Palberta and Deerhoof, At Their Bests

The two bands on how personal dynamic is what makes a good band — plus Teletubbies, surgery, and much more.

Lily Konigsberg, Ani Ivry-Block, and Nina Ryser are the New York-based rock band Palberta; Greg Saunier, John Dieterich, and Ed Rodriguez are three-fourths of the experimental indie band Deerhoof. To celebrate Palberta’s new album, Palberta5000 — out this Friday via Wharf Cat Records — the two bands hopped on a video call to catch up.

— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Lily Konigsberg: What’s the number one food you’ve been into recently, over the pandemic? Like, something you discovered liking to cook, or something you’ve been eating a lot of.

Greg Saunier: Well, it’s been, for me, an intense and difficult search to find raw sunflower seeds in the shell, which I can then roast with my own custom spice-salt blends. Then one of the big things that I would usually do after that is eat them.

Ani Ivry-Block: What’s in the blend?

Greg: It’s custom.

John Dieterich: It’s kind of like sourdough starter — it’s just in the air, like whatever happens to be around.

Greg: No, no, no, it’s incredibly intricate. Usually, the thing is — OK, if it’s not mass-produced like the [sunflower seeds] that I would normally be eating right now if I were on tour… You know, the advantage of the pandemic is that on the cookie sheet, different regions can be flavored slightly differently. This one’s a little bit more Chinese Five Spice; this one’s a little bit more berbere, Ethiopian blend; this one’s, like, got some sumac, you know. It all has a great deal of salt.

Nina Ryser: What’s up with your interest in sunflower seeds? 

Greg: Uh, excuse me, vitamin E. 

John: You hate the taste, you’re just addicted to the vitamin E. 

Greg: I don’t like the crunch. [Laughs.] It’s not really the vitamin E, it’s high in lanolin. OK, here’s my question: What lanolin-rich foods have you been particularly — you don’t have to name them all, but just, you know, maybe the top four or five, each of you one at a time, what lanolin-rich foods you eat.

John: It’s mainly woolwax for me. 

Ani: What?

Greg: Wax? You eat wax?

John: Well, woolwax.

Nina: Can someone tell me what lanolin is?

John: I don’t have to get my lanolin anywhere else, it’s all from the woolwax.

Lily: Are we tripping or are you? Anyways — Ed, what are you eating? 

Ed Rodriguez: It’s kind of all over the place. Because of everything, this is the first year I’ve been really hitting up all the the food banks and stuff. There’s tons of really great food banks — I’m in Portland, Oregon. Last week, I went to one and got a bag full of beets, so I was juicing and cooking and just doing a million different things with beets. It’s kind of fun. It’s the season where I think the farmers must just be, like, loading up. And it’s weird because a lot of them I’ll go to, you’ll walk up and they’ll also have a table of stuff that people rejected.

Greg: Stuff that didn’t have enough lanolin.

Ed: Exactly. So a lot of that will be a pile of turnips, since nobody like turnips.

Greg: But, I mean, come on now — you’re gonna make it sound like beets are that much better than turnips? I mean, they’re both considered pretty low on the food totem pole. 

Ani: No, no, no, turnips are better.

Lily: Yeah, turnips are better. Beets are good in juice, but in food I prefer a turnip.

Nina: I only really like beets if it’s in borscht, to be honest. I’m not really into beets in salad, or stuff like that. 

Greg: But it’s not like the beet tastes any different in borscht than it tastes in a salad. They both taste incredibly strongly of beet.

Nina: I don’t know what it is. I like ‘em all the way or nothing. You know what I mean?

Ani: Too overpowering. 

Lily: All or nothing with beets for Nina.

Greg: Do you find yourself timing your choice of cuisine according to the global regions that you would have been touring at that time? So, for instance: The borscht comes up, or the beet become really prominent in your meals when you would have been in Eastern Europe, or you have that extra cup of Sumatra coffee when you would have been on the Indonesia tour. How many Indonesian tours did you guys have planned that were canceled? 

Lily: 12 over the next 12 years.

Greg: So the pandemic is gonna last for 12 years?

Lily: Yeah, Covid-9/11 is gonna last for 12 years.

Nina: No, come on. 

Lily: It’s Covid-9/11, it’s different. 

Greg: Oh, the one caused by 9/11? 

Lily: Yeah.

Nina: So, the answer is… No?

Ani: Yes.

Nina: Perchance.

Ani: No, yes, maybe, and so.

Greg: What this really is is a test of: Are the members of Palberta as different and conflicting and always battling with each other as the members of Deerhoof? And it appears the answer is yes.

Lily: Well, we’re all different. 

Ani: It’s a strong dynamic, when it’s the three of us. 

Nina: We all have very strong opinions about everything. So, you know, it kind of makes it tough to make decisions sometimes.

Lily: We get in spats on text based on someone using a word that was misconstrued a lot. And then the person that wasn’t in that dynamic has to cool it down by doing a little video of themselves. 

Ani: Or they think that they do.

Lily: Yeah, they think that they have to cool it down. 

So, John: What instrument have you been playing the most? What music have you been doing?

John: I hardly play instruments. I mean, it’s very project directed. So, we’re working on a new Deerhoof record right now, so if we’re doing that, then I’ll play guitar for six hours, and then I won’t touch it for weeks. That kind of thing. Actually, I’ve been playing guitar more just because we’ve been recording quite a bit.

Ani: But that’s the project you’ve been working on most? 

John: Yeah, we’ve all been working on it.

Ani: Did you record it already? Or you just working on it to record?

John: We’re recording it, yeah! Because we’re not going to actually be together for awhile, so. Where are you all, by the way?

Lily: We’re in Brooklyn.

Nina: Lily is housesitting for friends, and we’re here. 

Greg: Can you give us the address and phone number? 

Lily: 905 S. Berkeley Bone Avenue.

Greg: You guys live on Berkeley Bone Avenue too?

Lily: Wait, are you the person who’s been making that really loud noise?

John: [Starts knocking.] Wait a minute, do you guys hear that? 

Greg: I’m the guy that’s been playing drums next door.

Lily: What the heck!

Ani: This is a good premise for a horror movie, we’re all in the same room. 

Lily: Have y’all seen the movie Cube? If you don’t wanna be disturbed, don’t watch it.

Greg: Here’s my question for Palberta: I had a dream two nights ago that I was in a horror movie being chased by George Clooney. I noticed that the face he made in order to be a scary monster was identical to the face he made to be a leading man in a romantic comedy.

Ani: I can envision that. 

Lily: Yeah, that’s accurate as hell.

Greg: I didn’t make it to the credits. Something woke me up, or something.

Lily: So, the question part — that sounds more like a… story.

Greg: No, no, no, you guys answered it. You answered it correctly. The correct answer was yes.

Lily: I have a question for everyone: If you were one of the Teletubbies — Po, Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, and Laa Laa — which one do you think that you would be?

Ani: I don’t really remember these guys. 

Nina: Who’s the yellow one?

Greg: I’d definitely be Winky. 

John: Is the sun an option?

Greg: I think Ed would be Pinky and I would be Winky, for sure. 

Lily: That’s not—

Greg: Ed’s got a really long pinky nail — for his finger-picking. And I’d be Winky because I wink a lot.

Nina: And then what would John be? 

John: Laa Laa. 

Greg: I think Satomi [Matsuzaki, Deerhoof singer] would be Laa. 

Lily: I guess they wanted us to talk about music. 

Nina: Can you guys tell us about your album you’re recording? Tell us all the dirty details about your new album. 

Ed: I recorded some new guitars today, and I haven’t heard them yet. Or was it last night?

Nina: Are you guys working remotely?

Ed: Yeah, we’re fully remote.

Ani: Weird! How do you do it? You all use your own home recording systems?

Ed: Well, we haven’t had a chance to actually do anything, you know. I mean, we did that Love-Lore covers album in a studio, but that was just a plan that all we had like, prepared the music for a show and then last minute realized if we didn’t document it quickly, then it would probably just disappear. So we booked a studio, went in and played, but we actually haven’t gone in and like been in a studio since Offend Maggie, right? Which was 12 years ago?

Greg: 2008, so 12 years we’ve been self-recording.

Ani: Wow, so that’s been your process for a while. 

Greg: I was thinking the other day, it’s almost like we’re somewhat to blame — because I think, nowadays, it’s a lot more common for the label to expect a band to have already self-recorded a record on their own dime, and then send it finished and get on their hands and knees and beg the label to put it out. It wasn’t really like that when Deerhoof started in the mid-’90s. Normally you’d get a recording advance and they’d send you to a recording studio, but we we never did that. We always recorded everything ourselves first on cassette, and then presented it and got lucky that the label wanted to put it out.

But over those years, it’s like, as labels have lost money just as much as artists have, they’re not really as able to take that kind of risk. So I wanted to say that it’s Deerhoof’s fault. 

Ani: So you’d just send AIF files around? Or are you sending the project file around, like the Logic file, and you just add to it? 

Greg: No, there’s no Logic. It’s Pro Tools, and then I think Satomi’s using Ableton. As long as we all start, if our zero is at the same point, somebody can just send their part.

Ani: So who started the last track you were working on? Who sent the first audio file? Does it usually starts with one instrument?

Ed: There’s not a set way that it happens, but the most common way is, we’ll just have a time period where everybody sends everything they’ve been working on, like all their demos. That might be one part with everything written, that might be an entire song with multiple parts written, it might be just one part on its own.

Greg: On stage, we’re like Palberta in that we all switch instruments. Ed’s a really good drummer and John’s a really good drummer and I can play guitar and and we can all play bass. Satomi can play drums, guitar, everything. So any one of us could write a whole song and it sounds like the whole band.

Ed: And a lot of the recordings — like, Greg might send a song and he had recorded all the guitars for it, or John might send a song and he recorded the guitars, and then we hear it and it’s like, “Oh, that sounds good like it is, so we’ll just use that for the recording.”

Nina: Do you prefer to record this way or do you prefer to record in person?

Ed: It’s always way more fun when we get to do it in person. We don’t settle into a set thing, because I think everybody wants different things to happen in their lives at different points. So when we work on an album, at that time everybody might feel fine not being together, doing whatever, and it just sort of works. But then the next time, we’re like, “Oh, that turned out good, but I really miss you guys, let’s do the next one together.” I think that also is why we never sit on a sound or anything. 

Everybody really pays attention to each other, too, so it’s always a situation of like, “What do you need right now? What are you missing? What do you like about the band?” We have so many talks. We talk for, like, months and months before we even start recording. That process is really like, “Hey, I wasn’t happy with how we did this [on the last record]. I really missed this feeling…” A lot of that is personal dynamics, or things that we saw from touring — like, things that we saw people respond to, things that we had the most fun playing, things we wish we were doing, things we’re sick of doing. 

So we have these long talks to kind of try and understand what everybody wants as a person before we start even thinking about what we want to do as a band. That’s the way we’ve been able to go on as long as we have — trying to actually be aware of each other as people. I’ve had it different ways in my life, and this band has really made me feel like, Oh, I would much rather be in a band with somebody that I’m friends with than somebody that’s the most incredible musician in the world.

Nina: It’s all about communicating. 

Greg: Are you therefore implying that me, Satomi, and John are not virtuoso absolute A-list musicians?

Ed: Oh, man, I’m going through a tunnel—

Greg: Awkward silence, no answer.

Ed: I think I’m breaking up here. [Laughs.] No, I feel so lucky.

Lily: The definition of Palberta is friendship — that’s our genre as well. I think much like Deerhoof, we wouldn’t be able to make the music that we make without everyone being in the band at this point. I know you had someone else play guitar for a while, but at this point— 

Ed: We don’t say his name. [Laughs.] Just kidding, it’s Chris Cohen.

Lily: He’s nice, I remember his face.

Ed: His cute little face. 

Lily: [Laughs.] But yeah, it wouldn’t be able to exist with another person doing it, because it’s the dynamic more than it is the virtuosity. It’s just very cool, how it all melds together. Everyone’s a great genius musician within it, but when it comes together, it becomes something bigger. You can’t just have session musicians come in and be like, “Play this.”

Ani: That’s also why it’s so intense too. If you’re going to do it for the long run, you’ve gotta communicate all the time.

Nina: I feel like in most collaborative projects, it’s hard to find people to fill in for another person.

Ed: Well, I mean, a lot of times when people do that, it’s like they’re trying to recreate something. When I joined the band, everyone was so cool because it was like, Let’s see what this is now.” It wasn’t like, “You’re the new Chris,” you know. 

I think that’s part of being a good band — being able to look at the people that are in the room and understand what each one of those people are actually good at and who they are naturally, and then making the most of that. I think that’s where you can hit the stumbling block if you do try and bring somebody new in. I mean, look at Metallica — like those things where they hate the new guy because he’s not the old guy. There’s something not quite right about the new guy, and the only thing that’s not right about him is he’s not the old guy.

Lily: We couldn’t really have Palberta without any of us.

Ani: It’s just a different band. 

Lily: How long have you been in the band, Ed?

Ed: 12 years now. 

Lily: Is pretty much the same situation for you guy at this point as it is for us, because we’ve been a band for eight years and I can’t imagine replacing… 

Ani: I think we’re at our best when we play music together, that’s what we’re meant to do with each other. And love each other as friends!

Lily: I like just hanging too. 

Greg: I think that Deerhoof is at our best when we’re cooking, second best when we’re eating, third best when we’re playing music.

Lily: We usually over overfill on snacking when cooking, then we get very full and feel very bad.

John: What have y’all been cooking? 

Lily: We just made sushi.

Nina: We really wanted to celebrate tonight, you know, just for… 

Lily: Funsies.

John: So you haven’t been seeing each other very much, or you have?

Lily: Once a month. There was a period of a couple of months where we didn’t see each other at all.

Nina: During like the earlier months of Covid, we went a long time without seeing each other. Then we kind of figured out how to do it safely and in a way that made us feel comfortable, and now we’re meeting up and playing music regularly, which is really sweet. 

Greg: So when you’re not meeting up, does that mean that each of you is thinking about Palberta and writing guitar riffs and bass lines and drum beats and lyrics? Or it only happens when you actually are all together?

Ani: I mean, Palberta’s a big part of our life, so definitely thinking about it. But I feel like everyone’s probably doing their own shit too. 

Lily: We write everything together. Like today I was peeing and I thought of a vocal melody for something that we had already written some of — that happens sometimes where someone comes in and is like, “Oh, I have a new part.” But usually it’s like, if they’re peeing and we were already jamming or something.

Ed: So in the practice space, it’s, like, three toilets facing each other.

Lily: Yeah, you don’t have that? 

John: I’ve been listening to your new songs. They’re really amazing.

Lily: Oh, thank you. 

John: The first one I listened to was “Before I Got Here.”

Lily: That one’s our banger. 

Nina: This album is definitely, the guitar and everything sounds very polished and nice from having a really awesome engineer who made it sound stadium rock.

Lily: Matt Labozza!

Nina: I have a good question: So are you working on music every day, or are you doing other things? 

Lily: And if so, what are the other things?

Greg: I mean, that’s not either or. I mean, obviously we’re working on music and doing other things. 

Ed: Every day I do work on music. Some days it might only be an hour, some days it might be, like, five or six hours. But every single day for something. 

Nina: Awesome. And what kind of stuff are you working on?

Just a bunch of stuff, I just keep writing and recording. Right now, Deerhoof stuff. I wrote some songs for a friend of mine, and just played on a few things for people.

Lily: Guitar? Or are you singing?

Ed: Guitar. No, I’ve never sung. I’ve sung backup in bands and stuff, but I’ve never felt a connection to words.

Ani: I hear that.

Greg: I think it’s a strange thing to come out at this point in an interview that none of us likes words.

Ed: I don’t know if it’s like this with anyone else, but when this all started, I did all this prep to do all these projects and do all these things, and as the months passed, the piles kind of grew. [Laughs.] All these aspirations, and kind of just the reality of like, What do I need to do to stay positive? And for me, it changes like every single week. 

What is really uncharacteristic for me is, I haven’t been giving myself like a hard time for anything. The way that our schedules are with touring and stuff, I usually have a feeling of this countdown in my life. Like, I’m gonna be home in 18 more days, and then I get home and it’s like, 16 until I leave for tour

Lily: We have these paper calendars that we fill to the brim, and I lost mine. I haven’t thought about it in, like, half a year.

Ed: At the end of [2019], I bought this really nice three year planner or something. I wrote down all the shows that we had — I always do that, so we can find places to stay and have it all organized. Then a couple of months ago, I dug it out in order to keep track of all my unemployment payments, but up until then, I hadn’t cracked open a calendar for, like, months or something.

Nina: I’m still using mine.

Ani: You’re working, too, still.

Nina: That’s true. It’s definitely not as full, still.

Greg: Wait, you’re working? You’re a barista.

Nina: No, not anymore, thank god! I’ve had this one job for, like, three years. 

Ani: It’s very interesting. 

Nina: It’s called Standardized Patient, and I work for medical schools. Basically, the medical schools hire me — it’s like an acting job where I portray a patient, and students do exams with me and I grade them after. 

Ed: Like on Seinfeld

Nina: Yeah, it is like the Seinfeld episode. 

Ed: Oh, crazy, I didn’t realize that was real.

Greg: You grade them on their bedside manner? 

Nina: On that, and they train us so we know to look out for certain physical exam maneuvers that they’re supposed to do.

Ed: Are you doing it remotely right now, or are you actually in contact with anybody?

Nina: I used to have to go to the school, and then, like, wear a hospital gown in a small, very claustrophobic exam room. Ani knows all about this, she did it with me for a while.

Ani: Pays well.

Nina: Now it’s like a video conference thing, and I just show up wearing this. No gown in the Zoom.

Ed: Do you any contact with other people that are doing it?

Nina: I work with a lot of other people. We were gonna try to start a TV show together. There’s a range — it’s, like, people as young as 18 and as old as, like, 70. you know. There are really old people who do it who’ve been doing it for, like, 30 years.

Ed: So are there, like, stars? Like people who it’s like, “Oh, this person is amazing.” 

Nina: Probably!

Ani: The nurse has to practice, like, telling you that your loved one just passed. 

Ed: Holy shit. 

Nina: Yeah, there’s some really intense stuff. I once had to play a schizophrenic person who thought I had found a cure to Covid from messages I looked at in the newspaper and on billboards.

Ed: Oh, my god. So does the person that you’re talking to, are they aware that you’re that you’re— 

Nina: Yeah, they know that I’m an act-or. It’s like practice for them. A lot of them have just been looking at textbooks up until this point, and haven’t worked with a real human yet. 

Ed: My mom worked at a nursing home, and she would always talk about how all these people would go through school and do all this work, and then they’d get there and it’d be the first time they had contact with people, and then that’s when they discovered that they didn’t have the stomach for it. They couldn’t talk to people and hated every aspect of it, but they had already done all of this work. 

Lily: I feel like being any kind of nurse practitioner or anything, I could deal with telling someone that their dad died, but not to see the blood. Like, I wouldn’t want to be a surgeon, but I could be like “Your dad died,” you know.

Greg: I think it’s just the massive difference between — whether you’re a guitar wiz or you’re a brain surgeon, there’s a completely different skill or talent or gift involved between all of the minute finger movements that need to be done with incredible precision, otherwise you’ve ruined your thing. Versus the people aspect, the caretaking aspect, the performative aspect, the empathetic aspect.

Lily: That’s what I’m trying to say by the weird scary thing I said — I would rather be able to calm someone down than actually cut someone open.

Greg: But when you get on the guitar or start smashing those symbols, it’s like you can do both at once. You cut them and you calm them down.

Ani: That’s nice, I wanna do that. 

Greg: Sometimes during all this time when we haven’t been performing, I kind of wonder if the empathy part is still going to be there. No matter how much I might sit there and practice the drums, you know, am I still going to be able to relate to other human beings? And I think that this interview is telling me no — that I’ve completely lost that kind of empathy and quick wittedness and, you know, the amazing charm that I used to have.

Ani: This shouldn’t be the measure to which you think you can be social or not.

Lily: No, I feel the same way, Greg. I feel like we have made it clear that, between the two of us and everyone here, it’s no longer possible.

Ani: I attribute that to Zoom.

John: I had a dream that I played a solo concert last night. It was at, like, a theater — I’m about to play that, it’s like your last seconds before you’re going to turn around and start playing, everybody is quiet, and I was just like, I have no idea. I don’t remember any of these songs. And so it was just like, I’m just going to wing it. And I remember just like my solution was just to turn the amp all the way up and turn around.

Ed: That sounds so real. 

Greg: This is wasn’t a dream, John, it was the last two or three shows. Do you guys ever forget your songs, Palberta?

Ani: Oh, yeah. The last album we put out. 

Lily: We’re supposed to do a Bandcamp live session in, like, a month—

Nina: We don’t remember how to play. It’s hard we put out, like, 22 songs [on an album].

Greg: You guys have a lot of songs.You have a lot of songs in your repertoire, and I feel like your songs are kind of, like you said, they appear to have been composed rapidly in the heat of the moment. 

Lily: That’s true.

Greg: You guys are in there and you got your instruments strapped on and something happens — that’s it. It’s not, like, planned in advance. 

Ani: We talk fast. 

Greg: It’s hard to remember those moments and recreate them. But I’ve seen Palberta a lot of times and I’ve never seen a wrong note.

Lily: Really? 

Greg: I’ve never seen sloppy ensemble, I’ve never seen anything out of tune.

Nina: We’re pretty good at, like, just going with it. If something happens, we all are good at kind of just sliding around. 

Lily: It’s kind of like the thing about telling someone that their dad died versus surgery. It’s like telling someone that their dad died is just going with the flow, you know.

Ed: We keep circling this dad dying.

Lily: What I’m trying to say is, you need the performative, caring skill set, rather than a knife in a body. How do we end on a positive note where they don’t think that we’re all psychopaths? 

Ed: Why don’t you pretend to tell me my dad’s dead? [Laughs.]

Lily: [Serious voice] Ed, um… I’m really sorry to tell you this but, your father has passed. [Pause.] You’re supposed to react, I feel really weird.

Ed: I am. 

Greg: Can you grit your teeth or do, like, any little twitch or anything. to kind of give a little more authenticity.

Lily: Your father has passed. I’m so sorry to tell you this.

Ed: But you were supposed to be performing brain surgery. What are you doing out here? 

Lily: It didn’t work out.

Ed: Did you even try? You’ve been out here apologizing.

Lily: Yeah, I was actually reading Cosmo the whole time, and there was someone else in there trying something…

Greg: Just going for it. 

Lily: So anyways, hope this recorded. If not, fuck our lives. 

Greg: We need to do it again. 

(Photo Credit: left, Chloe Carrasco)

Ani Ivory-Block, Lily Konigsberg, and Nina Ryser met while attending Bard College and formed Palberta in 2013. My Pal Berta (2013) and Shitheads in the Ditch (2014) were both released by Feeding Tube Records. Bye Bye Berta (2016) was their first album for Wharf Cat Records and it was followed by 2018’s Roach Goin’ Down, both recorded by Paco Cathcart (The Cradle). These albums were surrounded by a slew of EPs and split releases as well as frequent touring of the United States and Canada. Palberta opened for Bikini Kill at Brooklyn Steel in 2019 and were set to tour the UK and Europe for the first time in April of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Their fifth album, Palberta5000, was preceded by the stand-alone single “Something in the Way” and will be released on January 22, 2021. When they can safely do so, they look forward to touring the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe.