Interview with Deafheaven

Although San Francisco-based band Deafheaven only formed in early 2010, it has stormed the musical world by force, in short order signing with Deathwish, Inc. and releasing an impressive, if sometimes imposing, debut album, Roads To Judah, in 2011.  Songwriter and vocalist George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy form the core of the band, which is rounded out by Nick Bassett on guitar, Derek Prine on bass, and newest member Korey on drums.  George took a brief timeout from the band’s seemingly-endless touring schedule, possibly in the middle of a jaunt to Germany, to report on the latest developments of Deafheaven.

Hi George!  Your album Roads To Judah is composed of 4 epically long and involving songs and it blew me away with its combination of melody and aggression.  I love how you mix the sublime with the ferocious, with glorious guitar frisson that reaches for the heavens amid a brutal assault of rapid-fire drumbeats and your viciously roaring vocals. 

Thanks, we appreciate that.

You and Kerry formed Deafheaven in 2010 after being in another band together.  How did you know you were both on the same page musically with Deafheaven? 

We’ve been friends for a long time and always had similar tastes in music. When it came to forming Deafheaven, we just brainstormed a few ideas and threw them together as we wanted. The whole writing process happened very naturally.

You recorded a 4-song demo later in 2010, and from what I’ve read, also worked on the recordings that eventually became your debut album.  How do the demo songs stand up against the songs on Roads To Judah?

Writing for Roads to Judah involved the entire band, so naturally there was a bit of a difference. The vision and overall presentation was the same though and so, because of that, Deafheaven still retained its sound.

‘Way back’ in 2010 you added 3 members to your line-up and started playing your first gigs.  What was the initial vibe like in going from a duo to a quintet?  Did Nick, Derek, and, at the time, Trevor Deschryver, all know what they were getting themselves into?

It was a little strange at first as none of us had really known each other previously.  Luckily, we all meshed well and playing shows felt pretty good. The chemistry was there from the beginning.

You’re signed to Deathwish, Inc., the label of Jacob Bannon of Converge.  Were you courted by other labels, and if so, why did you decide on Deathwish?

We had an idea to sign with an awesome, smaller label, but ultimately Deathwish was the best choice.

You identify as being a metal and post-rock band and in some articles I’ve read about you, they label you as being ‘black metal’.  Do you consider Deafheaven to be a black metal band – or maybe you don’t think of your band that way at all.

We do not identify ourselves as a purely black metal band, but definitely incorporate a lot of elements of the genre. The reason we don’t call ourselves death metal is well…because there’s nothing of our music that is death metal. The two are very separate.

Many music reviewers also wax rhapsodical about your shoegazer tendencies, and by that I mean the dynamic, noisier side of the genre.  I think the press has latched on to this due to the soaring, guitar-driven conflagrations on your songs.  Are certain shoegazer bands influential to your sound?  I’m partial to Lush, Secret Shine, My Bloody Valentine, and early Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver, and Slowdive.

Absolutely. That style makes up a large part of what Deafheaven is doing musically, especially in a live setting. We focus heavily on a ‘wall of sound’.

Speaking of that massive, majestic rush of guitars, how do Kerry and Nick go about generating that sound?  What types of guitars and effects do they use?

Kerry and Nick use a variety of effects to achieve their sound. Various choruses, reverbs, delays, etc.

I just have to ask you about your voice!  How on earth do you recover after a bout of throat-shredding roaring at a gig?  I mean, you sound awesome, but that kind of singing must be inflicting some kind of damage…

I get that question a lot and to be honest, have no real answer for it. For some reason, my voice maintains its strengths without me really knowing why. Lots of whiskey and cigarettes, maybe.

As a lead singer, especially with such an emotive style as yours, how do you switch from being (relatively) calm before a gig, to being pissed off and aggressive during the performance?  Is there some kind of switch that flips where you can go to the edge of the abyss and then snap out of it after the show?

Our stage performance is left for the stage. Obviously, I’m not snarling and screaming when I’m off stage. That would be ridiculous. We just channel into the music and lyrics and whatever happens, happens. The two personalities are very different from one another.

On certain parts of your studio songs, the drum beat pummels at an unnaturally fast rate.  Is Trevor super-human or drink way too much coffee or did you change the drum beat pace in production?

Trevor’s stamina and hard work ethic make it so he can play at that pace for that long of a time. He does drink a lot of coffee though.

Deathwish, Inc. recorded and released a live album titled DW Live Series 08: Live at The Blacktop from a gig you played at The Blacktop in Bell Gardens, CA.  Are you/the label planning to release more live material, maybe in the format of a DVD of your performances? 

As of right now, there are no plans for anything like that. Maybe in the future. Right now, we’re focused on studio recordings.

You’re touring almost constantly, and in just over 2 short years as a band you’ve already played SXSW twice, headlined your own European Tour, and are now on the road through May.  Besides garnering a bigger fanbase, what are the highlights of performing every night?

Just being able to interact with fans and meet new people. Seeing different parts of the Earth and being able to through playing music is something very important to us.

What are some of the essentials that you pack in your bags?  Any Power Bars or stress (and/or boredom) relief toys? 

Mostly just iPods and some of us have video games, etc. I don’t have either so I usually bring books or try and nap as much as I can. It’s important to take something with you so that you are able to have some sort of personal time.

Do you feel like you’re at a tipping point as Deafheaven, where you could blow up huge in the next few months?  That’s the vibe I’m getting, at least from the amorphous online world where NPR and Esquire, among scores of others, have been raving about you.

Honestly, I have no idea. The longer we’re a band, the more I realize that a band’s popularity is really relative. We will just continue to work hard and hopefully people will continue to support what we do.

What is next for you musically?  I read that you’ve been working on new material and that it will deviate from the sound of Roads To Judah.  How is that all shaping up?

Yes, we’re working on new material and going into the studio later this year. As of now, I can’t say much more. I am very excited for the directions we’re pursuing though.

Lastly, could you please list your official site(s)?