Deafheaven drummer Dan Tracy speaks freely about his group’s new album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, which is slated to be released by ANTI- on July 13.
The album comes three years after the San Francisco band’s last project, New Bermuda.
“The new project, OCHL, is definitely a departure from New Bermuda sonically and structurally,” Tracy explains over the phone. “I would say it is a little more of a return to form as far as (the second album) Sunbather’s structure in that there’s interludes, there’s variation in the track lengths, and we kind of just pulled out all the stops and went all out on this record.”
The group – which also includes vocalist George Clarke, guitarists Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra, and new bassist Chris Johnson – made its debut with 2011’s Roads to Judah, but broke through with 2013’s Sunbather, both projects that eschewed black metal norms.
Taking an atmospheric approach to the genre, Deafheaven mixes black metal’s rudimentary elements – high, shrieking vocals and blastbeat drumming – with shoegaze and post-rock.
New Bermuda switched things up, stripping back the interludes and many shoegaze elements, replacing them with an angrier edge. It served as an outlet for the group’s frustrations, which include an intense touring cycle and a shorter deadline to craft the album. Though not a misstep – it appeared on numerous critics’ best-of-2015 lists – it made for a heavier, shorter and arguably more direct listen.
“I think that during New Bermuda we were kind of coming off of a really intense tour cycle and we were kind of touring the world in a way that maybe humans shouldn’t, pushing ourselves in ways that we maybe shouldn’t have,” Tracy says. “We were in kind of a dark headspace during that writing period simply because we were tired and we were a little strained as far as our scheduling. So, we kind of had to crank it out, so to speak. And, those guys spent a limited amount of time in the Bay writing with us. So, it was kind of a hectic period for us.
“But this time around it’s completely different in that we had all the time in the world. We could sit down and basically discuss what we wanted to fulfill with the record and basically just, like I said earlier, pull out all the stops and go all out and do everything that we wanted to achieve with New Bermuda but couldn’t.”
Tracy describes the resulting sound as more positive, hopeful and emotional. This is apparent on lead single “Honeycomb,” which arguably has one of the group’s most varied and diverse arrangements yet, balancing melodic instrumental passages with jarring, aggressive transitions. The second single, “Canary Yellow,” follows in a similar vein.
“We discussed how a lot of our past records have been very personal and a little introverted and self reflecting, and the idea with this one is definitely to look outwards and to try to basically just showcase everyone’s walk of life and just different outlooks on how we live our lives, and basically just get out of our little bubbles and see the world and describe it through songs,” Tracy says of the concept behind the album.
Among descriptors used by ANTI- in promoting the album are the additions of “layered psychedelic vocals,” “intricate piano melodies” and “jazz-inspired percussion.” Acknowledging these elements, Tracy says his contributions include experimenting with production techniques and adding percussion.
“I use a lot of shakers, a lot of tambourines, and I even throw some sleigh bells on a song,” Tracy details. “We have a track on the record where I do a triple drum take where I actually record the same drum part but on top of each other three times, so you have kind of a natural reverb that we can work with in the production booth, and kind of work with that and make it sound really cool.
“So basically just stuff like that where we took risks that we didn’t before, that we didn’t feel like we had the confidence to do before,” he adds.
Being progressive and experimenting with different compositions runs in Deafheaven’s blood, and mood and tempo shifts are frequent characteristics of the band’s often lengthy songs.
Due to its sound, which takes the ordinarily inaccessible sound of black metal, flips it and opens it up to outside listeners, Deafheaven has been controversial among some listeners but regarded as one of the leading forces in the recent wave of American black metal bands among others.
Like its sound, Deafheaven’s artwork often stands out among others in the genre, eschewing supposed metal norms. Whereas Sunbather had a bright, minimal, pink cover, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love juxtaposes a grainy, black and white image of a woman in a scarf with a multicolored font.
“We definitely tried to basically just ignore the fact that we need it to look like a metal album and just represent what we wanted to represent visually for the music and that was basically photography that encapsulates the city and what it’s like to live in the city and just different walks of life besides ours,” Tracy says.
The group will kick off its North American tour to support the project on July 11 at Crescent Ballroom. Friends of the band Drab Majesty and Uniform will provide support.
There’s “definitely going to be a little more multi-instrumental stuff going on stage and we are going to try to up our visual game for this tour,” Tracy hints. “So, can’t really reveal too much but we’re definitely going to try to have some surprises and some cool stuff going on.”
Deafheaven w/Drab Majesty and Uniform, Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. Second Avenue, Phoenix, 602.716.2222, crescentphx.com, 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 11, $18-$20.