Written by Jeremy D. Larson / Photography by Kristen Cofer
Earlier this year, black metal aesthetes Deafheaven jumped on a tour with two of the biggest names in metal: thrash gods Anthrax and blackened titans Lamb of God. Frontman George Clarke talked with writer Jeremy Larson about what he and the rest of Deafheaven learned while touring with these heavyweights, and in anticipation of Deafheaven's appearance at this year's Coachella festival, here is their discussion edited and condensed for clarity. —Larry Fitzmaurice, Executive Editor
So how was the tour?
I had an almost surprisingly good time. Typically, Deafheaven does just headlining tours. We've found it hard to play with larger metal bands because we're either too this or too that, so when we got the opportunity to do this tour I figured, "Why not?" I heard that [Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe] really enjoyed our record and put himself out there to ask us to do it. That was very flattering, so we agreed. It was pretty intimidating at first, though. All these guys know each other, and we're the new jacks. You're dealing with a large crew and a lot of professionals. No one cares about you or knows who you are. [Laughs] But all the bands were really nice. The guys in Anthrax were warm and welcoming, and so were Lamb of God. Everyone went out of their way to hang out and make sure that we were comfortable—even when they didn't need to.
The crowds were more challenging. They're not our audience, per se, so we really have to win them over. Initially, it was pretty difficult. We have a certain style that just wasn't translating. I learned that very quickly when the audience would scream at us. [Laughs] I talked with Randy and he was like, "You gotta put yourself out there and be as interactive as possible. These people are here to have a good time—for some of them, it's their only concert of the year—so you have to indulge them." So I started engaging the audience a lot more and "breaking character" to be like a normal person, and it worked really well. After that, we held our own.
Was it hard becoming more of a crowd-interactive band?
Yeah, I had to embrace some things which I admittedly felt kinda silly about at first but grew comfortable doing—lots of fist pumps and calling people "motherfucker." [Laughs] That's the biggest thing I learned from this tour: people really like getting called a motherfucker. I shouted out the other bands a lot, too—people love that. If I could see that the audience was completely uninterested, all I'd have to do is yell, "Who's up for Anthrax?" And we'd immediately win them back. When we finished the tour in LA, all of our friends and family came out, and afterwards they were laughing and saying, "That is nothing I've seen you guys do before."
Did you struggle to fill out a bigger stage than usual?
No, actually, quite the opposite. We were incredibly restricted for the most part, because Lamb of God had a really large LED screen setup, CO2 tanks everywhere, and a massive drum set—and Anthrax were set up in front of them with a huge drum set and props. By the time we set up, we were pushed almost completely to the front of the stage. Most nights, there was a little bit of room for me to tiptoe in front of the drum set to get to the other side of the stage, but it was challenging because space was more limited than usual. You have to work harder because you can't move around so much.
Did you find a new appreciation for these bands you toured with?
Anthrax and Lamb of God both have incredible energy. You wouldn't think that they'd been doing this for thirty years. They really mean it—there's so much sincerity and integrity. Everyone's working from sun up till sun down. They're truly passionate about metal and its culture, and they're all very positive people. Everyone was in the zone, loving what they do and appreciating it every day. Above anything else, I learned that you can be a lifer in this world and it can totally work out for you. Certain nights, there were so many people in the audience, and I was like, "Wow, this really means something to someone, and that's cool."
Do you hope to be a lifer too?
It's hard to say where we'll be in 20 years—I can't even tell you where we'll be in five. I'm absolutely not afraid of continuing to garner new fans and play larger venues than we've played before, though. That's exciting and it gives the audience more opportunities to see a fantastic show. When you have that kind of funding behind you, you can create something that's really spectacular. If we were still playing the clubs that we're playing now, that would be great, too—but I would not be opposed to being at a bigger level, either. It's a level that's a lot crazier than the stuff we do.
Was there a show from this tour that was particularly memorable?
The first night of the tour was Pittsburgh. We didn't know what the audience was gonna be like, and I had heard that it was a tough crowd, so I went out there with a little apprehension, and people could tell that I was nervous. I've never been called a pussy so many times in my life. Some guy got right in front of me and yelled, "Get off the stage, you fucking frat boy pussy." I was like, "Damn, frat boy? I don't look like that, do I?" I was a little shaken up afterwards, like, "Damn, I really hope it's not like this every night." But it wasn't.