CEREBROS will be a running feature on Steel for Brains allowing for musicians and writers to further expound on their own creative processes in a more narrative and introspective way. I’m deeply honored to say that the first guest writer in this series is Deafheaven vocalist, George Clarke. Here, George expounds upon his own consciousness in creating the songs. Sunbather will be released late spring on Deathwish, Inc.
"The writing process for me is always a strange one. I write in very sporadic bursts, am unable to write while we are on the road, am unable to when feeling positive, and am unable to when not in isolation. Often times, I’ll be drinking by myself and fall into some nostalgic depression that morphs into self analyzation and over thinking. Because of this, no song is about one thing and the lyrics are often written in multiple time periods, then pieced together thereafter to form an overall theme. It’s strange that I’m writing this because I usually don’t explain any of these things, but I’m happy to have the opportunity.
With that being said, the lyrics for Sunbather started in 2011 and continued up until a few days before our recording.
The opening track ‘Dream House’ was written in Los Angeles and in San Francisco. Over the past few years, I’ve had a sort of romantic detachment from my relationships. Not that they weren’t valued, I’ve just always held onto the idea of my past romances from when I was younger. They were unique and I feel like adult relationships have often lacked the insanity that I always enjoyed about being overly enthralled with someone and emotionally unbalanced. Worse yet, I enjoyed the pain of their ending. In my adult life, I’ve been jaded toward relationships and continuously force myself to not be content with anyone because it lacks those characteristics of relationships prior. So, instead of adjusting reasonably, my personality instead offers very little to others. In not responding correctly to adult emotion, I become an emotional hermit, unable to tell if it’s them I’m protecting or myself. I want to give myself, but have uncertainty in doing so.
The song deals with me lying on a friend’s living room floor contemplating these thoughts. The idea of “slipping on gloves to lay tenderly” or placing something in between me and another person I’m laying with in order to protect us both. I realized in this contemplation that instead of handling the defects of my personality, my answer is often escapism. The idea of this reminded me of a conversation I had with a girl one night that she had initiated while being too drunk:
- “Is it blissful?”
“It’s like a dream.”
- “I want to dream.”
The idea for the third song ‘Sunbather’ comes from an experience I had one morning while driving around. At this point, I had left San Francisco and moved to San Luis Obispo to live with my mother. Life had become very chaotic and I felt like moving somewhere quieter and going to school was the change that I needed. Each morning, I would borrow her car and drive to school. However, on occasion, I would skip class and drive around through the wealthier parts of town to look at three story mansions that rested on spacious pieces of property throughout the hills. I’ve always enjoyed doing this. I have always had an obsession with wealth. Anger for it, yet longing for it. It is a theme that is presented throughout the record.
While doing this, I saw a girl lying on her front lawn behind a gate and basically, I parked across the street to watch her. There was nothing sexual or deviant about it. I admired her life. How easy and relaxing it looked. How she probably had everything in order in the most careless way. I sat there and wrote half of what’s presented in the song.
The other half of the song is a juxtaposition of that day that was written following a one night stand in a really dingy apartment somewhere in California. I looked around at empty bottles of alcohol and drugs on a bedside table and became terribly depressed. I rolled over, texted out the entire passage on my phone, and fell asleep thinking about the girl on the lawn. How that life seemed so unattainable, but that I still dreamed for it. And that dream gave me hope. “It’s 5 AM…and my heart flourishes at each passing moment. Always and forever.”
To get a full idea of how I’ve lived for the past couple years, you would need to see my apartment. Our guitar player, Kerry, and I live in a living room together in a house that is occupied with three other people. He sleeps on a thin futon mattress with a sleeping bag for a blanket and a sheet that’s tacked up to form a tent in front of his bed. I sleep on a broken couch next to him. To afford our lifestyle of constant touring at the level we’re at, you more or less have to live this way in what is one of the most expensive cities in the US. Our house literally lacks almost every comfort.
Now, I’m not complaining about this. I am fully capable of controlling my life and know that if I really wanted to, I could move somewhere better, quit touring, work full time, and be more comfortable. I do, however, recognize how low class we are. Because of this, the theme of longing for wealth once again comes into play. Often times, when I’m walking down the street, I like looking into people’s windows. I don’t like looking at the people necessarily, but at their decorations. Large book shelves, paintings on the walls, flat screen TVs. I haven’t owned any of these things in years. When I walk home from work at night, I often do with a bottle of wine and take the long routes so that I can admire the nicer neighborhoods.
credit: Matthew Grant Anson
For the fifth track, ‘Vertigo’, I originally had named it ‘Windows’ because that’s what it was. Looking into high windows and admiring the lifestyles. Wondering what the people who lived there did for work. Wondering what their interests were, and ultimately, realizing that they had a completely different view of the city than I did. They didn’t deal with the same things I did. In a way, living in San Francisco has always seemed so harsh. But I know it’s harsh because of the decisions I’ve made. Not everyone here lives like I do. Most don’t. That pretty much sums up what the song is about. The self sacrifices you put yourself through to attain what’s most important to you. In my personal case, for now, I guess it’s this band. Truthfully, I don’t know how to feel about that sometimes. “Lost in the patterns of youth where the windows shine brightly back at you.”
The last track on the album is written about my father’s mother. When I was much younger, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and even when my father wasn’t present, always kept in touch with everyone and visited often. In 2009, my uncle, who was always my father’s best friend and whom I was closest to in my extended family, passed away from drug and alcohol reasons. Him, grandparents on both sides, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my father all have histories with substance abuse and diseases related to it. His death was poignant for us all. Some months after, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In the years since, it has become very severe to the point of not remembering my uncle’s death.
The song is partially about that. It’s about wanting her to be at rest. How I wish I could take everything away from her before her life becomes a confused, ghostly reality. I’ve always hoped that those I’m close to lose their lives before they lose their minds. The most guilt ridden part of this, and what this song also partially concerns, is that I have not been back to visit her since my uncle’s funeral. It is fear that prevents me from seeing how cold things have gotten there. Since his death and her perpetual memory loss, that portion of my life feels stagnant and sorrowful. And instead of showing love, I’ve shut myself out.
Ultimately, it’s a testament to selfishness. On one side, it is the will for my grandmother to not live on, but it is still a selfish will. On the other, it’s the fear of the entire situation. Again, escapism. Escapism is selfish because I have abandoned others who hurt. I named the song ‘The Pecan Tree’ because that’s the tree that we would all sit under during my trips to Mississippi to visit my grandparents and one that my grandmother cherished greatly.
Without overly deconstructing every line to every song on ‘Sunbather’, those are the subject matters for each new song that contains lyrics. I have always written in a way that I hope provides open interpretation, but essentially, this record and this band are purely personal and I have used both as a vessel for self analyzation and discovery.”
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