Deerhoof’s Ed Rodriguez Is a Very Easy Scare

In a new 7", the experimental rock vets put their spin on two creepy classics from The Shining’s soundtrack. It’s spooky as hell—and Rodriguez, who took the helm on the project, might have been the most spooked of all.  

It’s almost Halloween, which means I’ve been on a horror-movie kick. But possibly the most beautiful and haunting of all seasonal favorites, The Shining, should be required viewing no matter the time of year. The Deerhoof folks agree. In fact, every member of the band—Satomi Matsuzaki, Greg Saunier, Ed Rodriguez, and John Dieterich—has such a passion for Stanley Kubrick’s film that they decided to record a 7″ of two of their favorite songs from the soundtrack. (It’s out on Famous Class now.) Apparently Saunier has a whole bookshelf of Kubrick books, but it was Famous Class’s Cyrus Lubin who came up with the idea.

Of all the eerie compositions that soundtrack Jack Torrance’s descent into madness, Deerhoof chose to record versions of twentieth century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s “Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta” and British bandleader Al Bowlly’s “Midnight, the Stars and You.” They’re the two songs the band thought would embody how the film moves seamlessly from uncanny to in-your-face terrifying, and back again. The former can be heard when little Danny is riding his trike around the funky carpeted halls of the Overlook Hotel, and attempts to open the door to Room 237 only to meet the twins instead. The latter is a 1930s slow-dance staple, and accompanies one of the last scenes, in which Jack finds himself in the ballroom, at a ghostly party. “It’s good to be back, Lloyd,” he tells the bartender. You know what I’m talking about.

In their interpretation of these songs, Deerhoof swapped Bartók’s violins and timpany for a whole lot of distorted guitar, and Bowlly’s croon is replaced with Matsuzaki’s spectral-sounding vocals. Staying pretty true to the original arrangements, Deerhoof still manage to put their own experimental touch on the two creepy classics. Over the phone from his home in Portland, Oregon, guitarist Ed Rodriguez told me about recording these songs, his deep love for The Shining, and being a total horror wimp.

Why choose these two songs specifically?

We knew it was gonna be a 7″, and only two songs, so we picked what we thought would cover the different elements of the movie. On the A-side is the Bartók piece [“Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta”], which we did really dark and overwhelming, trying to make it terrifying, in a very obvious way. I did all the string parts with full distorted guitar and the timpani parts were all distorted bass, staying relatively faithful to the arrangement. That’s the side that’s in your face; it’s meant to be shocking.

For the other side, we chose one of the prettier songs [“Midnight, the Stars and You”], the last song of the movie. If you heard that song on its own, you might not think much of it. But within the context, it becomes this ultra spooky moment. So we approached that song like that. I did a fingerstyle arrangement of the orchestra parts to give it a mellow mood. But with Satomi’s vocals, and the way we mixed it, we tried to bring out the eeriness of it. That’s a huge part of the movie—when Jack’s pacing through, and at the end when it’s just an axe coming through the door, how much more over the top and terrifying could that be? [But then it’s also the] simple things. There are so many moments when almost nothing’s happening and it’s really quiet, but it’s absolutely terrifying. We tried to reflect that. An uneasiness.

Do you remember the first time you saw The Shining?

I didn’t grow up watching horror movies. To this day I’m a super easy scare. I’m the type where I can come around the corner, make eye contact with you, and then you say, “Boo!” and I’ll still be like, “Aahh!” A movie will be going on and I can’t help but do that thing of like, “Oh, I need to go to the kitchen for a minute,” and then peek out from around the corner, where I can have a little distance between me and the TV. Or I do the horrible thing where I Wikipedia the plot. I remember as a kid seeing Gremlins 2 and slumping down in my seat, watching between my legs. And that’s the funny one with Hulk Hogan! Even those kinds of things would freak me out.

So I didn’t see The Shining until my adulthood because I couldn’t handle it. My girlfriend was the first person I met who was all about horror movies. On one of our first dates we got together and each brought a movie we wanted to watch. I brought some stupid Mel Brooks comedy and she brought Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling. She was really into Italian horror, Fulci and Dario Argento, all that. I felt like such a goofball, having this total slapstick movie, and then we watched this thing that was completely terrifying.

All the Kubrick stuff I saw later in life. I own them all, I rewatch them so many times. Here in Oregon there’s the Timberline Lodge, where they filmed a few of the outdoor shots for The Shining. The last time I watched The Shining was a few weeks before we recorded the music. I happened to have a coupon to go to the lodge, so I brought The Shining and watched it up in the snow.

I know you’re not a huge horror movie person, but do you have favorites?

Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, that one’s mind-blowing. It’s scary but the end is just gorgeous. It’s almost sci-fi-ish. For pure scary: The Descent. It’s a group of women going through caves together, a lot of darkness, a lot of trying to cram through tiny tunnels. They didn’t even have to have anything else scary happen besides trying to climb through a tiny tunnel and I probably would have lost my mind. [Editor’s note: A lot more does end up happening besides climbing through tiny tunnels.] And the Sam Raimi movies: Drag Me To Hell and Evil Dead, the ones that have sort of a wink to them, are really great. They have these moments that are totally hilarious. There’s that back and forth.

I love Evil Dead. That is one of my all-time favorite movies.

I went to a Bruce Campbell talk and he was so funny! I couldn’t wait to talk to him at the end. There weren’t really cars out front, except one car was parked right in front of the door. And he did this whole talk and then was like, “Thank you!” and he walks down the aisle waving to everybody, goes through the doors, the doors stay open, he walks out through the lobby, gets in that one car, and drives off. Giving nobody the chance to try to get an autograph or talk to him. It only could’ve been better if it had been a convertible and he’d just jumped in and drove off.

Do you have many other favorite horror soundtracks?

Not really. I loved all the Kubrick stuff, though, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Shining. When I was young I got really into [Polish composer Krzysztof] Penderecki and [Hungarian-Austrian composer György] Ligeti, which are the building blocks of so many of the soundtracks for his movies. I sat around with headphones on, marveling at this music. When I saw both 2001 and The Shining, seeing somebody have visuals with it—it made sense. It matched the feeling. So many times a song you like is used in a movie and it ruins it for you. But this was perfect. Recognizing all these twentieth century classical pieces—it’s like your favorite band coming on at a Denny’s.

What’s your best Halloween costume?

So many times a song you like is used in a movie and it ruins it for you. But [The Shining] was perfect. Recognizing all these twentieth century classical pieces—it’s like your favorite band coming on at a Denny’s.

When I was little my mom hand-sewed me an E.T. costume. I remember going around the neighborhood doing the housecoat scene—that’s when he’s drunk. For some reason a couple years ago I was like, “That’d be great to wear again!” even though I was half my height then. I remember trying it on as a teen and I could almost not stand up. It was skintight. Recently I asked my mom if she could find it in the house, and she couldn’t find it. And then she, from memory, made me another one—an adult version—and sent it to me, and I wore it that year. I think that’s my favorite, because it’s so sweet that my mom would make me a new E.T. costume and not question why a grown man wants this. Another good one was Spuds MacKenzie. I had a dog head and a Hawaiian shirt on and shades. I was waiting for the BART, and this woman came up to me and she’s like, “Are you swine flu?” I was like, “What the hell are you talking about?” She thought I was a pig in a Hawaiian shirt and somehow interpreted that as swine flu.

What scares you the most?

I am a very easy scare. Like, so easy. I would say scary movies scare me the most. My parents had me when they were older so it was very much like, death is a part of life. All the harsh lessons came very early. So I think the most uncomfortable moments and most fear I have in my life is watching scary movies. I really connect. Everybody will watch me, it’s super embarrassing. My friends have videos of my feet moving, and my mouth moving—because when I watch something my whole body will be shaking. I’ll be mouthing things, and my hands will be wringing. So scary movies are probably the scariest thing for me. Everything else I can deal with. FL

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