Who: Deafheaven vocalist, George Clarke
Where: San Francisco, California
Why: Deafheaven is a California metal band dead-set on fusing together influences from black metal to post-rock, which places them among the ranks of Wolves in the Throne Room, Ludicra, Alcest, and many more. Carrying a deft precision for atmospherics and sweeping 10-plus minute songs, they also have a vicious tendency to lose control.
Deafheaven has been on tour in Europe some time now, but they will be making the rounds in the United States within the next couple of months. In particular, they will be performing at Orlando’s Will’s Pub Thursday March 22 with France’s Alcest and a couple local acts, Legions and Fire in the Cave.
With the recent influx of black metal, I wanted to take the time to talk to Deafheaven’s lead singer George Clarke to see what he had to say about attacking a polarizing genre, touring with the likes of French artist Alcest, dealing with the ever-present “hipster” label, and working on a newer, darker album. Sadly, I caught the guy in the middle of his breakfast (forgot about that three hour time change), but he seemed happy enough to pick up the call shortly after. Here’s what was said . . . .
—Dropped by Robert Miller
The Dropp: Hi, George. So how was that breakfast?
George Clarke: It was very filling. Had too much coffee, so, you know—wired.
The Dropp: Well you gotta get a jump start on your day
Clarke: Oh yeah. A late start calls for a jump start.
The Dropp: You guys just got off of a Europe tour. Is that right?
Clarke: Yeah, we just got off a European tour. We got back last Saturday.
The Dropp: What’s it like being back in Cali?
Clarke: It’s nice right now. It’s very relaxing. The European tour went really well. It was our first time over there, and it was a headlining run. I was very pleased with the outcome, and have just been enjoying the week hanging out with friends before we leave again to begin this U.S. tour.
The Dropp: What does your free time in between the tours look like?
Clarke: Like right now? Not much. Just doing as little as possible, cause when we leave, we leave for about three months. Just seeing people we haven’t seen in a while. Stuff like that.
The Dropp: So about the European tour—what was your guys’ favorite place to play?
Clarke: Geographically, or architecturally, or however you want to describe it—I really liked Budapest, Amsterdam, Belgium, and Brighton, U.K. Those were probably my four favorites. But every place we went to was gorgeous. The European landscape is really beautiful, even though we were covered in snow. That was fine. As far as shows go, a lot of them sold out. Belgium sold out, Budapest did, Amsterdam, a couple dates in Germany. So it was very fun; very successful.
The Dropp: That was part of my next question, actually. What was the reaction and attendance like overseas in comparison to America?
Clarke: I think it was probably stronger than our American fan base. Just because I think there’s more of an emphasis on live music, and kind of more support for the arts over in Europe. So they really come out to support bands that they enjoy. So, yeah, attendance was great. Reaction was awesome. We got the opportunity to sell a lot of records and just meet a lot of cool people.
The Dropp: I was reading other interviews you’ve done before, and I looked and I looked, but I couldn’t find anything about your guys’ name. I was curious. Is there any special origin or reason for the name Deafheaven?
Clarke: There’s not, actually, which is probably you didn’t find too much [laughs]. You know what’s funny—when we were throwing around ideas for the name, I honestly have no idea how I thought about it. I mean, there’s a Shakespearean sonnet that references “deaf heaven,” and maybe from years ago that kind of popped in my head. But as far as I know, it was just a random idea of mine. I really liked the way it sound, and our guitar player, Kerry, who I was discussing it with was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds cool,’ and then with the two words we decided to put them together as one word, and that was a Slowdive homage. So without thinking about it too much, it just stuck.
The Dropp: When you first started Deafheaven, what bands influenced you in the beginning?
Clarke: Uh . . . trying to think. Some of the main influences in the beginning were Weakling, Burzum, Cold World, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, just kind of all over the place. Then we kind of got into Ride, Chapter House, things like that, and we’ve always been influenced by a lot of 90’s Britpop, like Happy Mondays and even Oasis. It was just—it was pretty all over the place.
The Dropp: Sounds like it. Kind of going across the board with those I guess, but that’s good.
Clarke: Yeah, we didn’t intend on mixing everything. It just kind of—based on what we were listening to at the time—ended up coming out the way it did.
The Dropp: On that note, there’s obviously a big black metal influence in your sound, but there’s also the Shoegaze, the post-rock, and I’ve even heard people say there’s a “classic” screamo sound, or whatever you want to call it. But out of all of those styles, why black metal? What attracted you guys to that in the first place?
Clarke: Mainly, the ferocity of it. Playing at that speed for that long of a time. We wanted to focus on kind of a hypnotic atmosphere. And I feel like when you’re playing tempos like that, and you’re layering that many guitars, it has a sort of wash-y hypnosis to it. And we were just fans of that kind of thing. So we took those parts and meshed them into what we were doing, and it ended up being a big bulk of our sound, and we were happy with the way it came out.
The Dropp: Even for me personally, black metal was tough to get into. I didn’t really care for it at all in the beginning. But something clicked at some point. So what do you think attracts people to that style of music in the first place at all?
Clarke: Well, I come from a metal background. I’ve listened to metal since I was a kid, so for me it was pretty easy. I started off listening to mainly European stuff, and bigger names—I’m talking when I was like 14 years old and was listening to Dimmu Borgir or something like that [laughs]—so I’ve always had an affinity toward it. And then in my later teenage years I got more into the American style—more into the atmospheric side of things. So the whole thing was just a natural transition from stuff I’ve kind of always enjoyed.
The Dropp: Even here in Florida there’s a surprising amount of black metal fans. Even extreme black metal purists, like with corpse paint, Satanism, the whole nine yards. So how does that influence you guys? You’ve obviously avoided the theatrics of the genre, but what does it all mean to you?
Clarke: You know, for that style of music, it was one of the first things that was really appealing about it. I mean—it’s evil. It’s vicious looking. It’s undeniably dark. And that was always there. That was always part of the initial attraction. But I think as I got older, and was just a, uh, regular person [laughs], I didn’t so much want to take those kind of visual attributes and apply them to my own life. I certainly appreciate them for what they are, but I just don’t necessarily follow those same visual aesthetic idolings.
The Dropp: I’ve seen you’ve been asked this question before, so I’m almost tempted to not even ask it, but I was really curious. Mixing metal with the slower genres via stuff like Godspeed, Explosions in the Sky, and more post-rock stuff like that is not exactly a new thing. Other bands have been doing it. So a lot of times it seems like that hipster tag gets thrown at you a lot. Does that affect you guys at all? Or do you even think that’s the case?
Clarke: Like does the term affect me?
The Dropp: Well, just the attitude behind it. Some people seem to intend it as an insult.
Clarke: Yeah, I mean, it’s just to the point where I’m no longer insulted by it. It’s just kind of a laughable term. I think people throw that tag around to somehow justify their dislike for differences in sound. Maybe they can’t think that way necessarily; it’s just new to them. And they see that music being played by people that are younger and they don’t align themselves with Satanic or traditional black metal imagery. So it’s an easy term to throw around to lump everyone into the same thing. But . . . it’s a joke. It’s even getting to the point I’ve noticed—here and there—that young people and younger start-ups who are trying to do the same sort of sound are embracing the term, which is even funnier. It’s just another word to draw guidelines in a scene that’s obsessed with drawing guidelines.
The Dropp: Yeah, everything just gets compartmentalized.
Clarke: Yeah, absolutely. They like it that way. And that’s something I’ve never really quite understood. And I just don’t care for it.
The Dropp: But you’re coming to Orlando soon, and you’re playing with Alcest. What are your thoughts on that?
Clarke: We’re extremely excited. We met Stefan, who fronts Alcest, when they came through San Francisco with Enslaved and chatted it up. He was familiar with our record and liked it a lot, and we were just kind of keeping in contact and I was like, ‘Yeah, the next time you guys come over we should do something, because we’re all big fans of your band.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, totally, I’d love to.’ And a couple months later we got hit up by their American agents, and they had asked if we were interested in doing the tour. Everything really lined up well with our schedule as it was going, so we took it, and yeah, I’m extremely excited. Those guys are really nice guys.
The Dropp: What are they like in person?
Clarke: Very humble. Very reserved, obviously, since there’s a slight language barrier, and it probably caused them to be a little shy. But they were great. We just drank beers and smoked cigarettes, and we ended up talking for hours. We hit it off.
The Dropp: Well, you don’t seem to have a lot of time in Florida. It seems like you have a show every single day. So I guess you’re not going to get a chance to check out the sites, or see our retirement homes.
Clarke: [Laughs] Well, it will be our first time in Florida, and we will attempt to see as much as we can, but that’s the curse of the road. Generally, you’re confined to the venue. So I hope it’s a cool venue. That would be a plus.
The Dropp: Well, yeah, at least you’ll see the venue.
Clarke: Exactly, and hopefully the weather won’t be too bad.
The Dropp: It’s been hot lately.
Clarke: Yeah, it’s been over here also. We have a little heat wave thing going on. I hope it continues, cause the last three weeks I’ve been knee-deep in snow, so it’s a welcome change.
The Dropp: We feel like we’ve just missed winter entirely over here.
Clarke: It’s exactly the same over here. I feel like we’re going to come, and we’re just going to suffer.
The Dropp: For the next question, it seems like you’ve been talking about some new material lately. Has there been any progress with that?
Clarke: Yeah, absolutely. We are currently writing for our next full-length release. Our guitar player is actually in the other room right now, and I can hear him playing really loudly. We live together, so I constantly have to hear it. But everything’s coming together nicely. We’ll be recording later this year. And hopefully, if everything goes right, we’ll have an early 2013 release.
The Dropp: Do you have anything to add about what the writing for the new album will be like?
Clarke: It’s going to be different. It’s going to be bigger. We wrote Roads to Judah, our first release, in like two to three months. It was really quick, and we were happy with it, especially at the time—and I still am happy with it—but we’ve had so much time since that release to really grow and become more comfortable with each other. So the writing this time is a lot nicer. It’s going to be more expansive. We’re playing around with a lot of different sounds. Lyrically, it will be a lot different. There’s going to be a big focus on surrealism, and I think, overall, it’s just going to be a lot more interesting. We’ve definitely grown a lot since our last release.
The Dropp: On that note of where you’re going, where do you see Deafheaven in the near future? What’s the next step?
Clarke: You know, it’s hard to say. I feel that in the year and a half that we’ve been a band, we’ve been very ambitious, and I think we’ve accomplished a lot. So we’re just aiming to accomplish more, and write the best record we can, and tour more, and tour with bands we respect and enjoy, and just get bigger and better. I’m not really sure, but I do know that by next year, with everything that we have planned, we’ll be very hard at work.
The Dropp: Are there any last thoughts you’d like to leave with our readers?
Clarke: Just thank you for the interview. We very much look forward to coming to Florida, and I think all those shows should be really good. I’m very excited for them. It’s been a lot fun.
Mon Mar 19