually think that the two records that a 70-year-old would least be into are The Man, the King, The Girl and La Isla Bonita. They are the most forbidding; the two that have the most snotty energy. You can see many styles over the years that the parents hate and the grandparents hate even more. An incredible amount of music that we've made brings two or three generations of the same family to our gigs; big fans of Deerhoof. It's heart warming and makes me proud.

Occasionally and definitely on this record we were determined to separate the men from the boys. To try and tap into a young spirit that wants to differentiate itself from the elders. 'No, we don't believe in what you're trying to force us to inherit. We want something new, we reject it. What mass culture and patriarchy and history is trying to sell us every second of every day with billions of dollars we reject it, we're gonna make something else instead.' It's meant to be rude. Our intention was not a specific age, it's more a rebellion; throwing off the old, or the tradition which has proven itself to be not working. That kind of vibe.

The Rolling Stones were the rebellious spark for you. 20 years later, it seems like you still feel the same way?

With The Rolling Stones, what's partly interesting about the trajectory of their career is their survival. Even when they seemed passé or Keith Richards was overdosing, or being thrown into jail, or they were just too tired to keep going, they've managed to prolong their career by accepting that they're now the establishment and there's nothing more the establishment likes more than to play about being anti-establishment. That's why it's the establishment who are the only people that can afford to go to their shows really. They accept that role in good fun and do a really good job of doing so...

Deerhoof will never be that in that role. We're an obscure band. The only way we can survive is to continue to reinvent ourselves in order to fight the establishment. Our fans demand 'you'd better be creative and give us something that we don't really understand and that we can chew on for a while or we'll be really disappointed or forget you were ever there' - a very likely outcome for a band in an oversaturated field of indie-rock, or rock, or whatever music we're playing.

That seems like a gloomy note to end on!

Yes and no. It's a privilege to have your fans put that pressure on you to create. I feel confident about our new record that it's something they've not heard from us before. It's a great honour to be asked. It's the greatest thing you can be asked. It's exactly the corner you want to be backed into. You don't want to coast or be coddled.


La Isla Bonita is out now. Read our review of it by heading here.