Profile: All the Boys of Khemmis


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Denver, Colorado harbingers of Doom, Khemmis, have recently released details about their upcoming sophomore LP. Hunted is set for released October 21, 2016 via 20 Buck Spin. The new album promises increased song-length, increased drama and a heaping helping of beauty. Recorded at Flatline Audio with Dave Otero (Cobalt, Nightbringer, Cephalic Carnage) and featuring artwork by Sam Turner (3 Inches Of Blood, Black Breath, TRVE Brewing) Hunted places Khemmis squarely at the helm of their own destiny. In advnace of the album we had a chance to chat with the whole crew.

How did you first get into playing music and have you achieved the level of success that you always hoped to achieve?

DAN: My mom sang in the church choir and my dad owned a bass  — he could play a little Skynyrd.  I played trumpet as a kid and always had a love for making music.  I really got into bass because I wanted to start a punk band with some co-workers and write songs about our gross boss.  As far as success; yes and then some.  I play in a band where I genuinely like my band mates; That’s the best type of success I could have asked for.

ZACH: I grew up with rock ’n ‘roll and always wanted to play drums. The folks finally caved when I was 14 or so, and I started taking lessons…just enough to get some basic chops. Learned Misfits tunes first and then some Carcass soon after (and haven’t really progressed much from there).

I had/have no thoughts about success. I just want to play in bands and make cool music because music is one of the only things that keeps me from jumping off a bridge, and I haven’t done that yet, so I’d say I’ve achieved success. 

BEN: I grew up with music around me all of the time. My father always played guitar, and he and my mom always had classic rock, bluegrass, and country playing in the house. His father was an absolutely stellar musician, who could play banjo and fiddle and who built a wide variety of musical instruments over the years – fiddles, banjos, mandolins, dulcimers, even a full-size harp. I don’t think anyone expected me to find/fall in love with the heavier styles of music, but my folks have always been incredibly supportive. I began learning on my father’s old Takamine acoustic, and once it was evident that I was hooked, they bought me my very first electric guitar and a small amplifier. Fast forward nearly 19 years, and they still support my seemingly illogical dedication to music that will never make anyone rich or famous. In fact, they both flew out to Colorado last year for the Absolution release show, which was incredible.

As for success, I get to play music with three of my best friends. That in itself is all I ever hoped to achieve; the fact that anyone else finds the music that we create compelling enough to listen to it, buy it, see it performed live, and even get tattoos based on our art is truly humbling.

PHIL: Well I’m not from a particularly musical family and was blessed with some pretty potent tone-deaf genes (thanks Mom & Dad!), though my parents always brag that I had the loudest, most horrendous voice in the grade school choir. I’ve always loved music, but didn’t really get myself convinced I could ever actually play until a friend of mine bought a guitar in high school. I’d go over to his place and bang around on this thing and howl and pretend I was Jimi Hendrix. My parents were nice enough to help me split the cost of my first guitar and amp, which I was terrible at until I got into drugs and playing with other people… needless to say, I’m as shocked as my folks are that anything remotely approaching success has ever come of it!

What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get your band onto a show, into a magazine or otherwise promoted, covered, debased and praised? If you don’t have a story please tell us any embarrassing story.

ZACH: I’m 100% against pay-to-play bullshit. BUT, I have played so, so many terrible shows. One of those was called Rites of Darkness III. At said show, like in the middle of the show, we got a call from a hotel manager notifying us that we had been kicked out of our room because the “promoter/booking guy” had gone over the limit on his credit card. We were locked out of the hotel (and unfortunately all of our stuff was still in the room). Anyway, we had to drive around, find said loser, and have a “talk” with him to get everything sorted. Long and short, got the room for the night but missed Cianide’s set, which I’m still pissed about.

BEN: Years ago, I played in a death metal band in Memphis, TN, and most of our songs were (unsurprisingly) about religion, death, and war. We got booked on a Halloween metal-and-hardcore fest in Mississippi. We thought we’d have fun with it, so we donned ridiculous demon masks and our drummer opten for corpse paint with inverted crosses across his face. Turned out that something like 90% of the bands on said fest were Christian hardcore bands, all of whom had large followings in this town. I have never seen so many confused kids in gym shorts and flat brimmed hats trying to evaluate their desire to “bring the mosh” with a fear of eternal punishment. We all had a good laugh about it after our set, but it definitely made for a VERY awkward interaction with the promoter when It came time for payout.

PHIL: In high school I played in an otherwise all-female Judas Priest cover band that got our first gig at this small-town festival in nowheresville, WA. The catch was that the stage we played on was sponsored by this terrible commercial country radio station, and we had to make sure we gave a plug for them during our set. Obviously, we had to make a joke out of it because how else are you going to shamelessly plug some shitty radio station between “Breaking the Law” and “Hell Bent on Leather”? So I thought it’d be snarky and make up a stupid tagline like “Woohoo! If it ain’t C-U-N-C, it ain’t country, folks”, but I accidently replaced the final C in their station identifier with a T. Let’s just say people (my bandmates included) weren’t stoked about it.

All Good Boys Love Maiden
All Good Boys Love Maiden

What do you see as some of the great things happening in metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now?

ZACH: Great things: The melding of sounds from various genres and styles. Worst things: The way that the melding of those sounds makes metal a bigger umbrella for outsider weirdos like myself yet more mainstream (thus a less cool umbrella). 

BEN: Best stuff: Kids are getting exposed to a wide variety of styles and are in a unique position to combine seemingly disparate elements to make new, interesting sounds. The ever-expanding used instrument market (e.g., eBay, Reverb, various gear forums) and the impeding death of Guitar Center and its ilk (fingers crossed) has produced a young generation of gear-savvy musicians who are able to avoid the used-car-salesman bullshit that puts awful gear in young hands, causing them to burn out because they don’t know what it’s like to play a nice, affordable guitar/bass/drumset.

Worst stuff: In the doom/sludge/whatever scene(s), so many people are hung up on gear without considering that it’s life experiences and your ability to channel them into convincing pieces of music that make you “heavy,” not how many vintage Sunn amps you have piled behind you on stage. Also, with the availability of affordable recording technology and the incredible array of talented visual artists, it blows my mind how many bands put out material that sounds like it was recorded in a dumpster and slap some stock photo with a Microsoft Word font “logo” on it.

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It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music? 

DAN: Ben and Phil, being professional Sociologists, will have this answer more than covered.  But generally I’m concerned with inequality, and how most, if not all, of our institutions support a cycle of inequality that builds on itself and widens the gaps in every generation.  I’m not talking rich and poor, although that’s maybe the biggest cog in the machine, but how far reaching and historic the social inequality in our culture is.  Blah blah blah, I don’t write the lyrics.

ZACH: Having nothing to do with the lyrics, but being a depressed person, I’d like people to, on a more general level, be able to find a space in the music that gives them something to relate to or find solace in, so I try to match the drum parts with the feeling of the riffs to enable this (that is, I don’t over play or load every second with needless fills because it takes away from the dynamic and feeling of the song).

BEN: My professional life is dedicated to studying, discussing, and teaching about social problems. This band is not sociopolitical in nature, though the four of us obviously have deeply-held beliefs about what is broken in the world. The focus on the darker parts of the human experience was a natural process for us, and exploring that in our music keeps the four of us in a better headspace for our careers and relationships. It has also allowed us to create music that resonates with people from all sorts of different backgrounds. You might have a different political worldview than other people in the scene, but loss, regret, and pain seem to be fairly universal aspects of existence; we hope that this kind of music allows people to confront those dark parts of their lives and find meaning in their time here.

PHIL: As the primary lyricist I don’t think it’s really my place to push a political agenda of any kind. The lyrics are, to me, more of a therapeutic tool to help me sort out shit and be particularly blunt and honest with myself about my, my friends, and my family’s experiences with life. But there is one song on Absolution, “Serpentine”, that deliberately does both. You can believe what you want to believe and do what you want, but I take issue when something someone does directly fucks up someone else’s life. Especially if society condones and even rewards it. That song comes from the victim’s perspective, and is about taking power back from rapists and abusive men. I love singing it live and staring down the crowd. I hope it makes some people squirm.

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What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you? How did your family take the news?

DAN: The local radio station was closing in 1975. My mother went down there and bought a stack of records for almost nothing.  In about ’85, she found Jesus (he was at a fairgrounds in Sandwich, IL, it turns out) and she started to purge the devil music from her collection.  She didn’t know it, but I put a few aside because I thought the covers were cool.  One of them was Paranoid.  That pretty much did it for me.  One spin of that and the game had changed.  Knowing that my Mom would pound me if she found out made that much better.    My mom is now a licensed, world class, ADA certified, bible thumper.  She sent me to Christian boy scout troop so I could hear about backwards masking.  Sad thing is, I bought into that shit for a long time.  Anyway, I had to sneak music around.  Hide tapes.  It sucked, but I’m sure it’s not that unusual to have parents that don’t want you to listen to something or thinks your music sucks. In my case, it was a little weird because a lot of this shit my mom used to own and listen to, like Zeppelin, Sabbath, AC/DC, but she put the kibosh on it for me.  I have a daughter, the music she likes sucks, and it’s morally corrupting garbage.  I’d rather she listen to Cannibal Corpse than Katy Perry.

BEN: Metallica around age 12, Pantera a couple of years later, then Slayer. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi, so that was about all the metal one could discover through Metal Maniacs and the like. When I went to college and had access to high speed internet, I discovered just how broad the underground was and dove in headfirst. First Morbid Angel, then At the Gates, then Weakling, and on and on. My parents have always been fairly indifferent to it, in large part because I’ve always listened to a wide variety of styles and bands. Even during my freshman year of college when I would only wear unreasonably baggy band shirts, I would still listen to Little Feat.

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What’s the stickiest you have ever been?

ZACH: Well, I’ve been totally covered in beer after a sanke adapter for a keg broke, but I’m a brewer, so it comes with the territory.

DAN:  I used to work at a hot dog stand and in addition to laying down mustard and flipping burger, I had to take care of the soda machine.  One time, a couple boxes of soda syrup on a shelf above my head were stuck together and I tried to pry them apart with a large knife. I wound up stabbing one of the syrup bladders and it doused me. Super gross.

PHIL: My first real job, from age 11 to 15, was as a Carny. Like the guy who stands in the piss-filled bumper boats station and fishes your kid’s puke out of the dunk tank at carnivals. Sticky was my middle name for 4 years.

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What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a hard-working musician?

BEN: Read this interview with Chips & Beer and take it to heart. Their critique of contemporary music journalism, that too many people waste words “describing the window” rather than trying to see through it, is spot on. I would also add that one of the trends in music criticism that really bums me out is when someone writes about how they would have made the song/album were it up to them, which is little more than self-aggrandizement in the guise of music journalism. That sort of thing is as useless to the artists as it is to listeners, as it makes the writing about the writer and not the topic at hand.  It seems like this isn’t unique to the music world per se, as this sort of “criticism” has existed in the food and high art worlds for some time. It just bums me out to see it pass as meaningful journalism when in reality it contributes almost nothing to the discourse about art and meaning.

DAN: This is a great question. The answer is: really listen, and listen to all of it. Don’t approach it in terms of what it reminds you of, try to think about the aspects that don’t remind you of anything. Just because a band hangs out a few low notes for a handful of beats (or measures) doesn’t mean they’re funeral doom. Just because they have clean singing doesn’t mean they’re trying to sound like Pallbearer, or so I’ve heard.

ZACH: Play in a band, write and record an album, and tour for a few years before you tell someone else how they should improve their sound/image/production.

PHIL: To critics: If something REALLY sucks, don’t beat around the bush. Trash that shit! My favorite album reviews are when someone posts something like a short video of a monkey shitting into its own hand and eating it. Hopefully people read these for entertainment, and there is nothing more entertaining that something just getting torn apart, and nothing less entertaining than someone’s pseudo-intellectual babble about how something is pretty good but not pushing many boundaries, that then slaps a low score on an album to say what they really think.

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What’s your goal? You guys thinking world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Any interest in starting a cult? Do you guys have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know.

PHIL: I just like getting free therapy from writing and performing songs that mean something to me, and my back loves those (at least) weekly sound-wave massages at band practice. And on a more serious note I really do love taking the time and talking to those few people who come up to me at shows to say that a song really helped them get through x, or to ask how I was able to handle and pull through y. That gives my life meaning in a way I never expected or hoped playing music would.

DAN: For me, keep making records that we enjoy playing.  Music that we can all get into and hang our hat on.  I certainly don’t have any delusions of grandeur. I think we’re just happy riding the wave. You can’t control when the big waves will come, so you just gotta shred on the ones you catch.  I work a lot. I am a self-employed engineer.  My hobby is trying not to mess up my daughter.   Seriously though, there is a lot of thought and work involved in making sure I’m doing what’s right for her.   I also build and ride vintage choppers when I’m not obsessing about baseball.

ZACH: I just want to play killer music with my friends in a real, meaningful way, as playing music is a release for me both emotionally and creatively. I’m the head brewer at TRVE Brewing. I work all the time, which only leaves room for playing drums and, if I’m lucky, riding the motorcycle.

BEN: My goal is to keep making music that I want to hear; if it connects with others, great, but that’s not the primary motivating factor. I’m only happy when music is in my life. It helps me work through a lot of things in my life by being able to bash on a guitar through some loud amps and holler into a microphone. Higher education is an incredibly stressful, often cutthroat field of employment, and the times when I haven’t been playing music have coincidentally been the times when I was most depressed and felt empty. I think having this meaningful creative outlet makes me a better academic, partner, and friend and lets me do my job without the distractions of depression, anxiety, and extreme pessimism about the world.

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Finally, when you’re not listening to, writing or playing metal, what are some of you favorite albums to listen to currently? (Feel free to include non-metal)

DAN:  I kind of only listen to non-metal.  Recently I’ve been listening to weird 70 and 80’s Pop Jazz, like George Benson and Frank Mangione.  I don’t like much of it, to be honest, but some of it’s really interesting and there is some phenomenal musicianship there. Okay, looking at my playlist for last week: I listened to Van Morrison, Fuzz, Annie Lennox, Intronaut, Fight Amp, Elder, X, The Stooges, the Cure, Creedence and Native Daughters.  I’m sure I listened to Wilson Pickett and/or Otis Redding too, because I always do.

ZACH: This year I’ve been jamming new albums from Inverloch, Graves at Sea, Ripper, Oranssi Pazuzu, Nervosas, Rotten Sound, Interment, Vektor, Messa, and Blood Incantation. I still can’t get over Divers from Joanna Newsom. Been playing a lot of Tom Waits in the brewhouse lately. I also obsessively listen to Thin Lizzy (Brian Downey is the man).

BEN: The older I get, the less I keep up with new music. I listen to a lot of Steely Dan, Yes, Little Feat, Jethro Tull, and John Prine. It’s hard to find time to keep up with every new release in any given style, but according to Spotify here is what I’ve been listening to lately: Queens of the Stone Age, Teeth, Magic Circle, Interment, Dead Soldiers, Bell Witch, In the Company of Serpents, Abrams, Little Feat, Samothrace, Wormed, Dax Riggs, and, of course, ZZ Top.

PHIL: I like it all. My couple-weeks-old records-I-haven’t-put-away-yet stack in the living room includes Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, Vektor’s Terminal Redux, the new Sturgill Simpson album, Creedence’s Cosmos Factory, the Stones’ Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers, Bell Witch’s Four Phantoms, Tom Waits’ Small Change, Sonny Boy Williamson’s One Way Out, Sleep’s Dopesmoker, and John Mayall’s Bare Wires. Jesus, I need to pick up around here.

Huge thanks to Khemmis for their time. Keep your eyes out for an upcoming LP from the boys. If they’re playing in your town you simply have to go see them and if you don’t already own Absolution then do yourself a favor and purchase it NOW!

– Manny-O-War

 

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