BBMAs 2018

Deafheaven's George Clarke: 'I Don't Understand Why People Put Us on a Pedestal on Occasion'

Kristen Cofer
Deafheaven photographed in 2015.

San Francisco-based band Deafheaven has struck an impressive chart blow with its third album, New Bermuda, which arrived Oct. 2 on Anti- Records. The “dark gaze” act -- a description that its fans hotly debate -- debuted at No. 63 on the Billboard 200. In a commercial music world that’s dominated by pop princesses, hip-hop and bro country, denting the chart’s upper reaches is a notable achievement for a group that combines the fierce power of death and black metal with the gossamer vulnerability of shoegaze rock. Frontman George Clarke spoke with Billboard about the inspiration behind New Bermuda and what he thinks of the “dark gaze” moniker.

New Bermuda, which bowed at No. 63 on the Billboard 200 and No. 36 on the Top Album Sales chart, unites black and death metal with melodic, drifting passages. Why does that mix appeal to you?

We wanted things that were equally damning as they were uplifting. It always has been a goal not to be a linear band and to try and musically exemplify the range of feelings one person could have on one topic. A lot of times things can be equally frustrating or depressing as they can be something that you learn from or that’s even uplifting toward the end.

In an interview you did with Paper magazine, you said that the New Bermuda song “Brought to the Water” is the basis for the sound of the record. What exactly is that sound?

Just in terms of writing a more metallic-driven record, writing a record that doesn’t necessarily abide by the post-rock caricatures and taking a lot of the space out of the songwriting and replacing it with tightly written songs and memorable hooks. It’s like upping the aggression, cutting the fat, which I think that song exemplifies a lot.

What is “Brought to the Water” about lyrically?

It’s about starting anew and the kind of difficulty that can bring. It’s about living with someone for the first time and watching your relationship with that person change because of the dynamic change. Being in a romantic relationship that gets serious for the first time and seeing how the relationship evolves because of that.

You and guitarist Kerry McCoy dealt with significant debt following your debut album, Roads to Judah, by living with six other people in an apartment. Why didn’t you end Deafheaven?

Everything else around just ended up being background noise to what our ultimate goal was, which was to live comfortably doing music, and so we just persevered. We figured, if we’re going to be living like this, with a lot of people that live the same way but doing something they’re unhappy with, we might as well be happy with what we’re doing.

Deafheaven has been described as “dark gaze.” Would you say that’s accurate?

Oh, I don’t know. When it comes to creating and naming genres, it isn’t really our job. Whatever makes things easiest for people. It can be a little overwhelming sometimes. I don’t understand why people put us on a pedestal on occasion, but as long as it’s healthy and creates interest, it doesn’t bother me at all.

Anything you would like to add?

I would like people to listen to [New Bermuda] for what it is and not focus on genres or even the themes to a certain point, and just listen to the music. At the end of the day, it’s just songs. We’re just a band that writes songs. I think people kind of forget that sometimes.

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of Billboard