George Clarke’s underground paths in Deafheaven #BandsYouNeedToKnow

// By: Oscar Adame

Wed 28 June, 2017

In this section we dive into the mind behind our favorite startup projects. Whether national or international, musicians tell us their reasons for making art.

Place of Origin: San Francisco, United States
Year of Foundation: 2010
Members: George Clarke, Kerry McCoy, Daniel Tracy and Shiv Mehra

“I am in the middle of a big forest, it is winter, it is very cold and everything looks gray. Out of nowhere a large kapibara appears, it’s shivering in the distance inside a pile of snow and we see each other directly in the eyes for a few seconds. I crouch down, lowering myself to ground level, slowly so he can get closer and familiar with me; he sniffs my fingers for a moment until he runs off and I keep walking through the woods.

After a couple of minutes I come across a huge metal box, I open it and it takes me to the underground; there is my house, I walk towards it appreciating all the lighting with small bulbs around and at the filthy doors of my neighbors. In front of my house there is an axe, I hold it and I break my door hitting with it… then I decide to find a way not to be alone, I look for the family of kapibaras because something tells me that mine came from here.

The whole family is there, around the table, and they look at me as if they had been waiting for me for hours; I’m confused about it, but they accept me and I sit with them. Then the kapibaras tell me -‘Why did it take you so long to get home?’, to which I reply – ‘I didn’t know this was my house’, and we all laugh like crazy.”

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I have always believed that in order to understand a little more deeply the work of any artist, it is necessary to learn a little more about the artist himself; So when I had the opportunity to have a talk with George Clarke, founding leader of one of today’s most intriguing bands, I didn’t hesitate a minute to give him a very basic test regarding his personality and way of seeing life.

The narrated derives from the results thrown in a test with which a surrealist story could be formed that, like Deafheaven’s music, deals with the search for identity and belonging… the search for a home, a place in which security, warmth and company are never lacking and well worth seeking out even if you have to walk through gray forests, underground tunnels and have to break your own objects with axes.

It has very little time that George found his «capybara family» in real life, a group that began to take shape when he entered what would be high school here when he met Kerry McCoy. –“The first time I saw him he was wearing a Death Kennedys shirt and I was wearing a Slayer shirt, it was an instant connection because in our school there weren’t many people I could talk to, there weren’t any punks or anything, and he was the first guy that seemed interesting. We became friends very quickly as we were able to talk about music and find our union”-.


Both were at that time a disaster at school, their parents hated them, their teachers couldn’t stand them, and on top of all, they had already been involved in problems with substance use issues. George couldn’t finish school, so he had to start working in fast food restaurants to pay for an apartment. Kerry joined him shortly after and between drugs, dirty rooms and debt, they found themselves buried in the basement, –“Our first band started as an escape attempt, but it didn’t sound anything like what we started doing with Deafheaven. We were young, we didn’t have great influences, we played simpler things like Dead Kennedys punk, but later we integrated blackmetal and post-rock influences without being very clear about it”- .

That band, called Rise of Caligula, would evolve the following year into Deafheaven. A group that plays with the most representative elements of black-metal with their guttural voices, distorted guitars and maddened tempos in their speed, also integrating fine instrumental melodies close to post-rock, instrumentation full of feedback, layers of guitars hiding the melodies within the mix and a shoegaze «wall of sound» production system and even moments taken from the atmospheric industrial bands like Suicide. It didn’t take long for Deafheaven to start making noise.

At times hypnotic and melancholic guitars can sound over flat and atmospheric synthesizers; by others you can listen to recordings of suburbs and country days, but most of the proposal is dominated by the guttural screams of the vocalist and a noise that is deafening. –“I don’t think we wanted to start sounding like any of those specific genres when we started. We wanted to be an atmospheric band, but then all these influences came along and we started doing that mix.”

Many began to point to the group as the forerunner of a completely new metal genre, although the combination of all these sounds had already been expressed by groups from the beginning of the century, such as Alcest or Wolves in the Throne Room. There are even reminiscences of post-rock and shoegaze on records by Burzum, one of the most important projects of the first wave of Norwegian black-metal bands.

Yet there was something inside sunbather, the group’s second album released in 2013, which fooled so many people with its fresh sound. They began to be proclaimed as the forerunners of post-metal and blackgaze, remarks that made their members uncomfortable for a time. –“After Sunbather, everyone started analyzing and writing their opinions about the album. I like that people have their opinion and their feeling about our work, it’s super in fact, although at this point what I would most like is to honor all those who came before us”.

That album was the best-reviewed album of the year on Metacritic, and it remains the seventh best of all time. It is an album full of ambivalence, of dark moments ruled by guttural screams, dense guitars and drums that do not sit still with a background where a fine guitar arpeggio is always present, a beautiful sequence of piano notes or some angelic choirs that when they come out they deliver melodic moments full of peace. It is the light contained within the complete disaster, it is arriving home after having to enter a tunnel full of darkness and dirt, it is looking for the most beautiful thing in life within the imperfection of the world.

With that game the myth of the band began. A metal group that instead of receiving perfect ratings on Loudwire, got them on Pithcfork; an extreme band that instead of performing at Hell & Heaven, did so at Corona Capital. Black metal purists began to hate them, but their legacy as an already iconic band in the style began to take shape instantly.

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-“Yes, it is quite interesting to have the opportunity to open the door to new genres for our listeners. I want them to take something from our music apart from the sensory experience, if it’s interest in these genres, what better”- says George about being the first mainstream focus on the genre since the church-burning issue.

But not everything derives from these atmospheric genres, -“I wouldn’t say it’s a guilty pleasure, but I love rap, especially 90s rap, and it’s a big influence on our music.”-.

Deafheaven’s lyrics drank from that “gangsta” movement of hip-hop culture. The lyrics, composed by Clarke are sincere and excessively revealing. sunbather treats, as well as the great rap classics like ready-to-die of Biggie or Ilmatic de Nas, about the illusions of being able to get out of a state of poverty and obtain, by climbing socially with his work in music, the respect and love that his life lacks. In addition, the references to the buying and selling of drugs are more than present within Deafheaven’s speech. There’s a song inside their debut album Roads To Judah which contains a recording of George buying heroin from his dealer.
-“I wanted to do something extremely personal, something intimate and autobiographical with music. I want to give my all to the listener, otherwise I would feel like a fake. Kerry’s guitar is very emotional, I had to do my best to be too”-, the vocal tells me while I ask him if he is not frustrated that many listeners do not understand his lyrics, good luck if you try to understand them by ear. –“I think it’s interesting, it’s like a puzzle, if you want to understand the letter you have to start investigating. It is a very beautiful exercise to listen to a record while reading the lyrics and seeing the art on the record”-.

George’s lyrics have changed since sunbather placed them as an international interest group. In New Bermuda drug references are transformed and the impetus of a young dreamer desperate to have to sleep in his friend’s car and spend his months’ savings on the recording of three songs that would end up becoming the demo that gave them the necessary attention to sign with a transnational, for references to classic books, religious stories and internalized fears.

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And that is how George and Kerry followed their respective capybaras to find them, waiting for them, after a grotesque but well worthwhile journey, both for them as artists and for us as listeners.

Your next table will be here, in Mexico, with two unmissable dates; June 30 at Foro Independencia in Guadalajara (thanks to INTRSTLRS) and July 1 at El Plaza Condesa in CDMX.

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We would like to thank the author of this short article for this outstanding material

George Clarke’s underground paths in Deafheaven #BandsYouNeedToKnow


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