Deerhoof, the seminal '90s noise/pop/punk band, is constantly reinventing itself. On its 12th studio record, La Isla Bonita, out November 4 on Polyvinyl Records, the band — founding members Greg Saunier and Satomi Matsuzaki, along with relative newcomers Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich — has created a pop-tinged record inspired by Madonna. After 20 years of making music, these guys know what they're doing, and you're going to want to listen.
The band stopped at the Refinery29 studios to perform the catchy single. "Paradise Girls." While the musicians were here, we asked them to try their hand at a traditional folk song as well. "The Husband With No Courage In Him" may have been written hundreds of years ago, but Greg managed to make this version feel modern — and distinctly Deerhoof.
"You get this image of [the song] being this age-old, really dusty-crusty kind of traditional, and from a time when values were totally different," Saunier says. "But, these words, it’s as if somebody wrote them today.... I mean it sounds like it was composed yesterday in Williamsburg or something."
In the song, a woman complains about her husband's lack of courage, but she's talking about bravery in the bedroom, not on the battlefield. She tries everything she can think of — meals spiked with aphrodisiacs, seducing him with gentle caresses — but nothing works. And, it makes her so angry, she wishes he would die. The song is a cautionary tale, as the wife warns other maidens to try out their men before they marry. (You can read the full lyrics here.) Greg chose the song because he connected with the contemporary message.
"I liked the description of that human problem...in terms of courage — the husband having courage or not, and this woman complaining that he does not. I was, of course, fascinated by the idea... I don’t know if this was a 17th- or 18th-century song. Even then, it’s like, 'You better try your men'...in other words, out of wedlock [Laughs]. You think of some traditional, really backwards, classist, sexist society, [but] no: You better try your men out first."
In "Paradise Girls" — a song dedicated to the band's female heroes (think Janet Jackson, Kim Gordon, and Joan Jett) — Matsuzaki sings about girls who play bass guitar and girls who are smart and "girls who will test." In her silver-tipped Oxfords and side-ponytail, wielding a Höfner bass (the model made famous by Sir Paul McCartney), Matsuzaki is effortlessly cool. No doubt she and the rest of Deerhoof will encourage more than a few girls to grab a bass and join a band.
That wasn't Greg's goal when he wrote the sparse lyrics for the song; he didn't pick bass guitar because he was looking to start a movement. He was just looking for words that would work for the melody that was already written.
"If it had been one note, it would have been drums. Two notes, it would have been guitar," he says with a laugh. "But, 'bass guitar' — I had three notes that needed something."
The bigger struggle he faced was whether to put a comma in the line, "Girls who are smart."
"The words are obviously very simple, but what we had trouble deciding on the lyric sheet was how to type out the words, whether it should be 'Girls who are smart' or 'Girls, who are smart' — which has a completely different meaning," Greg explains. "The one I wanted to say was 'Girls, comma, who are smart.' Not everyone wants to say it out loud all the time, but I think everybody knows that girls are smarter."