"This album is a tool used to allow you to be alone in that crowded room."
Deafheaven recently released their brand new album 'Infinite Granite' via Sargent House.
A record that not only signalled a shift in creative choices but also confidence in what the band are capable of, it is a body of work that is quite simply awe-inspiring. Like staring up at the stars and losing yourself in the endless wonder, the band have crafted a sonic voyage that's as heartbreaking and harrowing as it is harmonious and quietly hopeful. Allowing themselves to ask questions of themselves as both musicians and humans, it is an album that you simply need to lose yourself in.
To find out more about how it came to be, we sat down with vocalist George Clarke to discuss the path that led them here and where it is leading them in the future...
It feels as though the best place to start with how this album came to be is in the aftermath of the ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ cycle, which saw you playing to more people than ever before and again expanding on what Deafheaven is and could be. What were your takeaways from that album?
"When we were writing that album, we were going through the beginnings of a period of sobriety, which has continued still. When that happened, we also encountered this burst of ideas. So that record, in my opinion, is packed with ideas. There’s a lot of imagination happening, and we’re starting to be even more confident in championing some of these influences that we have talked about let into the fold. So that’s with the more alternative tracks like ‘Near’ and ‘Night People’ and in ‘Glint’ where the main riff is this almost ‘The Bends ’-era thing. In ‘Honeycomb’, there’s this Oasis-style guitar break. We were exploring more, and when we played them live, we felt more confident in them as sounds."
So in playing with those things, you started to be drawn towards indulging them that little bit more…
"Yeah, very much so. So many little bubbling things started coming to the forefront as we toured that album over the last few years. Ultimately it was then those things that stuck with us as we started writing again. Kerry [McCoy, Guitarist] and I talked about how it’s funny that the blastbeat has been 80% of our catalogue, a huge part of our music. But because of that, there’s this urge to do something different. So when we started writing, things started coming up much more raw ins structure. We were interested in creating choruses and verses and bridges and things, and creating something in this traditional fashion is what the challenge ends up being. Kerry described it as backwardly progressive, despite it being quite progressive for us to try these things. If you look at ‘Sunbather’ or ‘New Bermuda’, those records are very much, ‘Here’s a riff, here’s a riff, here’s a riff’. I love it, and it flows, but it’s an entirely different structure.
"So we made the most significant decision, in changing the vocal style and developing it. And then it was meeting Justin Meldal-Johnson, who strengthened our resolve and gave us the confidence to get us over the edge. That’s the whole skeleton of how ‘Infinite Granite’ came to be."
It’s truly fascinating how you’re considering your levels of confidence in things that so many see as their bread and butter, where for the last ten years, yours has been pushing the extremes and not worrying about expectations. But when attention is suddenly on you, you have to change how you think…
"For me, that is purely to do with the ego on both ends of things. When you’re young, you’re just making whatever feels right and then when people say, ‘I like this’, you’re almost surprised. Because you’re surprised that they like it and you’re surprised that you’re good at it. A few years go by, and we’re then on an album like ‘New Bermuda’, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I’m great at this, because we’re still here and people keep telling me. But the truth is that we keep on falling into it. We’re not striving for greatness. I’ve just got to this point where people are telling me it’s great. It’s the same with ‘Ordinary…’, especially with those tracks like ‘Near’ and ‘Night People’. They were made in the studio, and I knew that I didn’t have to be sitting around and working diligently with the other guys in every aspect. I can go in, hear it a few times and hammer out my bit.
"Then along the way, you realise that you’re in this world and it’s your job, you start to ask whether you want to challenge yourself. That’s where the other part of the ego comes in, which is total fear. Now I believe that I’m great at what I do, and now I’m afraid that whatever I do next, people are going to say that I’ve lost what they have embued in me over the last ten years. So to have someone outside of this give that validation that what you’re doing is right is so helpful. Now pressures and things are riding on what we do, but most of the pressure comes from wanting to be better than what you were. So I think that’s how we stepped up. On ‘Ordinary…’, I was much more hands-off. This time around, I was hands-on and diligent. This is the closest to professional that we have ever been, you could say."
When you listen to this album, that communal feeling of five people being incredibly present and honest and human shines through. That must feel pretty gratifying to be in a position like that, albeit it is different from how you have done things before?
"Yeah, I think so. We’re such a unit at this point, and it does feel like the five of us, and everyone, is doing multiple things. Dan is singing. Shiv is playing everything. Chris is singing and playing and engineering. It’s the whole package. I love it. At this point, I feel like we have done a good job of showing how the personalities of everyone in Deafheaven meshes so well. Even when you hear this group play tracks from things like ‘Road To Judah’, in which some members weren’t a part of the band at that point, they make it feel like it was them. ‘Infinite Granite’ is the biggest step within that. It is Chris [Johnson, Bassist] and Dan [Tracy, Drums] and Shiv [Mehra, Guitarist] and Kerry doing a lot of the writing together. I think about moments like the quiet bridge in ‘Great Mass Of Colour’, how the bass and drum communicate with each other, and that comes from those conversations. What are we playing, and what can we do around it? The same thing occurs in the outro of ‘Another Language’. It’s about making sure everything flows and connects. We had to make these songs as that unit for them to develop, and they wouldn’t sound the same without that."
And within all of that, there is your use of your voice as an instrument in the same capacity. But the way you’re doing that then brings what you’re speaking about on this record even more to the forefront…
"I think that’s definitely what I wanted this to be. I wanted there to be a dynamic within the vocals where people could hopefully investigate the lyrics. The moments on this record where my voice raises pitch or goes into a scream are quite painful parts of the record in my mind. It needs to be presented at that level of emotion as a way to get that point across. I feel a lot of the focus, if I had to make it binary, in our music was on sadness rather than anger. It’s not about fury. It’s about disappointment. It’s always a depression. It’s cool to have that presented at a Level Ten at all times, but it’s also cool to have the chance to show them in the way they feel. I want to sound more downtrodden than furious. I’m not angry all the time. I’m more confused and questioning why I think this way. The vocal tone in a lot of these songs is to convey that feeling."
"Then when those moments are about to erupt, that’s when you have tracks like ‘Villian’ or ‘Mumbasa’ with these vast releases. However, they didn’t require that release from the onset that our older material is. It kicks the door down in a different way."
Anger doesn’t always have a conclusion, and you should believe that it should. There’s feeling desolated, and there’s questioning why you feel desolate. But it’s within that questioning that you learn what it is to be and to feel…
"I think the same thing. There are songs here that are painful, and they need more nuance to be understood. I think that’s a great way to describe this record. We wanted more nuance to be understood. We needed to develop these more intricate parts of our sound and not have everything be such a wash all the time. To have moments of clarity and introspection."
A lot of that comes with growing older as well. People may only see your emotional development through the band's lens, but when you step away, there is a whole decade’s worth of life that you have lived and loved and lost through. You can’t then come back in and start writing again and deny how much your psyche has changed….
"That’s even true within the last year. My 'George from Deafheaven' identity was very much stripped, and we were effectively done. We were inactive and didn’t know when we would be coming back. There was a point where me and Kerry were just like, ‘Is this over? Is that it?’ A lot has happened in this last year, and if anyone thought that any artist would go away in this period and come out with the same record, it would be shocking. Maybe with all the stresses and strains that have occurred, people want something familiar, that old Deafheaven emotional release, but that’s not the idea. We’ve entered a new era of critical thought where we are re-examining ourselves after all this. What do we want to do because we might not be doing this forever? This was so easily taken away from us, after all."
So what’s the actual timeline in terms of the writing for this batch of songs?
"We started in July 2019 with ‘Lament For Wasps’, which I don’t think sounded like it does now. We started ‘Villain’ around then too. Then by the end of 2019, we had ‘In Blur’ like a skeleton, which was around the time we considered experimenting with different ideas. And then boom, that’s when things hit. It became an opportunity where we shouldn’t sit around and use it as the chance to develop this idea we have had for six or seven months."
To have roots of this record in both the 'before' and 'after' times is pretty interesting. Especially when you consider that those early pieces probably don’t even sound that much like what you ended up with…
"2020 did two things. It gave us the ability to consider what we wanted to do and stay with these ideas. Then it allowed us to shape the record into the way it is because it was written in that year. One of Kerry’s responses to his anxiety throughout the year was writing music that he felt he could escape. So there was this idea of ‘Infinite Granite’ being created as this world that was visually and sonically apart from the hellscape that we were all in the middle of. There was a drive to go somewhere else. I think that fits in with ‘Neptune Raining Diamonds’ . That idea is about not being in the present, even within the interior or exterior. I don’t know if the record would have sounded like that if we had not been surrounded by so much listlessness and hopelessness.
"This album is a tool used to allow you to be alone in that crowded room. That is music’s greatest gift, and it’s something that we try and do with our records in general. However, this one, in particular, feels like there was a motif to it. The whole thing is you stepping into another space."
Within all of this, how you do feel as though this record has changed your relationship with what Deafheaven is and will be?
"Within the band, this record has made us feel like we could do anything and that we should. We feel like we have been holding on to a lot. In my 20’s I felt like that, and all four of our previous records have felt like that. Like we have been holding on to identities or a scene or a lifestyle. Then you feel yourself change, but the love for what you do doesn’t change. So you have to have it adapt to you. So ‘Infinite Granite’ is the result of that. It’s me letting go of those things I held onto in my 20’s. The finite. This album is me and us pulling away from that and entering a new era of feeling creative and inspired.
"This is the most creatively ambitious time I have ever felt in my life. All I want to do right now is create, expand, and broaden what I’m reading, watching, and doing. As I find that I can let go of my hang-ups and learn to be a most interested and engaged person, Deafheaven becomes a more interested and engaged project."