Locked in a garage on a summer night while five guys beat some of the loudest noise you’ve ever heard out of their instruments might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but for the thirty people who stuck around after a hardcore evening in Denver, Deafheaven were serving up exactly what we ordered.
This wouldn’t be the first (and it’s doubtful it’ll be the last) time this ‘shoegaze/black metal/refuse-to-be-labeled’ band from San Francisco will be on a bill where they run the risk of being misunderstood. ‘one time we opened for Marduk and this dude at the bar shoulder-slammed me and said you suck!’ There would be no risk of altercations with ‘Watain-patched’ black metal fans at Blast-O-Mat on Saturday night, but they did run the risk of a blatant lack of interest by the jersey-clad, hardcore kids in attendance.
‘Thank you for sticking around.’ It was a simple four word intro from George Clarke before Kerry McCoy, along with Derek, Nick and Trevor, went to work erecting a wall of sound around their small stage…riff by riff, layer by layer. Witnessing all those moving parts create something so immense was almost tranquil. Tranquil is not the right word for what was happening on that stage, but it really was the calm before the storm. George was in some type of ritualistic dance with his mic-stand and you could just feel the aggression building and building. Something had to give or the whole place was going to implode…and then it did! The blast beats, the screams, and it was on! We had crossed the line from shoegaze into the depths of black metal. Hands behind his back, George hovered over us like a snake charmer who had been bitten one too many times. ‘the Judah reference relates to the small amount of peace of mind that I had during the last year of a chaotic time‘ Eyes bulging, saliva flying, and inhuman vocals made me wonder what exactly went on during that chaotic time…exactly what type of exorcism were we being held witness to?
20 minutes and 2 songs in, I made a mistake. I removed my earplugs. Rarely wearing earplugs to shows, I learned my lesson during Acephalix. Lesson #1 at Blast-O-Mat is ‘wear earplugs’. They won’t make you look old, and they won’t make you look like a pussy, but they will save your eardrums (and everything beyond) from excessive abuse. Blast-O-Mat is not a venue, it is a garage. And at the levels Deafheaven push their sound, you need protection. Protection that the wall they built around them will not provide you. I wanted to hear more vocal and for that I would pay the price. My brain began to unravel. I could literally feel it squirming around in my skull. My body began to convulse, neck whipping involuntarily, foot stomping into the ground like it was trying to kill a scorpion about to sting. I was in it and it felt good. When talking about the the band in its current form, Kyle said ‘it’s really just a mash-up of everybody at this point.’ He was referring to the songwriting process, but the same could be said for their stage presence. The swell, the crest and the crash…every member of the band creating the wave they rode over their audience with precision. Even in a space like Blast-O-Mat, with a small audience, they didn’t hold anything back. Deafheaven brought the walls down and we drown under their ocean of chaos. Oh what a glorious death it was!
By the time they closed the set with “Violet”, I was drinking my own sweat out of my beer, with adrenaline racing through my veins as if I had just jumped to my death, but miraculously lived and swam to shore. It wasn’t until the doors were opened and we found ourselves outside that I realized it had to have been 120 degrees during the performance. The sweat balling up on forehead made it feel like it was December beyond the walls of the garage. It felt incredible. The next thing I noticed was the loud silence. No voices. Just a ringing that seemed to be coming from within. A ringing that did not leave me until the next morning. Deafheaven, true to their namesake, had done their job, and they had done it well.
Full Interview with George Clarke & Kerry McCoy:
It’s been about a year, almost to the day, since you played your first show. What has changed over the past 12 months? How’s the ride been What’s been going on?
G: A lot has changed, everything has changed. We formed the entire band just to play a few shows and from there it snowballed a lot quicker than we expected. We got picked up by Deathwish a couple months later. We recorded our debut LP in late December, did a West Coast tour, did SXSW, released the LP in April and this is our first national tour. Right now we’re at the end of a 4 week show spree.
How did SXSW go?
K: It was really good
G: Awesome. It was one of the key components to our exposure. We got a chance to reach out to a really big audience, fellow bands, industry people and fans that had been interested in seeing us. It was really good for us. The shows were solid and it was a great experience.
I have read that Roads to Judah is a reference to the N Judah (the Muni Metro line), what other aspects of the album were influenced by San Francisco? How does the city play into the album?
G: Not so much the city itself, more particularly the things that were going on in the city (from a lyrical standpoint). Relationships I was having, places I was living, things we were doing. The Judah reference relates to the small amount of peace of mind that I had during the last year of a chaotic time. The city’s involvement is there, but it’s only because that’s where everything was going on.
You have listed influences as diverse as The Cure, Godspeed, My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths and even Elton John. So, why Deafheaven? With so many possible musical directions, why this band? Why this type of music?
K: We’ve always been interested in black metal and we wanted to incorporate that into whatever we were doing, but we never set out to consciously write a certain kind of music. We just wrote and it came out the way it did.
G: We never wrote down the influences and said ‘let’s write a song that’s like this’. We have been listening to aggressive music for such a long time. We have also listened to a broad amount of other kinds of music. When we write it’s just ‘hey, this would sound cool’. We started finding similarities between diverse styles…
K: We became interested in combining them.
G: They are really not as different as people think. There’s a huge similarity between shoegaze and raw, lo-fi black metal. I can’t understand how people don’t hear it.
What does your writing process look like? Does one person write everything? Does someone come in with an idea and the group adds texture? Is it a group effort?
K: It’s mostly a mesh of everybody. The demo was George and I. On Roads to Judah I would come up with a guitar riff and then Derek would bring the bassline, like at the end of Violet. Trevor comes up with this kind of fill and Nick throws these leads over it. So it’s really just a mash-up of everybody at this point.
G: We started out with a slight vision when it was just the two of us. By the time Roads was getting written we were lucky enough to have found musicians who shared the same eagerness for what we were trying to do…and had the chops to do it. The new material is much more a joint effort.
K: I think it will be for the foreseeable future.
There is a conversation going on right now around black metal, specifically usbm and Hunter Hunt Hendrix’s philosophy/manifesto/vision of the future of the genre. Does Deafheaven have a philosophy? Do you think having a philosophy adds or takes away from the listening experience?
G: I think black metal has always been a style that’s deeper than music. Even early on a lot of bands carried around their own personal philosophies and that’s what translated into their recording quality and their image. That style has always had that and if people want to exercise that more and focus on that part of it they can. Personally we don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. Liturgy are really nice guys but as far as their ‘transcendentalism’ we don’t share the same view. We write songs we like to write…
K: Our entire thing is keeping it as honest as possible. We just want to write music. We write songs, that’s it. If you like it, cool. If you don’t, cool. No philosophy.
Highlights of the tour so far?
G: The whole East Coast really took it for me.
K: Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia was really cool.
G: San Antonio was cool. The Northwest is always great.
G: Cake Shop in New York was great. As far as shows go, L.A., Portland, San Antonio, Boston, New York and Philadelphia…
K: The Blvd in L.A. and Chicago.
Who has been your favorite band to share a stage with so far? Who have you really connected with?
G: This band from Portland called Anne. They were phenomenal. They were a dream pop, shoegaze band that you wouldn’t necessarily expect us to share a bill with…
K: But they were doing it perfectly.
G: Another band called Ecocide from San Antonio had this great Dystopia/ Amber Asylum kinda thing…
K: Nux Vomica kinda thing
G: They had a girl who played violin and sang. It was awesome. Other than that, it was Heathens from Richmond, Virginia. They were awesome. Lonesummer and Planning for Burial, who we played Philadelphia and New York with, have been friends for awhile. Those guys are awesome too.
Moving forward, what would be your dream venue? Dream line-up?
G: …the Elton John thing again…I don’t know why I said that, but people took to it. For dream venue I would love to play the Great American Music Hall. That’s a personal goal. As far as bands, it would take a lot of thinking to answer that….
How do you get packaged into the tours you are on? Shoegaze bands, metal and even hardcore, like tonight.
G: It’s really 50/50. On one hand we play such a divergent style that we can fit amongst numerous bills. We can be the heaviest band on a shoegaze bill or we can be the softest band on a strictly black metal bill and that’s cool. But on the other side of that, it’s kinda hard to niche us so we end up playing shows we wouldn’t necessarily…it’s not shocking we are the sore thumb on a bill like this (Blood Stands Still, Brawl, HammerFist, Murder Kill Death). It either really works in our favor and it’s awesome or it absolutely does not.
What does the future hold for Deafheaven? What’s next?
G: Finish up this tour and then a few more random dates throughout the summer. We are working on some things for Fall and Winter in the States and if everything goes accordingly, Europe as well. That’s the tentative plan for the rest of 2011. I have no idea for next year. Everything keeps coming and the last year has been such a whirlwind that I just take everything in stride. At furthest I look 5 months into the future…