Deafheaven is a five-piece metal band from San Francisco. They have received critical praise for their adventurous sound and dynamic onstage energy, and are currently touring in support of their latest record, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. KXSC DJ Blake Wagner spoke with Deafheaven’s frontman/lyricist/in-house screamer, George Clarke, about the band’s latest endeavor.
BW: Deafheaven is known for its eclectic array of influences. You’ve experimented with sounds from thrash and black metal to shoegaze and classic rock. What can listeners anticipate from the new album?
GC: Bands like Oasis, Pulp, Radiohead, and Queen all show up a lot more heavily this time around. We always keep our essential sound, but we shift around every album, and we like to joke that Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is our Britpop record. A lot of it has that kind of driving, melodic quality to it.
BW: Do you find that there’s a natural evolution from one record to the next, or do you just hit “reset” and start from the ground up with each new work?
GC: No, I think that it’s definitely a progression. By now, Kerry, myself, Dan, and Shiv have all been in a band together since 2013, and we can really play with each other in a much more cohesive way. We talk about the influences we want to bring to the table each time around, and with this album, we were really on the same page with things. That made the songwriting process really enjoyable – in fact, I would say the most enjoyable songwriting experience we’ve had so far.
BW: While we’re going down the roster of Deafheaven members, it’s worth noting that there is a new member of the band, Chris Johnson. What kind of energy do you think he brings to Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, especially to the songwriting process?
GC: A ton, which is something I really wanted to touch on. All of our past bassists – who, it’s worth noting, were all great musicians and are still friends of the band – were originally guitarists. But Chris is the first real bassist we’ve worked with, and bassists who know their instruments bring a totally different energy.
I think the bass work on this album is really a step up, and Chris wrote a lot of his own parts based off of Kerry and Shiv’s riffs. There are definitely sections in the album where the bass playing is my favorite part, and Chris is also a sound engineer, so you can hear a noticeable difference in our production both in the studio and live.
BW: Yeah, the new record has a really crisp, atmospheric quality that I think one review even described as “cinematic.” On that note, I’m curious to know what non-musical influences (movies, books, poetry, television) influenced the writing and recording of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.
GC: Kerry in particular is a really avid moviegoer, and he’s always ready to discuss film, so a lot of that creeps into his songwriting. Personally, I was reading a lot of Dulce María Loynaz, whose collection, Absolute Solitude, was essentially the main lyrical influence on the record.
BW: And the title of the album is a Graham Greene reference, right?
GC: It is, which was something else that I was reading and kind of just grabbed the title from (which was actually a total life-saver). I was also reading Pablo Neruda, Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty, and Langston Hughes’ Not Without Laughter.
BW: There must be a direct link between all those influences and the larger ideas of the record. What are the recurring themes this time around?
GC: I would describe this album as very celebratory. Touring for New Bermuda was really stressful, and that led to some time off. During that time off, everyone individually relaxed and re-gained a sense of appreciation for what we do as a band, so Ordinary Corrupt Human Love has a really strong sense of purpose and togetherness.
The record focuses on empathy, unity, and the commonality of all people, especially the more mundane aspects of human experience. We incorporate a lot of flower and bird imagery, emphasizing that appreciation for the world around us and what we have. The mood overall is meant to be cathartic and positive.
BW: That’s really salient, especially with regards to the current social and political climate. The themes of empathy and humanity and collective identity seem especially apropos.
GC: You’re right, a lot of it did emerge as a reaction to the current political climate. I feel really exhausted and helpless a lot of the time, and I think that with this album, I wanted to help change the narrative, if only temporarily. Offer something different for a moment.
BW: Deafheaven’s sound has a really strong emotional tenor. It can be really invigorating but also really draining to listen to a Deafheaven album in its entirety. Performing your music night after night must be really intense. Can you switch that energy on and off or do you have to get into a certain headspace?
GC: I guess I have to get into a certain headspace, but that applies to pretty much anyone performing in front of a crowd of strangers. However, especially since our sets have been getting longer and our records do require a certain level of patience, there’s a need to make the live shows really energetic. It’s the difference between being at a concert with a bunch of people and just sitting at home listening to the album on your couch.
BW: Touching on the album-listening experience, there’s something really synesthetic about the cover art that’s accompanied each Deafheaven release – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is no different. It’s a really classic image. It looks like it could have been taken 50 years ago or yesterday.
GC: We worked together again with Nick Steinhart, who’s essentially our art director (as well as partner-in-crime and extremely good friend). We also worked with photographer Sean Stout, and the idea was to capture people in ordinary moments, touching on that appreciation for the day-to-day aspects of life.
While we were recording the record, we were living in this house and had picked up all this equipment to develop photos at home. Sean would come in every day and we would just roam around San Francisco and shoot everything - then, we’d go home and develop the photos that same night. We did that everyday, finally winding up with something like six hundred images.
All of the packaging is filled with photography of people in street scenes living their lives. But on the cover in particular there is a kind of sweet anonymity about this woman, and I felt like it was the perfect image to represent the record and the stories we wanted to tell.
BW: I’m excited to sink my teeth into the new album and catch you guys on tour later this summer. Thanks for taking the time to chat.
GC: My pleasure! Take care.
Deafheaven will be performing at The Wiltern in L.A. on Saturday, August 18. Their new album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, is out now.