Every so often, a surprise makes its way onto the Billboard Charts. In 2013, that surprise was Deafheaven's critically praised Sunbather, the second studio album written entirely by the group's two founding members, George Clarke and Kerry McCoy. The album is a modern interpretation and juxtaposition of elements of black metal, post-rock, and shoegaze. It eventually became one of 2013's most acclaimed albums.
Despite their almost immediate success -- just after releasing their first demo, they were picked up by Deathwish Inc., a label formed by Converge's vocalist Jacob Bannon -- Deafheaven manage to maintain a sense of modesty while continuing to place the majority of their focus on ensuring that their music reaches the maximum amount of listeners possible. They recently returned from a series of performances in Australia, and have already embarked upon a U.S. tour. Gimme Noise enjoyed a chat with vocalist George Clarke as he prepared for their sold-out show this evening at the Triple Rock.
How did you and Kerry McCoy get started playing music together? You were in Rise of Caligula together before Deafheaven...
We've been in multiple smaller bands together. We met when we were 14. It's like anything else: It kind of started with a really shitty freshman year, sophomore year garage band, and went from there.
What kind of bands did you play in during high school?
Kerry was always in punk bands. I was in like one metal band as a sophomore in high school, and then Kerry and I got together, I think senior year of high school, and started playing together, and that formed the band that was before Deafheaven. When we decided to actually take things seriously, we started writing material for Deafheaven.
Did you have a friend who introduced you to metal or did you seek it out yourself?
A little bit of both. The group of friends that we all hung out with were all equally as interested in that sort of thing, so we would all look through magazines and buy CDs without hearing them -- that whole way of going about it. My junior/senior year, we all exchanged everything, and that's when more of the shoegaze stuff started to get introduced.
How long did you play in Rise of Caligula together?
Just a couple years. We weren't living in San Francisco at the time; we were sort of stuck in small towns. I hold that band sort of on par to being just one of the run-of-the-mill local bands. When Kerry and I moved to San Francisco, we decided to push through to kind of what we're doing now.
Did you go to San Francisco with this as a goal?
No. Actually, we were just sort of bored with what we were doing. There wasn't a plan to start a band -- we didn't even have a band when we started this project. It was more like a hobby until it started getting picked up on, and then we decided to be serious about it.
So you formed Deafheaven, and released a demo. Then your first album, Roads to Judah, was released in 2011. Did you bring new members into the band before or after the Deathwish signing?
Before the label offer, we were asked by a local promoter to play a show, and it wasn't really something that we had thought too much about before. We had a couple months to sort of pull a band together, so we got a couple extra players and started slowly doing shows, and I think after our fifth show, Deathwish contacted us about releasing the record.
You've said Roads to Judah was about a rough year that you had. Can you talk about that a little bit?
It was just sort of right around the time that we were living in this house that was just kind of crazy. There were a lot of people living in it. It was just ridiculous. We had parties every night. Everyone was doing every drug. It was a really crazy party environment that left me exhausted by the time it was done.
How old were you?
Were you also working at the time, or going to school?
We were working at these terrible jobs, and just scraping by and stealing food, just being shitheads.
So the concept of the album is...
It's just kind of living excessively and getting nowhere. It's like wasting a year in a blacked-out, drugged-out, exhausted state of mind.
Is that something that you've continued to struggle with?
No. My life is much more balanced these days.
All of the writing for Sunbather was done as a two-piece between you and Kerry. What prompted that?
Pretty much because in the time between the two records we had just lost all of our additional players, and no one could really fulfill the commitment anymore. There were personal relationship issues, and for one reason or another we were going through different members. Meeting and wanting to do our new record, we just sort of decided that we would do it ourselves.
Is that something that you see yourself continuing?
No, only because now that we have a full band, which we've had for close to two years now, I'm looking forward to writing with everyone.
Have you been working on new material together?
We're always writing here and there, but nothing really too concrete yet. Once we get off the road we'll be able to focus on that more.
What is your writing process with Kerry like?
He comes up with most of everything, and then we'll get together with Dan, and they'll kind of create the skeleton of a song.Tell us about the title track, "Sunbather."
"Sunbather" basically sums up the theme of the record. I mean, it involves looking at people, and examining people...and people appear normal and carefree for the most part, and it's about figuring out why maybe our life is not that way.
Another theme on the album is your personal struggle with success and wealth. Can you talk about that a little bit?
It's about wanting everything, to a certain degree, and always being envious of somebody else, or questioning what you've done to make it and what your idea of perfection is. When you walk through an expensive city and you can see the insides of people's condos and it just looks so clean and nice, with nice things, you kind of think, like, why am I sleeping on a floor right now? So, there's that, and it's also a want of all things.
How has your family reacted to what you're doing?
They've been really supportive. They're excited. They're thrilled that we get to travel...they're most excited about it as an overall experience.
When you were younger and first getting into metal and playing music, what was their reaction then?
I felt supported. They couldn't be too overly worrying, or anything. I never got my CDs thrown away. They were pretty understanding, as long as everything else was fine.
Is there anyone else in your family that plays music?
No. There was always music playing in the house, but my family doesn't really have a musical background at all.
So after you released Sunbather, your first tour in support of it was a European/Russian tour in 2013.
Europe is in some ways easier to tour than the U.S. There's so much traffic in the U.S. -- bands play every night, there's a different market. For this part of the world, things have to really hype up before people get really excited about it. Our record had come out, and we'd had an offer already to do the European tour.
There were good shows. It was the only time we've gone to Russia, which was really fun. We took an overnight train to St. Petersburg, which is such a beautiful city. Being able to be in that part of the world was pretty rare.
You have experienced so much success so quickly. What has that been like for you?
It's awesome. We've always been really appreciative of all of the kind things that people have said, and all the attention that they've given to the record. We tour a lot. We work hard to have new people see us and to get the record out to as many people as possible, and we're beginning to really see what comes of it now.
In your free time, what do you enjoy doing? Do you read a lot?
Yes, a fair deal. More when we're touring, actually, than when I'm at home. I like to relax, catch up with friends and see people. When I'm home, I'm never home for too long, so a lot of it is about leisure.
You mentioned Bret Easton Ellis in a previous interview. Are you a big fan?
I was talking with someone and just sort of relating in a light way that the record kind of reminded me of Less Than Zero.
Deafheaven performs this evening at the Triple Rock with Pallbearer and Wreck & Reference. SOLD OUT. Doors at 8 p.m., 18+.GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
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