Hype is a dangerous word. Often misleading and inherently excessive, it can do more harm than good. However, sometimes it’s used fittingly as a result of both respect and acclaim. California’s Deafheaven have taken a healthy and unique approach to metal, and brought listeners along for the ride. With their impressive third studio album, ‘New Bermuda’, now out, Killyourstereo.com sat down with vocalist George Clarke to discuss Bay Area origins, reading and ticking off bucket list items.
‘New Bermuda’ has just come out and you have the US shows about to begin, do you get to enjoy a bit of normality in between or is it business as usual even when you’re not performing?
It is pretty much business as usual. The band is frequently busy, especially around this time handling all the press and making sure everything is smooth with the tours. It stays busy.
On the topic of the shows, I saw you mentioned on Facebook that playing the Fillmore is a bucket list achievement. It’s an iconic San Francisco venue. What’s the anticipation like now being able to tick off some of these goals?
In the last couple of years we’ve played in front of larger crowds and we’ve played on a lot of larger stages, so the nervousness associated with that and the uncertainty of how it’s going to go, and how you’re going to be able to fill a space that big has dissipated. So, I’m more just really excited – I’ve been there a lot of times and it’s an absolutely beautiful venue. I think we’re just lucky that we get to play a lot of those types of venues this next time around.
In some respects it’s almost fitting. On ‘Sunbather’ a lot of the themes talked about the idea of want and envy, and with ‘New Bermuda’ as well, these albums, in turn, are now allowing you to directly achieve these desires.
Yeah, it’s weird the way things work out sometimes. I think that since the release of ‘Sunbather’, we’ve just really worked very hard and toured a lot, and said ‘yes’ to a lot of opportunities. We’ve approached everything with a lot of grace and a lot of thankfulness, and we’re here now. We’re incredibly lucky.
Talking about opportunities, I know early on you were on record as saying some of your lyrical inspiration was from more pessimistic experiences. Was ‘New Bermuda’ altered or perhaps inspired more by the fact that the band has enjoyed so much success the past couple of years, and now you might have more of a positive outlook?
To me, it’s funny because the album itself focuses on what it’s like to have some of these things, and the unexpected [nature] of it all, and not really knowing what you’re getting yourself into in certain respects. That’s where ‘New Bermuda’ picks up. It’s funny that the actual story lines of the album really do reflect what we’re going through.
Talking about what you’ve been going through, I know back around the time of ‘Sunbather’ and beforehand you were living in a quite crowded apartment in the Mission District of San Francisco. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time in San Francisco, and one thing I noticed and appreciated though is the cost of living is so expensive. Was it harder the fact that you’re in a band where there’s not much money to be made at the best of times, and you’re in a city where everything naturally costs more?
Yeah, absolutely. But, we learned how to live cheap and knew that there were times that were pretty desperate. We lived in the city for so long that we knew how to work it and we were wise to it. So, it really ended up being more of this irresponsible playground, especially being in a band. It was so expensive that it was only natural to not really conform to trying to get a good job or what have you (laughs). But, on the other hand, it is the reason why we left, so I guess at a certain point you have to grow up.
The word you used there – “desperate” – was there a period where you and Kerry [McCoy, guitar] sat down and said we’re going to have to move otherwise the band’s just not going to be able to survive?
It wasn’t necessarily a matter of survival, we would’ve always survived; it was just a matter of quality of life. We live our lives on the road so often – you’re sleeping in hotels, you’re sleeping on floors. When you come home, the last thing you want to do is keep sleeping on the floor (laughs). While we were getting along fine in San Francisco, Kerry and I specifically really wanted something better for ourselves and in LA we knew we could achieve that so we made the move.
On the positive side of the Bay Area, as well as being a very progressive city it also has a strong music scene, historically. We mentioned you’re playing the Fillmore, which is an iconic jazz area and there’s the Bay Area thrash scene as well. How much did it help early on being in San Francisco where people were going to be naturally more accepting?
We were nurtured in San Francisco. It had a pretty thriving black metal scene in the late 90’s, and metal in general as well as punk too. There were a slew of basement shows and art spaces and things like that, which people would always gather around. That still exists, but unfortunately, there is a lot less of that these days because it was expensive when we lived there but eventually it got really astronomical, and so a lot of people were just leaving. But, we definitely identify with the Bay Area music scene, and grew up in it. It definitely indoctrinated in us.
With ‘New Bermuda’, I know Dan [Tracy, drums] came on board just before the time of ‘Sunbather’, but now with the five-man line-up solidified, was it a case of more hands making for lighter work this time around?
Kerry is still the primary songwriter but it was just nice having the other guys build on ideas and put their own influence on the record. I think in that sense it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable, especially the recording process when it’s the five of us and we’re in the same room. It definitely is a lot more fun than it was with just Kerry and I.
I’ve been looking online and ‘New Bermuda’ has already gathered a lot of praise – which is thoroughly deserved. What compliments stand out as the most validating to you? Is it more publications or perhaps praise from musical peers and family and friends?
For me, honestly, I really, really like if the fans enjoy it. When we put the record up for streaming and we gave you a song, and stuff like that, I’m never looking what media person is going to say. I’m always looking at what the random kid who’s hearing us for the first time thinks. In terms of that, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback. We’re in a strange position, where people feel very strongly about us – either in a positive way or a negative way. I see both sides of the coin constantly, but I’m not complaining (laughs).
With “both sides of the coin”, is it a case of getting a thick skin to it all and blocking the bad comments out completely, and just focusing on the positives?
You have to have a thick skin. When you think of a band our size, who is heavily scrutinised, but then you think about people who are well above us [and] who have literally millions of people talking about them. The little bit of negative feedback we get doesn’t bother me. In the grand scheme of things, it’s going to come and it’s going to go. It’s not going to affect what we doing either way.
For yourself personally, I know you’re an avid reader. What have you come across recently that might’ve transferred or had a small impact on your writing approach to ‘New Bermuda’?
I was reading a lot of Andre Breton at the time – just his selected poems. Actually the quote that is on the inside of the sleeve is a quote from him. If anything it’s been [his writing], definitely. [It has been] nothing really thematically but just in the way he writes, I think is really cool. I’m sure there’s a part of me that wants to emulate it.
Back on the topic of where you’re living, with Kerry and yourself now in LA. I was interviewing Trash Talk last year and they mentioned back in the day if you went to a NorCal show and there were SoCal fans there, you could sense the tension. How much does that still exist?
Since we’ve been making the rounds, there’s always been a pretty strong Bay Area / LA connection. We had LA friends from the very beginning and any time people came north to visit it was cool. On a personal level, it’s totally not [an issue]. But, yeah, the two [areas] are the largest nearby cities. They’re the two most prominent ones, so it’s going to happen. Hopefully, it’s a friendly rivalry (laughs).
You were nice enough to provide a ‘Top five favourite Australian metal bands’ feature for us recently, and you’ve been to Australia one before [January 2014]. What were some of your main experiences from coming to Australia last year?
I absolutely loved it. In fact, I think at the end of the year, we called it the most fun tour. It was incredibly beautiful and everyone we met was such a joy, and the bands we played with were excellent. We had a couple of long nights as well, I won’t lie (laughs). But, it was all in very good fun. It was more like a vacation, honestly.
Going back to the Aussie bands you mentioned. Heavy music has grown significantly here over the past few years, Living in the States, how much do people over there seem to be catching onto what Australian bands are doing now?
The bands I mentioned in your article are all very well known in the States. Bands like Loss Of Self are another one. It’s cool. We’re lucky enough that they come over sometimes. It’s fun to catch them when you’re able to because it is a rare opportunity (laughs).
I watched a recent Metal Injection video where bands mentioned their worst previous jobs and you discussed how you used to work in a call centre. What were some of the worst experiences from those days?
I worked for a bunch of call centres and they were all terrible (laughs). There’s not just one, it’s never a good thing. They were some of the most draining hours of my life (laughs).
With the band touring so extensively now, do you allow yourself to look into the future or can you only focus on the immediate at the moment?
Honestly, I only have time to focus on the immediate. If you think about it now, we’re booked up pretty much until next June. So, from here to next June, I have everything I’m going to do planned out already. In that respect, I have to give focus to those things. A lot of things are giving focus to things that won’t happen for months on end. If we’re in the process of booking a European tour that may be next spring, it’s kind of perpetually busy like. I mean, when that calms down, I’m able to think about the future but my head is very into now and into next year, and just trying to make it the best year we can.
With the band gaining a lot of experience and, as you said you’re booked up well into next June, you’re touring a lot. How much are you in a position to pay it forward and try and help up and coming bands to give advice where necessary? I know you and Derek [Prine, ex-bassist] have the record company…
Derek and I’s thing deals mostly with our friends. We have a lot of talented people around us. We kind of created that in order to help them get some attention. That project is very immediate, but, in terms of touring, we’re always taking out bands that we feel our audience would enjoy, bands that we feel we would enjoy watching each night. I don’t think we’ve taught people too many things, but it’s just being able to get a band smaller than you exposed to a larger audience [that] is always a really cool thing to do, I think.
On the topic of bands, what albums have stuck out and taken your notice recently?
Stuff I’m listening to at the moment is like the Cruciamentum record [and] the new Pale Chalice album [‘Negate the Infinite and Miraculous’] I think is amazing. There’s a band, Yellow Eyes I’m really excited about – they’re putting out their new record soon. The new Foals record [too]. I could go on. If I had five more minutes, I think I could give you a tonne (laughs). But, for right now those [albums] are good, they’re some of the stuff I’ve been jamming this year.
Really appreciate you taking the time to talk today, George. Personally, I’m thoroughly enjoying the new album. Hope the rest of the year goes well for you.
Thank you very much, man. I appreciate that and hope you have a good rest of the day.
‘New Bermuda’ is out now via Anti-. You can order the album via Artist First.
Read our review here.