For those interested, here’s the almost-complete transcript of our conversation with Deafheaven’s George Clarke.
Q. You’ve said in previous interviews that you don’t care about alienating metal purists. Are you surprised to be embraced by people who don’t really know much about metal?
A. Yeah, I think it’s cool. I think we obviously incorporate a lot of nonmetal elements, and people kind of find their way. You either come from this angle, where it’s a nonmetal element that attracted you initially, and that allows you to lend your ear to to the harsher sounds, and maybe it’s vice versa and you’re a metalhead who hears a post-punk riff or a post-rock interlude, and it opens that door. That’s cool. All this sounds like hippie bullshit, but it’s like a journey. Everyone finds different things in different ways, and it’s nice when we’re a band that facilitates that.
Q. I listened to a little bit of “Rise of Caligula” to prepare for this thing. Were you and Kerry [McCoy] specifically trying to do something more expansive with your next band, or…?
A. I mean, that band…It’s always funny to me that that band even gets mentioned, because for us, that was like a local band. We never really played outside of our area, we released, like, one CD, and we were jamming with totally different dudes. I was 17 and 18 when we did that, so, I mean, we always listened to black metal and we were always very into post rock, and I remember trying to interject those influences into that band, but for what we were doing with that project, it was just too harsh and we had different objectives. So when we stopped doing that, we started jamming on some other stuff, and those styles became our objectives and we learned to incorporate them better and expand on them and that’s just kind of where we’ve been.
Q. How old are you now?
A. I’m 25.
Q. Ah, I didn’t realize that was that far back.
A. Yeah, that was…when we were writing [“Sunbather”], all we wanted was something that we felt was bigger than our last record, and that went for everything. For the softer parts, we wanted it to be more complex and grander and more interesting. For the aggressive parts, we wanted them to be grander and more interesting. While there are the softest elements we’ve ever used on this record, I think there are certainly the harshest as well. We just wanted something big, or at least bigger than what we had done before.
Q. Jeez, in that case, what do you do for your next album?
A. I have no fucking idea. We jam here and there and, y’know, we’re always toying around with riffs and stuff, but I have no idea. We’ll probably do something weird. I don’t think I want to continue, necessarily, directly down the path we’re going. I hope that we kind of switch it up or at least add some new stuff to it. When we cross that bridge, we’ll figure it out. I’m excited. I think when we’re ready to do a new record, we’ll be inspired by stuff we haven’t previously.
Q. I could ask a lot of bands this question – Your lyrics are obviously hugely important to your music, but I found I had to look them up to decipher what you’re screaming. Do you think that actually helps make your music less disposable? Like, the reader has to put in a little extra effort to appreciate the whole experience.
A. I agree, I think, that in order to understand the songs to their fullest, you need to read the lyrics, and those who enjoy the music to a certain degree will invest themselves. As far as the way they’re delivered, musically, they serve as a rock while the guitars and drums sort of swirl around them. I like that about them. The approach is purposefully nasty and monotonous and just barking and angry and frustrated, and if you’ll care about it enough, you’ll see why. And I think those who do are rewarded for it, because the lyrical pairing…..I think it suits the music well.
Q. Yeah, when I found out what’s going on at the end of “The Pecan Tree” I was like, “Whoa, dude.”
A. Yeah, I wanted there to be an emotional weight to all the songs. I think it certainly heightens everything, and drives it as well.
Q. Is it accurate to think the band is basically you, Kerry, and some hired guns, or…?
A. No, not anymore. It was at one point. Kerry and I primarily wrote “Sunbather” together, other than Dan Tracy who came in at the last month and killed it on drums. Musically, it was written with Kerry and I. For one reason or another, we couldn’t find other players, or found it difficult to work with people. This time around, I feel very confident in our lineup. They’ve been with us for a while, and I definitely consider them part of the band. As we go forth in writing, I think they’ll definitely bring their own contributions to the table.
Q. Are there any frontmen you borrow dance moves from, if not necessarily a vocal style?
A. Uh, as far as the actual dancey groove thing, not anyone in particular. Maybe, like, Michael Jackson or Morrissey or someone like that, or maybe, like, Freddie Mercury. I kind of describe it as like, I don’t know, this is going to sound kind of lame on paper, but Freddie Mercury meets [singer whose name we don’t recognize and can’t spell. Sounded like “Filan Colmo.”] meets a little bit of Ian Curtis. I don’t think I’m nearly as entertaining as any of those gentlemen, but if I had to lay it down like that, I’d probably say that’s the best description.
Q. I’d compare your persona more to Davey Havok’s older, mean cousin who beats him up.
A. Yeah, I’ll take that too. That’s fine.
Q. Would you ever beat up Davey Havok?
A. I wouldn’t, no. I’ve met him a couple of times. He comes to a lot of shows. It would be awkward. We have too many mutual friends. It would be strange. I don’t really know him per se, but we’ve shaken hands, and I couldn’t beat him up. Plus, as far as old AFI goes, I’m a fan, and it would be doing a disservice to myself.
Q. What if he randomly did something that really irritated you? Do you think you could beat up Davey Havok then?
A. Uh, I don’t know, man. He’s pretty strong. He’s in really good shape. I’m in really bad shape. So he….I’m bigger than him, but he’d definitely, probably kick my ass.
Q. What makes you say you’re in bad shape?
A. I just, I mean, I’m not the most athletic…I’m, like, not the worst guy, but I don’t do any weight training or anything like that.
Q. I feel like the mainstream tends to unfairly dismiss metal as music for and by angry idiots. Do you think your band could do anything to change that?
A. Uh, y’know, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re going to change people’s minds about that. There are a lot of angry idiot metal bands. There are a lot of not angry idiot metal bands. I know of a ton of metal musicians who aren’t particularly angry and aren’t idiots, but it’s a fun stigma to have. I think. At a certain level, some people who are into metal like to perceived as scary or intimidating, so angry idiot might work. It could be beneficial.
Q. You’ve been asked about Bret Easton Ellis in previous interviews. Have you heard his podcast?
A. I have not, no. I mentioned one time that “Less Than Zero,” storyline-wise, was kind of an influence, and people started asking me a lot about him. I’ve enjoyed a few of his books, but I’m not heavily invested. is it good or bad or….?
Q. It’s pretty OK. I think people bring up Bret Ellis because it’s an easier jumping off point. Like, everyone knows “Less Than Zero” and “American Psycho,” but I don’t think I know many people who’ve read “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”
A. Yeah, then there’s that, which comes up often because of the sample we used in “Please Remember.” That book, I love.
Q. You consider “Please Remember” an interlude, as opposed to a song….
A. Yeah, [“Sunbather”] is four songs and three interludes. Previously on “Roads to Judah” and the demo, we kept it to four songs as well. This time, we just decided, ‘cause we have a lot of instrumental material we were working on, it would be cool to incorporate as much of it as possible.
Q. How long does it take to write a Deafheaven song?
A. It kind of takes a while. The writing process starts as just a guitar riff that gets played, like, every day for two weeks. Then you’re just like, “Alright, I don’t know what to do with this,” and then you set it down, and eventually you come up with a different thing and maybe realize that the two riffs are in the same key and think, “Well, maybe we should combine them and maybe cut this one down to halftime or double this one,” or I don’t know. It could take months. But sometimes, it doesn’t take that much time at all. Coming up with the riffs can take a long time, but when we all come into the same groove, try to piece it together and structure the song, it doesn’t take long at all. The parts are there, it’s just a matter of fitting them together.
Q. It takes much longer to create the puzzle pieces than it does to turn them into a song.
A. Exactly, yeah.