Deafheaven Is the Black Sheep of Black Metal

Deafheaven's George Clarke and Kerry McCoy
Deafheaven's George Clarke and Kerry McCoy
Randi Sumner

The metal community are a passionate bunch. Step out of line, and you'll get the horns. Just ask Deafheaven. The San Francisco natives turned heads with their 2011 debut LP Roads to Judah (released on Deathwish Inc), but not everyone was thrilled. Take, for example, YouTube member MorbidDaniel's comment, "LMAO! Emo/Hipster faggots attempting Black Metal amuses me. =D This band is an epic fail and the vocalist ought to be shot in between the eyes with an XM25."

Indeed, the band angered many in the community by partnering black metal staples like machine gun drumming and shrieking vocals with uniquely personal, emo-tinged lyrics and a post-rock ambience that wouldn't be out of place on an Explosions in the Sky record. And as if those elements weren't enough to grind the gears of diehard purists, Deafheaven's sophomore LP Sunbather features eye-scorching hot pink album art designed by Nick Steinhardt, the lead guitarist of L.A.'s own similarly controversial hardcore act Touche Amore. We caught up with Deafheaven front man George Clarke to talk about haters and the wildest city on their recent Europe tour.

You just got back from a string of dates in Europe, what city was the wildest?

The winner this time was definitely Moscow. It was our first time over there, and it was just insanity. They're really passionate about their heavy music so we had a lot of fun.

Compared to the States, what set them apart?

I used to say that Europe was a little bit more intense than the States, but now I think they're kind of on equal playing fields. The Russians definitely bring a lot of energy because they don't get as many shows, and I think it's a little bit of a bigger deal there.

How has the recording process gone for your followup album?

We originally started out as a two piece project and didn't even call it a band at that point. I think the biggest difference with Sunbather was that we were the only ones working on the music. It was easier in the sense because you didn't have to listen to anyone else, but at the same time, it always helps to be collaborative. You definitely feel a lot more pressure when everything is on your shoulders.

The writing on Roads To Judah was extremely personal from what I understand. Did you take a similar approach for the writing on Sunbather?

For me it's difficult to write about anything else other than just stuff that's going on with me. So, yeah the material is always pretty personal. It covers an array of things different anxieties, certain life hardships that everyone goes through. Different family things, human existence. Something we've always strived for in this band is to just be as honest as possible and keep the music that we're making almost personal to a selfish degree. We did everything just for ourselves, musically visually and lyrically.

Let's talk about the eye-catching album art, what inspired that?

The original idea came from the Pulp album cover that was just P-U-L-P. I've always wanted to go for things that I consider atypical, stuff I think looks fashionable or just pretty in general. I had wanted a summery vibe for it, and Nick was like, "Why don't we make it the color that you see when you're laying down in the sun and your eyes are closed? The pinks and yellows behind your eyelids." When he showed me I said, "This is wild." Not what I had expected.

As a relatively normal looking black metal front man what kind of preconceived notions have you dealt with?

With a band like Dream Theater, they've got the slicked back hair and aviators with cut off shirts. Not exactly fashion forward. What I wear or don't wear doesn't inhibit me from putting on a good show.

Any particularly endearing labels come to mind?

We've been called pretty boy metal, stuff like that. I don't have long hair or any of that but I don't really consider our live show to be anything pretty boy at all. In terms of that, we're pretty visceral. People like to write us off because the artwork or whatever, but I don't feel that way.


Did you initially set out to make a black metal band with Deafheaven or did that come afterwards?

When we were starting out that was the whole thing, doing pretty depressive black metal. And then when we were working out songs from that angle, we realized that there was a lot of other stuff we like. Having a drum part like that or a guitar thing like this would be so unusual or it would sound cool and we built from that. But yes, we definitely started out with the angle of being black metal, or at least interesting black metal.

What other influences have shaped your sound?

There's a lot of obvious post-rock influence, but and we're actually pretty big fans of '90s alternative and Brit Pop. I think some of that plays into it. My Bloody Valentine is really present and stuff like that and the occasional minimal electronic influence we've been playing around with noise. We're doing prettier things that compliment the darker, harsher parts.

You seem to have pissed off plenty within the metal community. Why do you think that is?

Honestly I'm not really surprised by any of it. I realize we're not going to be everyone's thing. We're just writing for ourselves and not everyone likes what I like and vice versa. When we started out it was a big thing. "Oh you're not black metal," this and that. And I just realized after a certain amount of time that I could just care less. People try and alienate us from the metal community because we have other things going on in our music. If they're offended, that's on them.

Deafheaven play The Echoplex on Thursday, May 23 and Friday, May 24.

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