“I didn’t want a graphic cover, I wanted fine art,” explains Deafheaven frontman George Clark. “I wanted a literal cover art, visceral but very sad and introspective.” Turned onto sculptural oil painter Allison Schulnik by Touché Amoré’s Nick Steinhardt, the end result proudly adorns the front of the band’s new album, ‘New Bermuda’. “We committed before we saw it. I saw this painting. It’s this man at a piano and when I was in this depressed state, I was always on my keyboard writing music, desperately trying to climb my way out of whatever I was feeling. I saw this painting, it was all greys and blues and black. That’s how I feel, that’s what I did, that’s what we need.” After conversations back and forth, “She sent us that back and it’s perfect. I love it. There’s so much,” he starts before gesturing. “She paints with such emotion. You can feel that scrawled into the canvas, I really love that about it and it just worked. That’s it,” he states before adding. “It’s totally not like ‘Sunbather’ either, which is maybe the best part.”
And that’s the thing about Deafheaven’s ‘New Bermuda’. It’s very aware of ‘Sunbather’s presence in the room, it’s hard to ignore a record that reached so far, but the band don’t give it so much as a second cursory glance throughout. There’s no shadow play here. “We’re a forward thinking band,” George offers from a corner of London’s Scala. Last time he was here was 2012, Deafheaven were supporting Russian Circles, and today “it’s good to be back headlining. It’s an odd feeling but a good one.” This weekend the band took in their first ever headline slot at a festival, courtesy of Bristol’s ArcTanGent, all of which provided a nice little distraction from the imminent release of their new album.
“This whole part is very stressful only because it’s all ramping up,” admits George. “I don’t know what anyone thinks of the record and I’m just in this limbo. I feel good about it though. I feel happy with what we accomplished and that’s all you can really do,” he offers. There are a few nerves but he “chosen to push them aside.” It’d the same trepidation felt by felt by the fans. “We didn’t want to write the second ‘Sunbather’,” he states. “That was a huge thing. There was a lot of internal pressure because, when people recognise a record and it gets all this attention, I think the natural way to be is to do keep doing what you’re doing. We didn’t want to do that. That idea seemed boring. There’s only so many big crescendo, uplifting parts you can play before it’s tired. That was the hardest part about writing ‘New Bermuda’. Keeping true to our sound and knowing that we like but taking in other influences and not doing the same thing twice.”
Simply put, they haven’t. For all the beauty and vibrancy that made ‘Sunbather’ such a surprising, engaging listen, ‘New Bermuda’ takes the band onto new, far reaching shores. “Even the vocals are stepped up from the past couple of releases,” George ventures. “I think they shine in a way they haven’t before. Everyone’s just got better at their instruments so there’s room for everyone to do their thing. There’s a greater sense of urgency and it’s much more concise to a point, which is something we consciously wanted to do. It’s a mixture of that idea and just knowing you’re doing something that you weren’t doing before.”
‘New Bermuda’ is about moving forward but the past few years still lay heavy on the band. Ascent has turbulence too. “It was weird,” preludes George as he looks back. “Before ‘Sunbather’ came out we were homeless. It was a hard few years and we started touring a lot, we toured all the time and we were playing a different city every day. It was such a fast pace and by the time we’d gotten home, the record had done better and we were financially on our feet so I moved to Los Angeles. I got the apartment, I got the girlfriend and we got a dog. It was everything I ever wanted, at least for the past five years. I wanted a normal life. I wanted some stability because I lacked that. That regret that comes with living this lifestyle. When you’re on tour for that long, you’re used to that lifestyle of everything going a hundred miles an hour then it immediately drops down to zero. You get home, you get back into a routine and I found myself really unhappy with that routine. I started thinking, what is it about me that makes it so I’m still unhappy? I started digging into that idea. This is everything I’ve ever wanted and I have it and I’m realising it’s not really what I want or it’s not what I thought it was going to be. That idea of false promise made me really bitter, unfortunately. That’s what the record has to deal with,” George explains.
“’Sunbather’ is a little more dreamy, a little more hopeful and reaching. ‘New Bermuda’ mostly deals with realities of day to day life and being an adult. It’s something id never been. I’ve never done adult things and now I’m paying bills, I have a TV. It’s all these normal things and it just ends up being, is this what I want? That’s where the inspiration for this record comes from. Los Angeles is my New Bermuda. It is a destination that you go to, to find the paradise way of living but before you get there, the ocean of reality pulls you under. You’re backhanded with adulthood, complacency and routine. It’s a record that’s about feeling trapped and uneasy in your own skin,” he continues. “Not knowing how to balance these two lives that are happening. It’s very Jekyll and Hyde.”
That sense of rage against the unease that’s threaded throughout ‘New Bermuda’ stems from a daily struggle for expression. “If I’m not being creative and I’m just sitting with my thoughts, I get depressed really easily and that’s what happened,” George states “I got in this huge slump. While we were experiencing these high highs, in my personal life I was experiencing all these lows and I was able to write about it, we recorded the album and now, I’m not so down on life. I also have this new thing to reflect on so I’ve been able to handle the balance a little bit better,” he offers. “But it took a while to get there.”
The dark whispers that lay below ‘New Bermuda’ are fraught with pain and while Deafheaven are consciously avoiding the well-worn path, some things are simply inescapable. “It was a focus early on to be very soul bearing,” starts George before someone interrupts and asks about entrance music for tonight’s show. The answer is a smirking “something heavy.” “If I’m going to spend so much time on this,” he continues without a pause.” If my life is going to be this band, then I have to give it my all. I have to really show what I’m about and that involves a certain amount of intimate revelation. You have to give yourself up and that’s very vulnerable at times. It’s scary because you’re inviting random listeners into these very personal moments of your life but in the same respect, its more rewarding that way. I really couldn’t do anything other than that. There’s the other side of it as well,” he admits, that balance ever-present. “I really don’t know if I could write about anything other than that. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
It’s an attitude that has taken the band this far and can be found nestled in the foundations of ‘New Bermuda’. From the eleven day recording process that saw the band commit the album straight to tape to the creative process that proceeded it, Deafheaven are a band that are ok with just feeling their way forward. “The main reason the songs are so long is because we don’t want it to end,” offers George. “It’s not really about shutting off normally it’s more an issue of continuing on. We’ll have something and decide to play it twice because that’ll build momentum but I think we all have an idea of when to cut off. When you’re all in a room playing and then one person just stops, then its good. It’s a feeling. Though it’s moved from me and Kerry [McCoy, guitar] in a room with an acoustic guitar, it’s still very organic and flowing. It’s not stiff whatsoever, which is great.”
“Writing a record is stressful but we had a good personnel,” George says of the now cemented five-piece that crafted ‘New Bermuda’, as opposed to the core duo of Kerry and himself that bore ‘Sunbather’. “We were just pushing each other forward. There was no real head butting. Aside from being a band, we’re friends and it’s hard to fight with your good friends.”
With that shared experience of tour bonding them together, ‘New Bermuda’ basks in that connection. Beyond the chemistry of the creation, the album winks at a journey shared. “When we were touring ‘Sunbather’ and travelling the world, we would take film recordings of things. As an homage to the last couple of years of our lives, we threw those in. The bells on ‘Brought To The Water’ are from a church in Amsterdam. At the end of ‘Baby Blue’ there’s rain from a thunderstorm in Malaysia. There’s an automated train voice from New York. It’s just stuff like that. We hear something cool and we record it. Because the record deals with a lot of the feelings from the past couple of years, it mixes in well with that. It sounded heavy and it made sense with the song. There’s that other side of it too, where it just sounds cool and you cant lose grasp of that. There is a deeper meaning and you can get into all of this but a good riff is a good riff and a cool bell sample, is a cool bell sample,” George balances.
“One thing that was surprising early on was people connecting to us and realising the things I’m talking about are universal. People shared the same feelings and that made me feel more comfortable. The words themselves really connected and in that sense, I felt this sense of togetherness,” reasons George. “We do that with the live show as well, we like there to be a sense of we’re all in this together. It’s very communal and it really just heightens the experience.”
Away from the physical environment of shared music, ‘New Bermuda’ offers a world of connection that adds to the experience. “Every piece is there to make sense,” George implores. “There’s nothing shallow to it. Every part of the release is meaningful and I invite people to look into the lyrics, look into the cover art. If you already like the record, that will give you a greater understanding of it and a greater understanding is all we can really ask for.”
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