Deafheaven: Great Expectations
Successful globe-trotting metal musician or petulant 26-year-old manchild – Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke discusses the contrast between world domination and walking the dog.
There’s been no secret made of the rough trot George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy – founding members of Deafheaven – were experiencing prior to the success of second album Sunbather in 2013. It’s a publicist’s dream: the two were living off food stamps in an overcrowded apartment, battling against the rising costs of trying to live in a city practically owned by internet start-ups.
“I mean truthfully, I’d never been an adult before; I’d been living this sort of poor, poverty-stricken, perilous, child-like life up until we started getting some success and I had to figure out how to readjust myself,” Clarke admits.
“Some success” is somewhat of an understatement. Sunbather was huge, a glowing pitchfork review, the best major album of the year according to metacritic, cross-over appeal to metal and indie crowds alike, and a ridiculous amount of touring. A few weeks before our chat the band have finally capped the 18-month touring cycle for the album, finishing up in the UK. Somewhere in the midst of that Clarke uprooted himself from San Francisco and made the move to Los Angeles.
“We were touring so much and we were seeing these little hints of success and, you know, I was able to quit my job, and I was able to kind of do whatever I wanted and I was with my girlfriend and we wanted to move to LA and there was all this opportunity there and we had the money to do so and we felt, you know, stable, in a sense. But a lot of this comes back to touring. Having a touring life and a life at home, that’s something that you have to reconcile, because they’re two very different animals and I would be going 100 miles an hour while we were on the road and I would get home and everything immediately stopped and this sort of adulthood takes its place. So on one hand while I was feeling a bit successful and having at least a bit of stability, I also started to feel complacent in that and I started to not really know how to handle my emotions – half the year I’m going going and when I stop it’s really abrupt and, you know, I have this dog, and I’m doing dishes every day…” the tasks mount as does the hint of anxiety in Clarke’s voice throughout the accretion. “Just these activities that, to me, after so much repetition, started to feel really mundane and I started getting in my own head and thinking, you know, Los Angeles was supposed to be this burst of opportunity and a new life and what I found was my new life was a sort of domestic, dormant adult one.
“I’d been living this sort of poor, poverty-stricken, perilous, child-like life up until we started getting some success and I had to figure out how to readjust myself.”
“It’s all these things that I shouldn’t complain about, that people do all the time and it’s just all these normal details of adulthood that people do every day and don’t bitch about whatsoever, but I was just so foreign to it and it was really 50 percent of what was going on, the two lifestyles really contrast heavily; I almost feel like a baby taking about it. I feel like if I was having this conversation with my dad he would be like, ‘Yeah, well you’re a man now and this is what you do, do it, and shut up about it’ but I couldn’t, I felt really depressed over the fact. And in that readjustment I got really depressed, and so I wrote about the depression, and that’s essentially what the record is about, it’s about all the little details that fill that in.”
Speaking of the little details: the cover art for Sunbather – the sunset spectrum colouring and sharp, crisp, white font – evokes the idyllic and lavish lifestyle the album imagined and investigates so thoroughly it could conceivably adorn a wall as a standalone work of art in one of the mansions Clarke screams about; perhaps with the signature of Nick Steinhardt, guitarist of Touché Amoré, added to a bottom corner. The cover for New Bermuda appears as gallery-ready (perhaps excluding the record’s title) but is, in a gesture representative of the album’s content, far darker. Once again designed by Steinhardt, the art – a bleak gauchey chiaroscuro – is by Allison Schulnik. It’s as though the darkness of New Bermuda is compassing the impossible light of a brighter life. It surrounds and dominates the flash that lures aspiration.
“For me in the most literal sense, New Bermuda is Los Angeles,” Clarke clarifies. “It’s a place that I recently moved to and had a lot of high expectations for and before I moved there it was thought of as this new beginning or this paradise in a way. On that journey to get there you find the realities of the world are much like the ocean you’re crossing to get to the island itself; it’s not an easy ride, and I found that it kind of swallowed me up and pulled me under. I just wanted to have a vision of a place that seemed like paradise but ultimately became a destination of false promise where I ended up drowning.”
New Bermuda is out now on ANTI-.