Deafheaven want to keep touring 'Sunbather' until they're sick of it
"I understand black metal enough," says George Clarke. "Have we manipulated the genre in our own way to create our own thing in a certain light? Yeah."
2013 was nothing short of a banner year for the band Deafheaven. With the release of their second LP “Sunbather,” the San Francisco band turned the heads and caught the ears of critics worldwide, garnering nearly unanimous acclaim as one of the year’s top records.
At their core, Deafheaven remain a metal band, yet some of their only criticisms have come from metal elitists who say they aren’t black metal enough. In the end, the true prowess of the band is how they transcended the genre and developed a following of fans from all factions of music.
“When we started the band we always had certain styles that we wanted to combine,” says vocalist George Clarke. “I think we’ve grown as musicians and become a better band. There was definitely a focus on layering and complexity. Any time you write a record it’s a big shot in the dark, you never know how things will come out. But I’m happy with what happened.
"I understand black metal enough that I don’t consider us to be strictly that. Have we manipulated the genre in our own way to create our own thing in a certain light? Yeah. I think that upset people whose identity revolves around the genre. While it’s not shocking to me at all, I don’t necessarily pay attention to it. I know it exists. I recognize that people consider our record to be polarizing to a certain extent, but it’s just not really worth worrying about, honestly.”
Together with guitarist Kerry McCoy, Deafheaven went beyond the black-and-white definition of metal by combining a searing and shimmering shoegazing wall-of-guitars sound and prog rock progressions with Clarke’s impassioned scream that pushes catharsis to levels of exorcism. With epic song lengths and post-rock instrumental interludes, their music is cinematic and impressionistic, built in layers and ripe with subtlety. While there is an inherent emotional depth to Clarke’s lyrics, the delivery and feeling remain the focal point, like an enraged opera, while the words end up purposely obscured by the overwhelming textures and sheer decibels of the accompanying instrumentation.
“In the style of music we make, the vocals are presented in an aggressive way and they are meant to serve as the rock while the guitars and things kind of flow around them,” says Clarke. “It’s a constant, high-pitched, nasty bark. And I think that musically that’s what it’s for. And to anyone who enjoys the music and wants to look further, the lyrics are there. I think in order to understand the songs to the fullest extent you do need to read the lyrics, because that’s where a lot of the emotional connect comes from. It just provides intensity to what’s going on musically.”
Despite his powerful record and reputation for commanding performances, Clarke remains humble about the past year.
“When we wrote 'Sunbather,' we were so uncertain,” he notes. “We were like, ‘God, are we even good at what we’re doing? Do we even know what we’re doing?’ Now I guess there’s been a little bit of reinforcement. This is actually OK. Maybe we actually have a thing now. Maybe we have found our voice. That’s one of the hardest things about being in a band I think, it’s just trying to find your voice.”
And how about a new album? Is there pressure to follow up on the success of “Sunbather”?
“A new album is definitely not a concern right now. We just want to tour as much as possible and keep supporting ‘Sunbather’ until we’re all totally sick of it,” he says with a laugh, “which will probably be pretty soon.”