Deafheaven is the Hugh Grant of Metal
We interrupted frontman George Clarke's strip club brunch buffet to talk 'Sunbather,' rap, and the prettiest men in metal.
Fuck Vampire Weekend. Seriously, fuck Vampire Weekend. Fuck Vampire Weekend and Fun. and Gotye and every other spit-shined buzzband of the past seven years that took a shit in the middle of an Urban Outfitters and called it "indie rock." Rock—whatever that even means—has become a genre that waxes intellectual about New Formalism at dinner while giving a world-class HJ to the Girls music supervisor under the table. The dearth of inspiration is alarming at best, gut-wrenching at worst. Luckily, there's Deafheaven. And thank fucking God for that.
George Clarke and Kerry McCoy's recent full-length release, Sunbather, is a superlative-inducing triumph of vulnerable metal and welcomed contradictions; it's intimidating and aggressive yet accessible (accessible enough to nestle into the Billboard 200), and it's desperately evocative while also somehow not giving any fucks. It's an album for metalheads, rap fans, your dad, and anyone who isn't a total asshole. I called up frontman George Clarke to better know the band behind what might be the most monumental release of the year so far. He was at a strip club. It was 1PM on a Wednesday.
Noisey: Am I interrupting your strip club brunch buffet?
George: No no, it's nice to adjust my eyes to sunlight. I think I prefer this.
This isn’t your first strip club experience, is it?
It's my second one. I went to one in LA last year. I’m terribly awkward, so I don’t really…do well. I’m kind of at a loss. I got stoned before, so it's even worse.
What's the best song to hear at a strip club brunch buffet?
Truthfully, they were playing some bangers. What is that..."Too late to apologize..." That song.
That's kind of dark.
Yeah, they did a trance remix of that. And they did some up-tempo Depeche Mode remix. It was good. I’m content. But it needs more The-Dream.
For a metal band, you guys seem to reference everything but metal. You're big rap fans, right?
Oh yeah, huge rap fans. Huge metal fans, too, but everyone that knows me knows I like metal music. While I listen to it a good deal, no one is interested in [talking about it]. I would much rather talk about the new Jay-Z single.
You've been doing all this press surrounding Sunbather, and everybody wants to discuss metal and [the album's] place in metal and how it's "a metal album for people who don’t even like metal." What are you sick of talking about at this point?
We are a metal band, and I’ve never denied that. I feel like I’ve actually done what I could to embrace that, as well as other influences, so we often get [comments like that]. The one I can’t do anymore, though, is the black metal thing. People can’t get over the fact that we're influenced by that, and I don’t know why. They want to compartmentalize us and none of it is working. We don’t care if it works. It's almost like people set you up to test your credibility. "What kind of black metal bands are you influenced by?" Immediately, my thoughts go to, "Oh man, who do I name? Do I name just the big ones or do I go obscure to show them I’m cool?' We're in the position where we are kind of damned if we do and damned if we don’t, just sounding like we sound…which is totally fine. Everyone has their cross to bear.
Do you find that the genre debate distracts from what you're trying to do as musicians?
Oh no, not at all. To me, music is music, and if you identify with [our music] in a certain way or if it moves you in a certain way, even if it's not typically what you listen to, then maybe we've done our job. One of the main points of this band is to evoke emotion. You don’t need to listen to one style of music exclusively to get what we're doing. If you're a fan of it, you're a fan of it, and I’m just thankful. All the attention that we have been getting for this new record is something that we did not expect, and every new opportunity that we get is—it's just really appreciated.
What was your perception of the album while you were making it? Did you recognize it as being something really special?
No, not at all. We just didn’t want it to suck. Our first record [Roads to Judah] had gotten some attention, and we felt this kind of overwhelming pressure. When we were recording it, we liked what we were doing and we thought it sounded good, but you always second-guess yourself and neither of us thought that it would be anything like this. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
I saw [guitarist] Kerry [McCoy]’s collaboration with [rapper] Antwon on "In Dark Denim." How did that happen?
Tony is just a friend of mine. I’ve known him for a couple years now, and when he's in San Francisco, he sleeps on our couch. Tony just approached Kerry and was like, "I'm doing this thing, would you be down?" They just sat in a living room and worked it out, and it came out great. Kerry and I have always wanted to make a point that Deafheaven and us as individuals can be two different things. I’m not this overly-emotional, brooding person all the time. I think it's really cool that we're able to do a collaboration with Antwon and have it be something that goes over well. I hope it will continue to be like that, because alienation...it becomes a bore after awhile.
Listening to your albums and reading your Twitters, it's almost kind of confounding to think that these guys are making such emotional, intelligent music. Do you find that people are surprised when they discover your online personas?
I think that when you want to create something that sounds as big as what we were going for, there is a certain amount of presumed pretension behind it. And when people meet us, they're like, "Oh, they're down-to-Earth." At the end of the day, we're just writing songs that appeal to us and are what we care about creatively. At the same time, Twitter is the space where all my worst and dumbest thoughts go to die. It's like a graveyard of stupidity. You can just scroll through and see all of the ignorant things that live in the back of my head. People have taken social networking so seriously that it's fun to just fuck around with it. We've had people complain about it—like, that it invalidates our intelligence. I’m just like, "Relax, it's Twitter."
I saw you tweeted something about how Dave Matthews Band is the Tom Hanks of music. Who would you say Deafheaven is of metal?
That's difficult. I’m having Kerry help me out on this one. [Aside] What is Deafeaven the blank of metal? Name an actor. [Into phone] As Kerry delightfully stated, "We are the Hugh Grant in Notting Hill of metal."
That's really close to what I was going to say, which was Paul Rudd. What's the reasoning behind that?
He's emotional, he's very romantic, he's sensitive, and he is very human, yet in real life, he is a sketchy player with shady hoes.
The other day, our assistant editor Drew [Millard] was interviewing the Rap Genius guy, and I told him to ask which rapper would make the prettiest woman. He just IMed me to ask you which metal artist would make the prettiest woman.
I’m trying to think of a really good-looking guy in metal... Like, '83 Kirk Hammett [of Metallica]. He was so feminine. I mean, he wasn’t feminine, he was just very pretty. I think Chuck [Schuldiner] from Death is a pretty good-looking guy. He has a strong jaw, but if you took that down a bit, he would be a good-looking woman. Or maybe Peter Steele [of Type O Negative]. He would be a really tall, Amazonian woman. But hey, you know, I’ve been known to love tall women...
Chuck Schulinder, pretty woman
What about rappers? Which rapper would be the prettiest women?
I’m just going to say Antwon, because he's the homie. He is a fine-looking man all the way around.
Antwon, fine-looking man/pretty woman