For the band's core duo, longtime friends George Clarke (vocals) and Kerry McCoy (guitar), Deafheaven's new LP Ordinary Corrupt Human Love could represent a rebirth — a move toward a "big rock sound" driven by newfound sobriety. For the outside world, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, which is set for release on July 13th, is not only the group's fourth full-length overall, but also their second since their massive breakthrough album Sunbather, representing a crucial time in the band's career. How has success affected the pair? What is their current view on metal and their place therein? We caught up with Clarke and McCoy to discuss their 16-year-long friendship, battles with personal demons and effort to create Deafheaven's Master of Puppets.
LET'S START WITH THE NEW RECORD. IT'S DEFINITELY THE MOST MELODIC THING YOU'VE EVER DONE AND IT FEELS ALMOST CLOSER TO A MOGWAI RECORD, BUT WITH HALLMARKS OF THE DEAFHEAVEN SOUND. DO YOU GUYS EVEN IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS METAL?
GEORGE CLARKE At this point we've been a band for eight years and we will always have a core sound, but with each record we kind of choose to accentuate certain influences and I think this time around we were heading for a big rock sound. I don't know if that's what we've been aiming for since the beginning necessarily, but I do think that it is the most realized album that we've done.
THE BIG ROCK SOUND IS DEFINITELY APPARENT — THE FIRST TRACK "YOU WITHOUT END" ALMOST FEELS LIKE DEAFHEAVEN MEETS ELTON JOHN/BERNIE TAUPIN. ALMOST LIKE A SEVENTIES POP KIND OF A THING MIXED WITH YOUR PREVIOUS EFFORTS. IT'S ALMOST JARRING AT FIRST, BUT IT ACTUALLY SETS A TONE FOR THE REST OF THE RECORD.
KERRY MCCOY You're the first person to make an Elton John comparison, which I appreciate. When we were coming up with that, I was thinking more along the lines of OK Computer-y stuff, but there was a moment in there that we called "the Steely Dan riff." It wasn't really like a conscious thing. It just sort of flowed out of us and felt very much classic rock.
OBVIOUSLY BLACK METAL WAS A PRIMARY INFLUENCE AND IS A JUMPING-OFF POINT, BUT DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT IS YOUR BASE ANYMORE? MAYBE YOU ARE PAST THAT, PERSONALLY?
MCCOY I know that we all personally still listen to metal a lot. It's more like each record is sort of its own thing and to be truthful there is only so much "delay-pedal" stuff that you can do. In my opinion, the goal for us now is figuring out how to entertain ourselves while sounding like ourselves. So keeping it interesting, essentially.
YOU'VE GONE OUT WITH "METAL" TOURS, BUT IT FEELS LIKE YOU DO THE BEST WITH BANDS ON THE FRINGE — GUYS LIKE ENVY. YOU'VE DEFINITELY SPOKEN A LOT ABOUT YOUR OWN PERSONAL METAL-LISTENING HABITS, BUT DO YOU THINK THAT YOU TEND TO BE MORE UNDERSTOOD BY THOSE WITH WIDER PALETTES THAT AREN'T NECESSARY METAL TO THE CORE?
CLARKE I think we like to take out bands that understand who they are and bring something unique to what it is that they're doing. And so any band that we do tour with is always a direct reflection of our taste. I also think that we've taken these larger tours, but we've done a greater deal of headlining because I think we've kind of built our audience by taking bits and pieces of other audiences — a fraction of this crowd and a fraction of that crowd. I think that our audience trusts us because it isn't a straight road for them either.
THAT SAID, DO YOU EVER SEE YOURSELF TOURING WITH SOMEONE THAT IS DECIDEDLY NOT METAL, SAY, A JAPANESE BREAKFAST OR THE LIKE?
CLARKE Absolutely. I think that more eclectic tours and things that are reflective of our taste, even if they are a bit left field to some, that to me is exciting. I love stuff like that. And the same goes for rap. If it makes sense, those kind of ideas are fun — that's what makes playing shows fun. I always support that kind of thing.
YOU TWO HAVE BEEN THE CONSTANTS IN DEAFHEAVEN — TOGETHER SINCE DAY ONE. DO EACH OF YOU STILL FEEL CREATIVELY FULFILLED BY THIS BAND? DO YOU EVER GET THE ITCH TO DO SOME WILD SIDE PROJECT?
MCCOY Yeah, I think we've both thought about doing side projects before. The main thing though is I was really lucky because George and I are opposite puzzle pieces or something. It's almost like one without the other doesn't really work. Eventually, I would definitely like to do a side project or movie soundtracks or something. But I think the main thing is always going to be Deafheaven because I think both of us know how to do one thing really well and neither of us knows how to do the thing that the other guy does. And it's the entire group of guys that we have with us. I can't really imagine this band without [guitarist] Shiv [Mehra] anymore. Any of the guys. It just kind of wouldn't really fit. Sometimes we'll jam with other people and it'll be fun, but it always feels right when the five of us get in a room together. I can't tell you the amount of times I've been in a room with somebody and thought, This seems like a good idea ... And then 30 seconds I think, Nope, this is a terrible idea. That never happens with the five of us — it's just like brutal direct honesty. "I think that riff sucks, dude. Let's try this one." We check each other.
CLARKE Everybody that we're friends with plays an instrument, or is in this world. So it's fun to jam. I think that's just kind of a cool thing that comes with being a musician. But I don't feel creatively stunted in this band.
DO YOU GUYS EVER MISS THE SIMPLE LIFE? THROUGH TOURING, YOU TEND TO LOSE FRIENDS AND RELATIONSHIPS AND GROW APART FROM YOUR EARLY CORE GROUPS.
CLARKE In the very early days, I remember going through a really painful breakup. I remember going through a really painful, like, a painful everything. It's a weird thing, me and George call it the "fuck it" gene — certain people that are willing to throw their whole life in the trash to just tour. It took us a long time to find guys that had that gene. I used to spend money to do this — be broke, not have money and take money that I didn't have to do this thing that we now get paid to do. So I guess, no, I don't miss it. This is my favorite thing. It's the tradeoff where everything takes a backseat to the band. I feel like I'm getting the much sweeter deal on that tradeoff.
KERRY, YOU'VE ALLUDED ON SOCIAL MEDIA ABOUT NEEDING TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR HEALTH. WOULD YOU MIND ELABORATING ON WHAT HAPPENED, AND WHY YOU DECIDED TO MAKE SOME CHANGES TO YOUR LIFESTYLE?
MCCOY Yeah, I don't mind talking about it. I guess it was a bit of a slow burn punctuated by a kick in the ass. I have intentionally, for about like a year or so, just been trying to wean down on some of my lifestyle choices. I don't really want to get into the brutal specifics of it, but essentially one day I hurt someone that I cared for a lot. It was then that I realized that I can't hurt the people that I love this much anymore. People talk about hitting their bottoms, but I didn't have a crazy bottom. It just wasn't fun and it was really painful for people I cared about. All of this happened right before recording. I've been sober since late November.
We had worked on some of the record, but it wasn't really there yet. It was great because we had these ideas for the album, then this pushed all of those ideas into overdrive. It's weird — I felt like this weird loop of good things, I guess. For me personally, it felt like I removed this big negative chunk of poison that was essentially taking up my brainpower, then a huge flood of creativity swarmed into my brain. Early on, I remember just playing piano and guitar every day, all day. It felt like releasing a dam that was holding all these ideas back. It felt like the blinders had been taken off. And everyone in the band kind of liked being around all this positive energy.
GEORGE, DID YOU NOTICE THE CHANGE IN KERRY? CREATIVELY OR OTHERWISE?
CLARKE You know, Kerry and I are talking a lot every day. So during then it was both about the writing process and early sobriety. I think by the end of week one, he was just like, "Man, I'm zooming!"
ONE THING I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO ASK — BECAUSE I KNOW YOU GUYS ARE VERY CLOSE PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY — ARE THERE DAYS WHEN YOU JUST WANT TO KILL EACH OTHER?
MCCOY It sounds ridiculous honestly, but it's extremely rare.
CLARKE To be honest with you, the last couple years, not only with Kerry but with everyone in our world, we were all going through our own stuff. I think that partying too much worsens the situation. So there were definitely moments of tension. But as far as an actual fight? We've been in like two, or maybe really just one I can think of.
MCCOY Yeah, in our 16-year friendship, it's literally two times or something.
LOOKING BACK, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT WITH DEAFHEAVEN SO FAR?
CLARKE This record I felt really, really, really proud of.
MCCOY We played the Sydney Opera House. That whole experience was just really crazy. They had our posters hung all over the Opera House and it was a fully seated amphitheater. It was really crazy. Of course, going to Russia, things like that.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE THAT SOMEONE IS TAKING AWAY FROM THE NEW RECORD? OTHER THAN "I LIKE IT," THAT IS?
CLARKE That's a good question. I guess the first thing that comes to my mind would be that this isn't something that we all just kind of sat around said, "I guess I'll throw this little thing here." Every little thing was deliberate, and we worked on this really hard. When I hear it, it sounds to me like five dudes that care about each other and care about making music. That would be the two takeaways, I would think.
HOW WOULD YOU CLASSIFY THIS RECORD? IF YOU WERE ASKED TO PIGEONHOLE THE RECORD AS ONE THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE? FOR EXAMPLE, "THIS IS THE ONE WHERE THEY GOT SMARTER" OR "THE RECORD WHERE THEY WENT EXPERIMENTAL."
CLARKE I'm hoping that people think, This is their Master of Puppets. This, to me, feels like a seminal record. I see the first three albums almost as like a trilogy, encapsulating our Twenties. This feels like a fresh start in a way. It feels new.