Kerry McCoy was tired and nervous when he arrived in Austin, Texas. It was mid-morning, and McCoy and his fellow bandmates in the San Francisco rock act Deafheaven had just spent 10 long hours making the overnight drive from a show in Las Cruces, New Mexico to Austin for South by Southwest, one of the country's biggest music festivals.
Now the band had to get on stage at a SXSW showcase and play for an audience that included music industry reps. It was expected to be one of the most important performances in Deafheaven's short history.
"We were worried about how (the drive) affected us, (but) we just nailed it," said McCoy, 23, Deafheaven's guitarist. "Once we got on stage, we're playing with emotion right now, and the sound was so good... We know how to do this; let's do it."
"Afterwards there was a bunch of industry people talking to us and people taking pictures, so it went really good," McCoy added.
That South by Southwest experience reflects the band's story since it formed last year. When Deafheaven just focuses on making music, good things happen. The band recorded a demo in April 2010 and played its first show that July. Since then it's been referenced in theinfluential British publication NME; it's received praise from bloggers in the metal scene; and it's been signed by the indie label Deathwish.
The label is set to release Deafheaven's debut album, Roads to Judah, on April 26, 2011.
"I had no expectations of going to South by Southwest, or being on Deathwish," McCoy said. "We were just like, (the demo) sounds cool, let's send it to some blogs and see what happens."
Online critics took notice of the band's combination of raging metal vocals, rock melodies and the drawn-out guitar drone of shoegaze. "Violet," the 12-minute long opening track on Roads to Judah, starts with a calm, wandering guitar line that later explodes into a pummeling of thunderous drums. "Tunnel of Trees," meanwhile, emerges from a squelch of feedback into a sonic wall built with more tumultuous drumwork and a ripping metal growl.
There's an aggressive sense of longing in that growl that helps create a sadness in the band's sound, which McCoy describes as "violently depressing.
"The whole nature of the album, the stuff I write in general is usually pretty emotional and pretty sad," McCoy said. "I like that wall of sound to be sad, it triggers something emotional in you."
"A lot of us have been asked if we consciously put this (sound) together," he added. "You really just get together, you have riffs, and what comes out, comes out."
McCoy was looking for that type of artistic experience when he and vocalist George Clarke created Deafheaven last year. The two had previously been in a grindcore band in Modesto, but found the restrictions of the genre too limiting creatively. To round out the band's lineup McCoy and Clarke signed up bassist Derek Prine and guitarist Nick Bassett, who had been with the shoegaze band Whirl. Drummer Trevor Deschryver joined the band after connecting with McCoy through an ad on Craigslist.
The combination quickly generated results; McCoy said Deafheaven had written about half of Roads to Judah before signing with Deathwish in December.
The band is now planning to go on the road to support the album, and a full U.S. tour is scheduled for June, McCoy said.
"For the next year, I want to be home as little as possible, and on the road touring as much as possible," he said. "There is so much momentum behind the band," McCoy added, "it feels almost like it was meant to happen."