Interview: Deafheaven

It's an inspiring thing to see that and not shy away from trying to challenge your listeners, and just assume that your audience is cultured enough to get what you're trying to do.

Deafheaven is in the early stages of a US tour following the release of their fourth album, Infinite Granite. They are taking a detour through Australia and the UK before returning to home soil for a stack more dates, some shows already sold out as far ahead as October. Gilbert Potts caught up with co-founder Kerry McCoy to talk about sounds, dreams, and cats before the long flight to Australia next week, where they will be supported by local favourites Closure in Moscow.

Despite years of answering questions, McCoy is engaged and thoughtful with his responses. He sounds relaxed and in a good place.

E&D: How you going?

Kerry: Hey, pretty good, pretty good. How are you doing?

E&D: Yeah, not bad, mate. I thought I’d start with asking you what’s the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard?

Kerry: Oh, wow. What a great question. Wow.

Most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. Boy, I would say maybe something like… There’s a natural reverb in this… Yeah, where is that? In a church that’s in the Basque region of, it’s not Spain, but in the Basque country area of that part of Europe, that I’ve visited a couple times on surf trips. A friend of mine and I will go to the various cathedrals.

And there’s one that we went to that’s very calm. There’s calm and quiet, where there is barely anyone there, that you could hear yourself walking, and it would reverberate off the walls, and I really liked that. That’s the first thing that comes to mind without something cheesy like, “Oh, the sound of the ocean”, or something.

E&D: I love that. You’re, of course, starting off on a pretty massive tour. You’ve done some dates in South America and you’ve done some stuff in the US. You’re coming here to Australia, then the UK, then back to the US for lots of dates there. You’ve sold out, I saw you’ve got a show in LA sold out in October. So, I’m thinking when you were in your teens and you were thinking about what it means to play music and tour and stuff like that, what were your dreams at the time and how do they compare with the reality that you’ve got today?

Kerry: I feel like this is something that I’ve tried to emphasize myself. They paled in comparison to my life today. It’s something that I try and keep, to hold onto. It’s an immense feeling of gratitude.

As a kid, my biggest dreams… There was this place in Stockton, California where I went to my first punk show ever, my first show ever, called The Seifert Center. It was essentially just a rec hall, a city-owned rec hall. They would have shows in this little stage area in this basketball court. When I was a kid, my biggest dream was to play there and to open for one of my favorite local bands. So, if 14-year-old me could see just me right now, sitting in my house, talking to someone in Australia about a tour we’re going to do there, he would be aghast and annoyed to think that I had ever complained about anything ever in my life. Truly, it’s literally a dream come true. I sometimes genuinely think that I’m in the Matrix or something.

E&D: Oh, wonderful. Some bands tend to make the same album over and over again. I always think of Australia’s favorite AC/DC and you’ve got others who instead change the sound from album to album. I guess there’s lots of different reasons behind that. What are some of the reasons for the three steps you’ve made between Sunbather and New Bermuda and Ordinary Corrupt Human Love and Infinite Granite, what are some of the reasons that made you want to change sounds, or that resulted in those changes in sound?

Kerry: Yeah, honestly, it’s a mixture of… I do feel like every record is a reaction. It’s a combination of each record being a reaction to the one before it. Because inevitably when you write a record and then you tour it and you play a bunch of songs from the records, or as with Sunbather and Roads to Judah and New Bermuda, we would just play the record in full, because we didn’t have that much of a catalog back then.

When you play those songs over and over again, you start to… Certain things pop out to me like, “Oh, this would be cool if this was more this way, or if we had done this.” So, while you have the Slayers of the world or the AC/DCs as you mentioned, or whatever, where it’s like, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is our thing and this is what we like and that’s working.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve seen Slayer, I think seven times or something.

But for us it’s a mixture of that kind of a thing, of reacting to what’s come before, and playing those songs for a couple of years. Then also, where we at musically and personality-wise in that moment. So, each record winds up being its own little time capsule of, “This is who we were at that time.”

I remember when we had written Ordinary, we had a joke in the band of if people didn’t like it… The joke in the band was like, this is everything that we all like, combined into one record. So, “If you don’t like this, you’re kind of saying you don’t like me. Okay?” So it’s kind of like that.

But yeah, that’s a great question, that’s kind of the feeling behind it. Then I would also throw a tiny aside to say that it’s also… A lot of our favorite bands have continued to evolve and push themselves and try and not stay stagnant. That always inspired me. You achieve fame and success or whatever version of that we have. Obviously it’s not what Radiohead has or whatever, but it’s an inspiring thing to see that and not shy away from trying to challenge your listeners, and just assume that your audience is cultured enough to get what you’re trying to do.


E&D: Yeah. You’ve got many influences, and you never hide from influences you have in music. Of course, people do get stuck very much on, “I can hear this bit in this record,” and you had all the stuff with Sunbather with the metal community and the strict rules about how you write a metal song of this specific genre. But people are quite happy to accept, “Oh look, this person’s one of 5 million people who’s released an album of verse, chorus, verse with middle eight.” Why do people accept these broad rules, but then within the rules, they get so fucking picky.

Kerry: My theory on that, is when it comes to your average pop rock stuff, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, et cetera, chorus, I think… This is a broad generalization, and I don’t think this applies universally, but there’s a lot of bands in that world that there’s less of a subculture involved with it. Again, this is speaking very broadly about your surface-level major label kind of stuff. I think as you delve deeper into sub-genres and more underground cultures and stuff, these are things that a lot of people hold very dear to them. I would count myself among that, as someone who grew up listening to all types of music and alternative music and all these cultures where it becomes a thing of where this is who you are in a weird way.

To some people, I think, this is part of the Sunbather thing, and then that’s dissipated over the years. Because I think people… The culture’s grown since then, but I think because of that, people are much more vigilant and it’s almost a reverse compliment, in a way. For us, when we put something in there that’s like a wink at an influence or something. We view it as having a dialogue with God Speed You! Black Emperor or Oasis or Radiohead or whatever.

I think sometimes the subtlety of that can be lost upon people who have placed so much value and care and time into this sub-genre and be like, “Well, I didn’t come here for… I’m coming here for originality and I’m looking for a certain thing. So, when I hear this thing that reminds me of this, what the hell’s going on? Are you just phoning this in? I’ve been a fan for this long. Come on, man.” I think that’s my theory on it. I couldn’t tell you though, honestly.

E&D: Obviously you’ve thought about it though.

Kerry: Yeah, yeah.

E&D: I’ve got a theory about songs that most bands can, like 99% of bands can come up with a good start to a song, but about 10% of bands can come up with a good ending. How much time do you spend on how to finish a song, compared to how to get it going?

Kerry: Wow, that’s another great question. It’s weird. These days, it’s all about the same. It’s like you just know it when you hear it. I’ll have a riff or Shiv will have a riff or Chris will have a riff or Dan will have a drumbeat or whatever it’ll be, and it’ll tick this part of my brain, and I think everybody’s brain, and you’ll instantly be like, “That’s good. That should be in a song.” Then that it turns into a thing of, “That’s cool, and now how are we going to color that?” Then it turns into, “Is it distorted? Is it psychedelic? Is it going to be dreamy? Is it going to be this? What are we going to do with it?”

When we come to that scenario and you’ve got a bunch of chunks of those things together and you’re deciding of how to color them, you then get into dynamics and, “How is the flow? How is the energy level of the song going to be and what are we going to do with it?” Then, after about four or five times of moving everything around and changing everything around, and everyone’s arguing over it and blah, blah, you arrive at this… The blob sort of starts to become less fuzzy and you just see, “Oh, it’ll do this, and this order is the way for maximum impact,” if you’re going for maximum impact. Then it sort of just arrives in that way and before it’s just shaped itself. It was a very esoteric answer, but that’s what I got for you.

E&D: I do want to ask you about your cats. What do cats for you?

Kerry: I’ve been a cat person my whole life. When I was four years old, my parents got a cat named Arlo that I had, and he lived to be 17, something like that. He died when I was 21. Then, I don’t know, I feel like with Carrot and Pepper, those are my current cats. I got them with my ex-girlfriend from, geez, almost eight years ago now. It’s their world, we’re just living in it. When they want affection, it’s on their time and their terms, and there’s no bullshit there. It’s just like, “Hey, what are you going to do for me today?” I don’t know, there’s something soothing about that, that there’s, in a world full of bullshit, there’s none to be had from the feline species.

E&D: Oh, that’s so true. We’ve got three, well one of them died recently.

Kerry: Oh, man.

E&D: There was really one question I wanted to ask. I asked George this question back when you played here in Melbourne with Sunbather – I’ll tell you what he said after, but if you were an animal yourself, what would you want to be?

Kerry: This is stereotypical, but I’ve got to say I guess some type of predatory bird, let’s say an eagle of some sort. I feel like the gift of flight, the gift of flight alone is… Although I guess to birds, you’re probably, it’s just about as boring as walking to the store for us. But it seems like the first couple hours of that would probably be pretty sick.

E&D: For sure. You must try and see one of our wedge-tailed eagles in Australia. They’re pretty amazing. They’re huge. But yeah, look, that’s a very metal answer, that one. I’m just letting you know, that’s…

Kerry: Right. (laughs)

E&D: Yeah. So, when I asked George, he was very excited about this. He said, “I want to be a hippo, because no one messes with those mother-fuckers. That’s…”

Kerry: That’s so good. That sounds like a post-show, semi-drunk George answer, back in the day.

E&D: It was actually, it was pre-show, but it was a really fun interview.

Kerry: Still semi-drunk.

E&D: It was fucking funny. Then you came out and you just played this blinder. It was so good.

Kerry: Nice.

E&D: Yeah, I actually cried a lot on the way home that night. That was a really moving experience seeing your set.

Kerry: I love that.

E&D: I’m very thankful for your time, really appreciate it.

Kerry: Yeah, have a good one.

Deafheaven tour dates and tix Australia, New Zealand:


Photo: Robin Laananen 

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