Deafheaven: Beautiful Ire
There’s something magical about jagged shards of porcelain skittering along a concrete floor. The powder-esque smudge that enamels the pavement; the empty bang that resonates on impact – scarcely does catharsis pay off as warmly as it does when cheap mugs and outer-city alleyways are involved.
It’s a feeling no amount of poorly-curated thesaurus wank could ever come close to describing, but there is a sonic equivalence: Deafheaven. The quintet deal in extremes on the furthest corners of the musical spectrum: bright, celestial shoegaze ambiance fused with numbing, tar-coarse black metal fury – warm, but cathartic. Rest assured they’re assuredly divisive – menthol smoking hipster types and tattered-shirt metalheads aren’t social categories with all too much of an overlap – but that hasn’t stopped the San Franciscan blackgaze unit from building themselves a fairly loveable niche.
That niche returns to Australia for the 2016 VividLIVE program – their first visit to our shores since the release of last year’s New Bermuda – so to bubble up some hype, BLUNT tapped into the mind of frontman George Clarke.
Your live shows have been described as being overtly theatrical – you tend to forego traditional performance ethics in favour of a presentation that really draws the audience’s attention, rather than just making them go apeshit in the mosh. What’s your philosophy with developing a solid live show?
I think doing that is extremely importart – especially for our band and bands like us, because we rely on touring; we rely on being a good live band in order to keep busy, and so I think a certain amount of thought has to go into it. I don’t know if we’re ‘overtly theatrical’, necessarily, but I do feel that every performance should be passionate, and I feel that the audience should walk away having had some sort of an experience.
Recent setlists have seen you play New Bermuda in full and then “Dream House” and the title track from Sunbather. Is that going to be the setlist for this tour as well, or do you foresee a little shake in the path?
I’m not 100% on that yet, but I do know that we’re all having a good time featuring the new record. I think the new songs have been going over really well in the live atmosphere, so if I was an audience member, I would definitely anticipate a lot of New Bermuda.
I find it interesting that you play songs in full at shows, considering they almost always eclipse the ten minute line. Do you ever worry about attention spans waning, or come across punters clamouring for a different song five minutes in?
I think that the songs shift in dynamic a lot, and because of that, they can keep the listener’s attention. Though we have longer songs, I’ve never felt that our parts drag out for too long, so between that and the energy of the show itself, people tend to stay focused and not get tired.
It’s been a while since you’ve played anything from Roads To Judah. Is there a background behind that decision?
I mean, yeah, we’ll always play stuff from that record periodically. The only reason we haven’t lately is because we have two other albums that came after that, and each album is an hour’s worth of material. And so, when we do these newer tours, we want to feature those more. With our band, we can’t do a twelve song set, unfortunately – otherwise we’d be onstage for two hours – but we try to keep ourselves moving and show people what kind of current mindset we’re in. But we will play Roads and we do play a track or two here and there – it’s just depending.
Let’s talk about New Bermuda. Looking back, how do you feel about the record having just celebrated its half-year anniversary? Do you feel different about it now than you did back in October?
I feel more comfortable, I think. Back in October, I was feeling the stress of putting out a new record – the excitement of putting out a new record – but now that I’ve kind of lived with it for a while, it’s all kind of settled in. I don’t have too many thoughts about the record, but I’m in a much more comfortable place with it than I was before.
“I want to write something heavy that you can mosh to, but I also want to write something that has an emotional depth and can interest the listener on a deeper level.”
You’ve stated in the past that New Bermuda is much more grounded in reality than Sunbather was. How did you bring yourself into the mindset that you needed to to write from a more open and personal perspective?
It was a lot of just thinking and over-thinking, basically. There was a lot of personal pressure to outdo ourselves on this record, and a lot of personal pressure to write about our lives in the moment. I think what we were going through definitely translates pretty well on New Bermuda. The record sounds like a moment in time, and in that respect it has a lot to do with where we were at in that moment.
There’s a really prevalent sense of frustration, or maybe tension brewing on the album, particularly in the track “Luna”. Was that a feeling you wanted to exert and bring to life in particular with this record?
Yeah, definitely. I think that “Luna” might be the only really ‘angry’ song that we’ve ever written – I think the energy on that song is pretty dark, and there’s a lot of frustration that comes through. I think that frustration comes through with the urgency of the music, too; there’s definitely a fast paced-ness to “Luna” that isn’t really present on any of the other songs.
Musically, some of the gauzier elements of your style feel a lot more refined than they have on past records – but in saying that, you’re still meddle that well with the heaviness. Three albums in, is it easier to explore the limits of genre?
We’ve always sort of experimented with pop sensibilities and melodic songwriting, and I think that because Sunbather was so heavily influenced by spacier bands and shoegaze bands, we were reaching – on this record – for a tighter feel, y’know: for more of a focus on clean melodies and kind of stripping it down, cutting the fat off and just getting to the point of it all. So I think these songs definitely have, like, a tighter-written aspect to them, and we also just took a lot of the ‘space’ away to make room for those poppy and melodic riffs here and there.
Is it strange for you to be writing an album that comes from such an intensely personal place, but is interpreted by an audience mostly through thrashing heads and circle pits?
Hmmmm… No. I don’t think that’s strange, I think it’s cool! We’ve always strived to do something like that; I think that Sunbather was made the same way – it’s a deeply personal, very emotional record, that people could also enjoy on an aggressive, ‘having fun’ level, y’know. I think that seeing these songs played live – and listening to the recordings – people can have a multitude of different experiences. I think that’s cool – I want to write something heavy that you can mosh to, but I also want to write something that also has an emotional depth, and can interest the listener on a deeper level.
Where to from here? What does 2016, 2017 and beyond have in-store for Deafheaven?
Just a lot of touring! Getting our music out there: we’re busy for all of this year, I’m sure we’ll be busy next year, and then eventually – when the time comes and everyone’s ready for it – we’ll start writing for whatever comes next.
Do you have an idea of where you’d like to take Deafheaven, or genres/themes you’d like to explore on future releases?
Not necessarily. I mean yeah, there’s always going to be an idea or a section here and there, but can I say right now where we’re going? No – that’s kind of hard. But I know that we’re not afraid, and I think that if it’s tasteful – if it makes a song interesting and changes the dynamic of our band to make us sound more interesting to ourselves – then yeah, we’ll pursue whatever.
Deafheaven / High Tension / Hope Drone / Sanzu
Thu Jun 2nd – Joan Sutherland Theatre @ Sydney Opera House, Sydney (VividLIVE)*
Fri Jun 3rd – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)**
Sat Jun 4th – Crowbar, Brisbane (18+)**
Mon Jun 6th – The Rosemount Hotel, Perth (18+)***
* – Deafheaven only
** – Sanzu not appearing
*** – Hope Drone not appearing