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Deafheaven: Bathed In Black

Deafheaven marked the release of Sunbather with a tour of Russia and Europe, followed that with the UK and their native USA and have announced their maiden Australian voyage. Not a bad schedule for a band who, until all too recently, couldn’t support a consistent live line-up.


Our interview with vocalist George Clarke is conducted via email by necessity of the band’s touring schedule, criss-crossing date, state, time and country lines across the UK and Europe throughout October and November. Now back in San Francisco, a persistently polite George Clarke says that the Europe tour went “swimmingly” and adds casually, “It seems as though every show on the UK run sold out, so all’s well that ends well.”

It’s a rare thing, it seems, that will elicit anything more than a nonplussed response from Clarke. With praise heaped on their second full-length, Sunbather, since its release in June, the band have taken it all humbly, earnestly, with quiet thanks.

Clarke’s reaction to the success of Sunbather – as that heap of praise has grown in the ensuing months, hype and expectation confirmed in time – even now, is marked by a similar measured eloquence, reflecting on the reaction simply. “It’s definitely much grander than I had anticipated.”

The success has meant, amongst other things, a momentary stop in the revolving door that has been the live line-up for Deafheaven, beyond Clarke and fellow core-member guitarist Kerry McCoy. Both Clarke and McCoy stated the financial strain of touring as one of
the main reasons for the rotating roster of touring musicians in the past,but Sunbather has brought with it a stability not before seen in the ranks of Deafheaven.

“We’ve adopted a steady line-up that we’re able to financially support. It’s a nice change.”

Bassist Stephen Clark and guitarist Shiv Mehra have joined the fold, and drummer Daniel Tracy was used on the recording of Sunbather, an album that saw the band returning to their writing roots: Clarke and McCoy writing it themselves, as they had the demo.

“This return shaped the record in that there was much more stress and responsibility on our shoulders that forced us to write in a non-compromising way,” says Clarke. For Deafheaven’s debut LP Roads To Judah, the then five-piece had shared the load. “We were very critical of all the material that was being put out and that mindset allowed us to put forth our best effort. Kerry and I have a very similar outlook and it shows in the product we create, both musically and lyrically. I think that the lyrics and music fit together in a way that yes, everything is both an outward examination as well as introspection. The most difficult part of writing for us is taking all the elements we wish to include and making them work in a way that doesn’t seem alien or unnatural.”

The balance has resulted in an album that both sonically and lyrically gives a sense of the seething breathing mass examined – humanity. The other things brought about by the comparative success of Sunbather are a new ilk of fans for the once ‘obscure’ purveyors of post-whatever black metal, and with the new slew, an inevitable portion of detractors in the old.

For his part, Clarke seems oblivious to what caused the shift, and with similar circumspection seems hesitant to look into it any further; the album’s out, they’re happy, and a few new people are listening. That’s that. No conscious effort to make a more accessible album, as online conspiracies and the aforementioned now-detractors propose.

“Not at all, but we’re always appreciative of those who take the time to listen to and enjoy our music. There is perhaps a shift in people’s opinion regarding aggressive music in general? I really don’t know.”

Another complaint from such camps was in regards to the artwork – gradients of a tequila sunrise graced with the album title, letters split in threes and layered: SUN BAT HER, in white. It has a kind of elegant simplicity, and beyond the type, it almost looks like a Rothko. In other words, distinctly un-metal. More fuel for their fire.

But to expect only ‘metal’ from Deafheaven is ignorance that will hamper what this weird beast will offer. The cover of Sunbather, far from incongruent, suggests the kind of high art that adorns the Dream House Clarke conjures on the album’s opening track.

“I wanted something that was more atypical, simple, and elegant,” Clarke explains of his concept for Sunbather’s Nick Steinhardt cover design, though the description seems as apt for the music contained within. Atypical, certainly, as their courting of controversy attests to; harnessing the power of simple repetition in their expansive songs; and achieving an elegance difficult to balance with music so outwardly aggressive.

“I just find that with our music, I’ve never wanted to limit myself to that sole outlook. As a whole, there isn’t much point in not being yourself if you’re creating emotionally driven art.”

While their inaugural voyage to Australia looks a little slim on the dates, Clarke promises already that it won’t be the band’s last, and given their relentless tour schedule since the release of Sunbather, it doesn’t seem as though another more extensive visit is far off.

“Unfortunately, routing is rarely up to us, especially when it comes to areas of the world we haven’t been to before. This will not be our only trip to Australia though and we look forward to playing as many cities there as possible. See you soon!”

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