Deafheaven are no strangers to bashing down any and all barriers for themselves and the wider black metal community. Just as how they are also no strangers to Australia, with their returning blackened trip going down next month and Farmer & The Owl Festival appearance. Ahead of this February run in support of their expansive, emotive and literary-influenced ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love‘, vocalist George Clarke talks all things pertaining to their 2018 LP; blackgaze, the malleability of black metal, finally singing, guest features, lyricism, and more. Feast your eyes over yonder!
George, one thing I quite liked about ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ is that it doesn’t fit into the usual black metal topics, not those kinds of cliche lyrics. It’s richer in terms of content and prose, it’s got something to say.
Thank you! I wanted to write about the experiences of other people through my own eyes. And as one may find in the world, not everything is death and gloom all of the time. I think things are more complicated than that and it’s more interesting to write about those kinds of complications.
For sure. That idea of sonder and viewing others through your lens, I saw how ‘Worthless Animal’ was written about a homeless man who you saw being accosted on the street in L.A. one time. Do you feel you’ve captured these moments, these people, well in the album itself? Or do you think that it doesn’t really matter, so long as an attempt to express these things was made?
I know that the lyrics can be a bit obscure at times and read a bit odd, but I am hoping that the point was gotten. I do think that it’s important to talk about these things, and I also think it’s important to be empathetic on some general level. Being empathetic and writing about empathy is important to me.
And do these things you write about here align with more personal experiences of yours?
You know what? For this record, not so much. I think I feel a great deal from watching the lives of other people. I think it’s important to consider your life in someone else’s shoes. Our records up to this point have been so autobiographical that I wanted to step away from that, take a more fresh approach. It’s an important step in our evolution to change and expand on our lyrical themes.
Agreed, you can’t stay in the same lane forever – that just gets taxing. Do you feel like you’ve shared enough, in some way?
In a way, yeah. Those first three records are a really interesting reflection on my 20’s, which very much dealt with a lot of my being self-centred. I wanted a departure from that. As it’s better for me and hopefully for the listener to engage with something more than just my own day-to-day autobiography. I think it served its purpose well, and I’m not saying I won’t ever go back to that way of writing, but now it’s nice to focus on others.
Other than the lyrics, I love the actual music of this record too. It’s a different change of pace for Deafheaven, but one that’s so welcomed. The two songs that get me the most are ‘You Without End’ – slide guitars, major pianos and rustling wind sounds – and ‘Canary Yellow’, which has that incredible choral section at the end. A statement more than a question, but I just wanted you to know how fucking cool I think those moments are, amongst others on the album too.
I really appreciate that, thank you! I think that when we started this band, our focus was very much only on atmospheric black metal. It was very much on melding these sorts of black metal and shoegaze styles together. As we’ve grown and as we’ve become stronger players, it became important for us to change and expand our sound. I think that for as new of a genre as blackgaze is, even those ideas can start to feel homogeneous. So it’s key for our band to expand in different ways. It’s a conscious thing to push ourselves.
I’m really happy to hear that, George. At the same time, though, there’s that Danish band, Møl, who put out an incredible album in 2018 called ‘Jord‘. It’s just pure blackgaze, and it’s incredible. So there’s still merit in playing to the core strengths of a particular sound. Still, it’s great to see Deafheaven merging psychedelia, classic rock and post-rock moments into said blackgaze sound.
Thank you! With certain black metal acts, I think it’s good for people to have those solidified sounds. I think it’s okay to write similar records each time, so long as you’re still feeling invigorated by that, your fan base too. For different bands, it can be a different thing. For a band like Møl, I think you’ll find with acts like them, they may do the same as us. ‘Jord’ was a really strong blackgaze record, but they’re also a really young band. It’ll be exciting to see how bands like them and this genre expand into their own and really set themselves apart. I think we’re very lucky to be a part of that same group, doing the same in our own way.
Well said, and I really appreciate that you guys are trying new things too. On this album’s guest features, I’d love to know how Chelsea Wolfe’s part came to be for ‘Night People’? I can see how there’s a crossover of fan base between you two, but am also wondering about how that spoken word part from Nadia on ‘You Without End’ came about too?
As for Chelsea, her and Ben [Chisholm] have been good friends with us for some time now. We’ve been talking about collaborating for years, but we’ve both been very busy. Thankfully, we had some time. Kerry [McCoy, guitar] had some piano chords and I had some lyrics, so Chelsea came up with the vocal melody and Ben added his production touches, and it was all very simple. I am really happy that they were apart of this project and took the time to work with us. They are honestly very great people, it was a pleasure! As for Nadia’s part, she’s the girlfriend of Shiv [Mehra, guitar], and she also is a close friend of the band too. She has a lovely voice, and so I wanted to have a female voice speaking these words. As her and Shiv live together, it was a very easy thing to do, and I think she adds a cool new dimension to the song and album.
Right on, thanks for sharing how that all came to be, man. And whilst we’re talking about voices, I wanted to ask about yours, George. As we hear you really sing on this album with ‘Night People’. Was that nerve-wracking for you, or did you feel that the fans would accept it?
No, it was very nerve-wracking. I don’t have a lot of experience with that kind of singing. My original idea was to just have Chelsea sing it, but she above anyone else, pushed me to do it with her. The rest of the guys were for the idea, also. So we went over it together and recorded it at the same time in the studio. She quite literally held my hand through it. As for the future, I’d like to believe that we as a band don’t have self-imposed limitations. That could be something we toy more with in the future. Right now, I’m very happy with how ‘Night People’ came out.
Same here, it’s a wonderful song. One thing I realised in 2018 was just how malleable black metal can be these days. Zeal & Ardor and Pagan are great examples, as is this latest Deafheaven album too. It’s what I love about black metal these days. So I’d love to hear your take on that?
I absolutely agree with you! I am excited that people have recognised that too. For all of the genres to be shaped in so many ways, I doubt that thirty years ago, people would think black metal would be the one but I believe that to be true. I think of all the most extreme genres, it’s the most malleable. It’s cool to see that many are taking it upon themselves to show the world that.
It’s a “high-tide raises all ships” kind-of thing. It just makes for really exciting art. As we’re near the end of the year now, and also nearing the end of this interview, George, I wanted to ask if you had an album of the year for 2018. Me personally, my AOTY is the new Rolo Tomassi album, ‘Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It’.
This is always a difficult question for me [laughs]. I don’t know if I have a record for the whole year, being as it is the end of the year, I really loved the new Hillary Woods record that came out this year. It’s still in heavy rotation for me. Some other records would be from the likes of Tribulation, Yowler, All Black, Beach House, Drowse – goodness! I will say that it’s been a wonderful year for music. People can agree or disagree on those points, but for me, each year brings special records. And I do not think that this year was any different.
Deafheaven February 2019 tour dates:
Friday February 22, 2019
Perth Festival, Perth
Sunday February 24, 2019
Wednesday February 27, 2019
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Thursday February 28, 2019
Manning Bar, Sydney
Farmer & The Owl Festival