Whatever it is, make it loud for Deafheaven

San Francisco black metal-meets-post rock group Deafheaven became a buzz band of metal after the release of Sunbather last year, a dense record with an atmosphere of detachment throughout. While thematic records and bringing out the piano for segue tracks isn't all that innovative for metal bands, with careful songwriting they seem to effortlessly go from shredding with the best of 'em to swelling climaxes as euphoric as Explosions in the Sky.

It's an approach that has gotten the attention from more than the typical headbanging crowd.

Their latest single “From the Kettle Onto the Coil” is about as straight-up metal as these guys get, singer George Clarke saying it came from a sense of excitement that the current lineup would be recording together for the first time.

“We went through rough times with members, but these guys have been so good. They’re excellent players, we have an idea of what our goals are, and we all get along really well, which is the most important thing. We’re all really good friends," says George.

“That song came together really quick. It was mostly used to just have fun recording together.”

On Sunbather Clarke's voice has a distant quality to it, but on this single it's front-and-centre. He says it's because he's more comfortable than ever with his voice.

“I’ve always pushed myself to see how strong my voice is. When you take a year between recordings and all you’ve been doing is using that muscle for months on end it comes naturally. It’s a matter of control,” he says.

"I kind of have it easy, but Dan [Tracy] our drummer he has to always keep himself in shape. A 30-day tour can start to stress your body out, and we’ve been pushing 50-60 dates.”

They’ve spent most of the year touring, as the band becomes more than just George and guitarist Kerry McCoy. Bassist Stephen Clark and guitarist Shiv Mehra have now been in the band for over a year, George saying everyone's taking part in shaping the band's heaviness.

“You never really know until there is a big piece there to look at," says George of new material. "But we’re all on the same page. It’ll be cool. It’ll definitely be different, and I want it to be different. I think it will sound like Deafheaven but it will sound bigger.”

Without staying within genre lines, George says there are two elements needed for an idea to make it into a Deafheaven song.

“It has to sound good. I think everyone in my band has a good taste in music, or I at least trust their taste in music" he says. "Secondly, it has to transition well. When you are attempting to flow between different genres the main thing you should be concerned with in songwriting is transitions, because otherwise a 15-minute song will feel like a 15-minute song.”

“We’re pretty open-minded to new ideas and new experiments,” he says.

The band looks to black metal when it comes to threading together their lengthy material.

“Bands like Weakling, Agalloch, Burzum, or Coldworld, there’s a million of these black metal bands that do long songs well. They do it because they transition well and the material’s there. And I really like the hypnotic element. I think you can get lost in a song. My first attraction the the atmospheric side is that trance, [where] all of a sudden a 13-minute song’s done."

It's the combination of that influence and Kerry's love of Godspeed post rock which leads to the foundation of their sound. It's also lead to tours with acts as varied as Between the Buried and Me and Chelsea Wolfe.

“A loud show, that’s what I look for, whether they’re on the indie side or the metal side,” says George. “I like that power.”

Deafheaven play Bar le “Ritz” PDB September 20 with No Joy and Indian Handcrafts.

Passovah Summer Fest preview: Smokes

Smokes are in the process of expanding, but this time they're looking to steer clear of 11-member jam bands.

Their sweat-inducing rock is rounded off with a little melodrama and a love of syncopation. Starting off as a guitar / violin duo three years ago, the band will play their first show as a four-piece tomorrow at the Piccolo Rialto as part of the Passovah Summer Fest.

Singer/guitarist Nick Maas and violinist Patrick Cruvellier moved to Montreal to study at McGill, but stayed for the music. They were first in a “crazy weird prog fusion band” called Bananafish, working together musically – and becoming roommates – since then.

“We needed to figure out what kind of band we wanted to make. We knew we wanted to play some rock and roll," Nick says. “I hadn’t sung in six years playing in bands, and I felt that I had a lot to say.”

Patrick started playing violin at age 6, but decided to move away from studying sheet music when moving to Montreal.

“I definitely have a passion for it, though I think I never fully connected with classical music," says Patrick, who played for years in orchestras and string groups. “I got kind of burnt out on it and realized I’d rather be playing music with my friends.”

They started playing with drummer Jeremy MacCuish two years ago, the two working on what would eventually become Smokes for a year before that.

MacCuish played drums in Parlovr, who signed to Dine Alone Records before going on hiatus last year.They met Parlovr singer/guitarist Louis David Jackson at a call centre (that happened to employ several musicians that they would eventually share the stage with) soon after leaving McGill.

They started rehearsing at the Torn Curtain, the practice space also used at the time by Parlovr.

“They were a huge influence for me, a really awesome band in Montreal at the time. We got to hear a lot of them, and we thought, man we’ve got to get him in our band,” Nick jokes.

Now adding Andrew Miller from The This Many Boyfriends Club on bass, they get to expand things a little more, and finally have someone to take care of the low end.

“It frees us up in some ways, now I don’t need to play power chords," says Nick.

“There are some great things about being a trio, it forces you to try different things," adds Patrick, "but there was a certain point that we realized a lot of what we want to be doing is playing high energy rock music. We realized sometimes we were dumbing down ideas just to fill out the frequency range.”

The band released the Unlucky EP last November with Dan Lagacé behind the board at Breakglass Studios and recorded it all live off the floor.

"[Lagacé] pushed us to do something we wouldn’t have done if it was just the three of us going into a studio," says Nick.

Now they’re working on a full-length with the opposite approach, doing the writing and recording over several months, at the Rosemont studio where Les Breastfeedersrecord their stuff, engineered and mixed by Marshall Vaillancourt (who plays in Archery Guildand No Aloha) and Miguel Marcil-Pitre.

They intend to release two songs this fall, with plans to release the album next summer.

As they grow their sound, they're trying to be ever-more concise. While Nick grew up in Milwaukee listening to jam bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish (hence Bananafish), he's now less about self-indulgence and more about structure.

“I used to have an instinctive backlash to short, poppy songs but I kind of grew out of that. Living here in Montreal there’s so much variety that I just decided to go to shows all the time, and as see much local music as I can," says Nick.

“[With] a lot of musical friends, some are making rock music, but it’s not the predominant [genre]. People are so supportive and it’s nice to get that cross-pollination."

Patrick also plays with the guys in Saxsyndrum (who both used to be in Bananafish), and also plays with Ohara, (who’s also playing the Piccolo Rialto tomorrow) and Year of Glad.

He's “the high-demand violinist, no one cares about guitar players,” jokes Nick.

“It’s not about the genre necessarily, we just hang out and go see each other’s shows. In a community where loud rock music isn’t really the focus it’s awesome to see people that are super supportive. If you’re passionate about it, it doesn’t really matter.”

Smokes play the Passovah Summer Fest with Frog Eyes, PS I Love You, Nanimal, CTZNSHP, Cat Pontoon, James Irwin and Ohara August 21 at the Piccolo Rialto.

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Kuato taps into the East Coast's dark history with 'The Great Upheaval'

When Halifax doomey post rock five-piece Kuato were looking for inspiration for their debut LP, it only made sense to draw from their surroundings.

“We’re a dark band, and this is super dark history, it’s something that’s around us all the time. It’s in the soil, it’s in the air, it’s just part of the energy [here],” says drummer Josh Pothier, who grew up going to Acadian schools in Nova Scotia.

The band’s first LP The Great Upheaval revolves around the history of Acadia, a former French colony that would eventually become Canada’s East Coast and parts of Quebec.

The record gets its name from the expulsion of Acadians from the region, ordered by the British in the middle of the 18th century.

“There are tons of weird, creepy, dark stories that I grew up with [...] we might as well draw from the darkest thing to ever happen in this region,” says Josh. “A lot of art dealing with this does it in a very folkloric manner, which is fine, [but] we saw an opportunity to do our own thing."

The Great Upheaval is the band’s first physical release outside of short runs of CDs sold at local shows in the Maritimes. They started writing back in 2011, but lineup changes delayed the material that would eventually make it on the LP.

Josh and guitarist Adam Toth have been playing together since 2009, with guitarists and bassists joining for months at a time in different iterations of Kuato.

“I like to think we’re sort of a cautious band. The first thing we did was write a 30-minute song, and I think we played it at a show or two, then scrapped it and wrote all-new material,” says Josh. “That’s sort of the motif of the band: go out and do some stuff, and then go back into hiding and emerge with something else.”

The only song on The Great Upheaval with lineage before the current roster is “Black Horizon,” the band opting to write new material instead of teaching old songs to the new guys. Josh’s playing drives things forward, often at a deliberate, swampy pace, but it’s the three guitars that fill in all the colour, their six-string fingerprints defining the moody post rock.

Being able to work with different players, even for a few months, helped shape what Kuato is – a band that relies heavily on listening to the live moment to determine what comes next. Now the lineup is filled out with guitarists Mike D’Eon and Darryl Smith and bassist Stephen MacDonald, with the writing now more collaborative than ever.

For five days they lived at the studio/venue Confidence Lodge in Riverport, Nova Scotia tracking the record live off the floor. Making a full-length record in five days might sound rushed, but it was a luxury for a band more used to banging out EPs in a matter of hours in Halifax’s Echo Chamber studio.

The sense of urgency, to get to the heavy stuff right away, has been replaced by a little more patience.

“When it came to the writing, we got a lot more interested in the space between the songs,” Josh says. “When we first started the band we were so excited playing together we were always getting to the heavy stuff as fast as we could.”

Not quite a concept record about the Acadian history, The Great Upheaval is more a product of its environment, inviting listeners to revel in its intertwining guitar work and doomey pace, to seek out the stories of a displaced people only if they want to.

“We didn’t want it to be forced, and we didn’t want to alienate anybody,” says Josh, adding that at first the band was thinking of adding voiceovers and traditional arrangements to represent the Acadian oral history.

“We wanted to make something you can learn about if you choose to go deeper but you didn’t need to know about to enjoy. I feel it’s a pretty fine line […] we wanted people to be able to draw their own conclusions from the art.”

Kuato plays Drones Club Saturday, August 9 with Zaum, The Great Sabatini and Special Noise.

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