This heavy metal performance has Modesto rockers Deafheaven up for a Grammy Award
About four years back, Brian McCoy was at the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, Tenn., when he noticed a kid of maybe 18 in a Deafheaven T-shirt. It was the first time the Modesto resident and veteran music journalist had seen anyone wearing clothing in support of the black-metal band, which formed in 2010 in San Francisco.
McCoy approached and asked the teen the obvious: Was he a fan? The boy proceeded to go “on and on about this band, like I probably would have done about Bob Dylan if you’d asked me back in 1978.”
McCoy then told the festivalgoer that Deafheaven is his son’s group. “He thinks I’m full of it,” the Stockton Unified School District grant writer recalled in a phone interview Monday. “I ask him, ‘Would you like to talk with Kerry?’ so I get him on the phone.”
Connecting a fan with a rock hero who happens to be his son is one of countless proud-dad moments McCoy has experienced as he’s watched Kerry, 31, and his longtime friend and musical collaborator George Clarke, 30, pursue their passion. The latest is seeing the old Grace M. Davis High classmates in the running for the music industry’s biggest honor: a Grammy Award.
Deafheaven is up for best metal performance for “Honeycomb,” a nearly 12-minute track from its fourth album, “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love,” which came out in July. Of the nomination, and attending the 61st awards Sunday at the Staples Center, Kerry McCoy said by phone from L.A. on Tuesday, “It’s something we’re trying not to overly think about, but it’s also kind of impossible not to. We’re taking it a step at a time.
“It’s weird how quickly you get used to these things. When we got the call (in December when the nominations were announced), we were blown away.” But now, he and his bandmates have allowed themselves to think, “We actually have a chance at winning,” McCoy said.
“We’re just trying to stay grateful for what we’ve got and recognize that we’re in a privileged position.”
That position includes being honored as Spin magazine’s 2015 band of the year. Deafheaven also has been written about by Billboard, The Guardian, Stereogum and other publications. The five-piece group has rocked the world, including Russia, China and Singapore, and later this month will tour Australia and New Zealand.
First, though, the Grammys. Clarke told Billboard that in a category that needed to be shaken up, Deafheaven is happy to find itself in the company of “younger, heavier artists.” The four bands it’s up against are Between the Buried and Me, High on Fire, Trivium and Underoath. Compare those monikers to Metallica, which is a household name among rock fans and has won the metal category six times since 1990. And remember that Metallica (and AC/DC) once lost out to folk rockers Jethro Tull, hardly an act many think of as metal.
Of the current five metal performance nominees, Kerry McCoy noted to Billboard that Deafheaven has been around the least number of years. He and Clarke became friends when both attended Davis High in Modesto in the aughts. Guitarist and songwriter McCoy’s first high school band was The Confused. Clarke’s was Fear and Faith Alike. The friends joined forces in Rise of Caligula, which produced an EP in 2008 and a full-length album in 2009.
Modesto metal fans may recall seeing Caligula play locally, as Brian McCoy did when he cut out of the Gallo Center for the Arts during intermission of a Modesto Symphony Orchestra concert to catch his son’s gig at the now-defunct Modesto Virtual on 10th Street.
Last summer, Kerry McCoy and Clarke both talked with Stereogum about being misfit teens in Modesto. McCoy called it “normal,” but added that the normality included an intolerance for punk youth like him.
Still, he told The Bee, Modesto was a good training ground for a teen musician. “In the early 2000s, it had this blossoming punk scene — there were a lot of really, really awesome bands from there or that would play there.” He has fond memories of his dad, a longtime writer and editor with The Record in Stockton, taking him and George and other friends to concerts at the Seifert Community Center there, and to venues in Modesto, to see acts like AFI.
That exposure absolutely guided him to incorporate melody and hooks into his guitar playing, McCoy said. “My core strength as songwriter and my background in the Central Valley has informed the concrete level of my playing and sensibility ... and my dad’s influence can’t be overstated.”
Clarke said in the Billboard piece, “When you’re living in the Central Valley and you’re into ‘alternative’ things, it forces you further into the hole you’re digging for yourself.” To which McCoy added, “You’re already a loser with acne, and now you’re painting your nails for a Misfits show.”
And to go from being that kid to being the rocker kids are going to see, and now to be nominated for a Grammy, is “mind-blowing,” as Brian McCoy said his son put it. Of the Deafheaven members, at least Clarke and McCoy are taking their moms — Bridget Young and Martha Rodolfo, respectively — to the awards show. The experience will include the nominees reception Saturday and the red-carpet walk into Sunday’s main event.
Alas, with 84 categories plus special awards, the Grammy broadcast that evening won’t include the best metal performance statue, which will be presented at a ceremony earlier in the day.
What does the nomination — and, fingers crossed, win — for Deafheaven mean? Hard to predict, McCoy said, but at the very least, “when we are negotiating our next record contract, it definitely should bump the price up.”
Because Deafheaven formed after McCoy and Clarke moved to San Francisco, the group has not played Modesto. It came close to happening sometime last year, McCoy said, not recalling why it didn’t. “I’m not the guy in charge of booking,” he explained.
He said he expects that one day, he and Clarke will do a homecoming show with the band. “We played Sacramento in August and Fresno in November,” he said, “and for both those places you scale down. ... We grew up going to punk shows in Modesto. We can play a Coachella stage or a room of 200.”