The Weekly interview: Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke

Deafheaven brings its unique sound to LVCS on March 29.

I wasn’t there, but I’ve been told you played a show here once, at a bar called Meatheads. True? We played a taco shop. [Yayo Taco, 2011] Actually, we’ve played there twice, so maybe Meatheads was the other show. But we haven’t been there in so long.

Do you have much time here this time? It’s our last day of tour, so I think we’re gonna stay an extra day at least and have some fun. We don’t know too many people there, so I’m sure we’ll just be annoying tourists.

Your most recent album [Sunbather] got a lot of acclaim when it came out and ended up making a lot of year-end lists. Did you have a feeling as you were making it that it might do anything like that, or was it a total surprise to you that it crossed over the way it did? It was a total surprise for me. I just remember being really nervous, because at that point we’d garnered a small amount of hype, and the pressure was kinda on, I felt like. I wanted to release something that I felt really happy about it and proud of, something that took it to the next step of where I wanted to be as a band. And the reaction totally exceeded any sort of expectation. It was pretty wild. I was very thankful and glad that people took the time out to listen to the record and enjoy.

The comment threads for those year-end lists featured a lot of debate, between metalheads disavowing the record and those defending it. Were you very aware of that? I try not to look too into it, but I’m certainly aware. That’s just how it’s gonna be, especially with that style of music—anytime you deal with metal music or any type of underground, aggressive style, people feel very passionate about it, and they’re very willing to go to bat for their team, whatever it is that they believe in. So I expected that. The more attention the record got from mainstream publications, that just fueled that small fire that had already existed. The bigger, it seemed, that the record got, people got much more passionate about their feelings, either supporting us or not supporting us.

When I was a teenager I was the same way. It’s just something that exists really heavily within that subculture, and I don’t let it affect me. It’s interesting more than anything, a gigantic social experiment.

It made me wonder how many of the people who were vocally not into it might have been had it not been so well received by, say, Pitchfork. Yeah, or if we looked a different way or things like that. I’m sure some people just genuinely don’t like the band, from a musical standpoint, and it’s all good. But I feel that a lot of it comes from non-musical angles, things that don’t have to do with the music itself; it’s more of what the record being featured on these sites means. They want it to mean something, whether it’s a good thing or a really bad thing. People are always gonna find something to talk about or wanna complain about, and we just kind of do our thing.

Have you been seeing your crowds change and shift as all this has gone on, from more of a strictly metal crowd to more of a mix of metal fans and folks who might lean more toward indie stuff? Yeah, but to be honest it was always sort of a mix—it’s just kind of on a bigger scale now. We’ve had a mixed bag the whole time—now it’s just a bigger mixed bag.

What do you think of the idea that this might be a good entry point into metal for people who haven’t given it much thought before? I’ve been listening to metal for well over a decade. It’s the first kind of music that I connected with as an adolescent, so I think it’s something people should be aware of and enjoy. And if someone hears the softer elements of our band and that’s their starting point, and they hear the more aggressive parts and they not only don’t mind that but they start to like it and they want to know what other bands sound like us or who we sound like and then it grows from there, it just helps the community out as a whole, I think.

Following up on that, what would be some metal bands that you would recommend to people who came into it through yours? I would say definitely the French scene—Amesoeurs and even some harsher things like Peste Noire or obviously Alcest. And then American contemporaries like Bosse-de-Nage and Krallice and Weakling, things like that. And then from there maybe they’ll get into some different styles, but if they’re looking to take the next step from our band I would say that would be the right direction to go in.

Post-rock tends to get mentioned a lot in reviews of your music, bands like Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Would you say that’s something you’re into? We definitely wear the influence on our sleeve. For a split we even covered a Mogwai song [“Punk Rock”/”Cody”].

The Godspeed thing, in particular, seems connected, the way you’ll sometimes incorporate collage elements or use found sound or spoken things. We like to use field recordings whenever possible. It’s definitely a cool dynamic. It kinda gives it more of a cinematic feel, which is something that we tend to gravitate toward on occasion.

Does that cinematic quality translate to the live show, or does it tend to be a more straightforward metal presentation in concert? It’s a little bit of both. I think it’s a much more intense representation of the record. Visually we keep it pretty minimal, but as far as our stage performance itself it’s much more intense. It can be loud and suffocating, which it’s intended to be. I kind of take on a superhuman persona, with a focus on big energy and a lot of emotion.

In terms of the vocals on the record, I find myself on one hand wishing they were a bit louder, so I could make out what exactly you’re singing, and on the other hand liking the fact that it’s mixed a little low, because it’s like another instrument that way. As the singer and lyricist, is that tough to do, not to push it out farther and get your words out where people can hear them more? It’s purposeful, for sure. And you’re right about the extra instrument; that is, essentially, its job. It’s lower in the mix because it’s meant to add an instrument. It’s there to help build intensity, and it’s there to really bring forth the emotion of the song. And it’s not varied a lot because it’s meant to be a rock, in the center of all the swirling music behind it. It’s a constant and there like a foundation.

As far as people connecting to the lyrics, the lyrics are a huge part of our band, and I feel like those who are invested in the album and enjoy it on a musical level, once they look into what’s being spoken about, will only connect with the album further, because it’s another big piece of the entire whole.

It’s like an optional next step, if they want to dig deeper and figure out what’s there. Exactly. And I think for what we’re doing, the listener is rewarded from it, because I think in order to fully grasp the songs you do need to have a lyrical companion.

In terms of what’s on the horizon for you guys, I’m guessing mostly touring and festivals? Yeah, we tour often and work hard and go as many places as we can and play for as many people as we’re able. It’s gonna be a very busy year, but I’m looking forward to it. And we’re gonna hit the festival circuit and just try and kill it as much as possible.

I figured we’d see your name on the Coachella poster. We’re doing a lot of the major American indie fests, but that’s one that just didn’t come. And I’m totally fine with that.

It works out okay for Vegas fans; we get to see you in a more intimate space, instead of in a giant field. That’s the thing about fests. I have fun playing them, and it’s fun getting to meet other bands and see bands that I really like. But in terms of Deafheaven fans coming to see us, it’s not the best environment. I much prefer a more intimate show.

Deafheaven with Destruction Unit, Demon Lung. March 29, 9 p.m., $12-$15. LVCS, 382-3531.

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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