Veronica Hartling interviews up and coming USC-based musician Michael K.
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.
Moontower: a name that is common knowledge to USC students, and spreading like fire through a network of schools in Southern California and across the world, with their first single hitting over 100,000 plays in its first two weeks. Booking shows left and right, these three talented young musicians have had quite the atypical college semester - playing shows on boats in the San Diego harbor, booking numerous festivals, and attending record label meetings instead of studying for finals. However, as with most successful bands, there's a team behind the scenes making the rest of the magic happen. As Moontower always says, "There are three members in the band, but five members of Moontower".
To most, Moontower is just a catchy band that makes their feet move, but what many don't know are the ways the entire team is pushing the boundaries of what live music, and what being a band really means. These student's passions have ignited an augmented reality company, short films, and interactive stages… just the beginning of what is to come from Moontower.
Tom, a once a signed DJ who cultivates catchy electronic beats, met Devan - a Juilliard level flutist with long flowing brown hair - during their first week at USC. They started producing and writing music, eventually catching the eye, and friendship, of Jake. A catalyst for the creation of Moontower was a Lemaitre concert they attended together. Standing in awe within the crowd, the three said to each other that they wanted to create indie dance music that made others feel the way they felt in that moment. In the fragmentation stages over summer, Moontower's grounding was built by the hands of numerous USC students. A few notable names out of the many are Rocky (Racquel) Levia who helped with their creative direction - making their first logo and artwork - and Jamie Haberman who helped them get their ducks in a row in the ideation phase. This was the start of a trend for Moontower. As their network at USC grew, a slew of young, talented, and passionate students took on the project of Moontower and made it more than just a band, challenging what is expected from musicians.
Carina Glastris: Manager
"Shut up and stop worrying" is what the band recites as what Carina always tells them, because in their words "when she says she will do something - she does it … and when it gets done it's always better than we hoped it would be". Carina Glastris is a recent graduate of USC with a burning passion for her work and a radiant energy that ignites that passion in those lucky enough to be around her. Her involvement with Moontower began as help with branding, but during the initial meeting she started rattling off ideas and the band realized she contained the passion and drive they were looking for. Her initial mood boards she made for them blew the band away, leading them to take her on as creative direction. However, when she took on Moontower as a project, the band quickly started to see the dedication and knowledge she had push them forward in the music industry, leading them to increase her role to manager. Her housemates from this past year have become accustomed to Carina leaving the house regularly for Moontower meetings reaching past 1am, ordering 20 Amazon boxes to find "the perfect prop for the video", and daily screams of joy when Spotify updates Willam's play count. The band praises Carina's humble ability to understand what she doesn't know, and striving to gain that knowledge from those around her and surrounding herself with people who can help. "She knows how to be the coach, without being the quarterback", Tom said with a smile.
William Holywood: ???
William is one of the band's roommates who has been highlighted in "Pilot", a hilariously confusing psychedelic video to Moontower's song Marathon. William has moved many times in his life from places ranging from Czechoslovakia to middle-class suburbs. After starting his studies at USC, he ended up living with the band, but as he says, he simply "lives amongst them", mostly doing his own thing. The band was at first writing songs about William without his consent and took footage of him for Marathon by stalking him, which created a lot of animosity between him and the band. However, recently he has felt like their newer music speaks to him so has taken control of the videos - a hopeful bridge between a shaky relationship. William's next video in partnership with Moontower tells the true story of his nextdoor neighbor that he loves, or maybe he doesn't love.
Jacob Fishman: Production & Tour Manager, Director of Live Experience, Head of Touring and Product at Mercive
Jacob, better known as Fish, has been with the band from its creation, a consistent thread through their growth. He was living in Portland when Rocky called asking for help building a stage. Intrigued, Fish drove back to Los Angeles to work on the stage that day. He came back the next day to help, and then the next day... and has been back every day since. As a child, Fish was heavily involved in competitive robotics. He strived with physical creation of mechanical objects, yet a heavy influence to music and art pushed him towards live music experiences. The full stage that Moontower plays with, including the modular stage and lights, were built by him and Rocky. He also handles all the logistics of playing other venues, from unloading and loading the gear to mixing their music live. When he graduates, Fish dreams of packing his belongings into a single backpack, and hitting the road with Moontower to continue to restructure the current box live music is within.
Cam Lindsay: CEO of Mercive, partnership with Moontower
Fish remembers the moment when Cam had the idea to bring augmented reality into live music, excitedly asking how it would work, Cam replied, "Well, that's about all I've got right now". The idea was brought to life when Cam attended one of Moontower's shows and was blown away by its professionalism. For Cam, that show began to blur the line of what a professional was, and inspire him to work with Moontower as the starting point to creating his vision. The initial meetings consisted of conjuring up Fish and Cam's dream live performance, bursting the seams of current life music experiences. Reeling back their lofty ideas, they settled upon creating a 8ft by 10ft pod where two people could stand inside wearing a Mira Augmented Reality headset and Beats headphones to experience a three minute augmented reality experience catered to Moontower's song Marathon. The vast majority of people who entered had never experienced AR - not more than Pokemon Go - and their responses were overwhelmingly positive. Mercive has continued to expand their clientele, and has been accepted to be part of the Advanced Game Project at USC. Check out Mercive's experience at Moontower's show here.
Give Moontower's first single that is sweeping the world a listen on Spotify here.
Photo credits: Jacob Fishman, Carina Glastris, Anastasia Velicescu, Brittany Harper
KXSC DJ Eric Leow sat down for an interview with Jake Snider, the lead singer of the rock band Minus the Bear, earlier this month. Continue reading to see what they talked about or listen to the interview on our SoundCloud.