ZT Interrogation with Khemmis

With Damnation 2023 just a week away, Paul Castles speaks with Ben Hutcherson of Denver doom quartet Khemmis, prior to their sole UK appearance of the year on the Pins & Knuckles Stage at the BEC Arena in Manchester.

ZT: Hi guys, how are you looking forward to playing Damnation in Manchester?
We are incredibly excited to play Damnation! We couldn’t ask for a better festival to host us for our first UK performance. Gavin, Paul, and everyone else at Damnation HQ approach music with an art-and-artist-first attitude that is invigorating.

ZT: I believe this is your only show outside of the US this year?
This is indeed our only overseas show of the year, and our first since 2019. We can’t wait to see all of the hellions at Damnation.

ZT: How did you enjoy the US tour with Conjurer earlier in the year?
Conjurer are an absolutely lovely bunch of folks who are delightful offstage and consummate professionals onstage. We had a blast with them (and Wake!) on the road, and now count them as dear friends. In fact, I (Ben) will be staying on for a few days after the fest with Brady and his delightful partner Sam, as I have never been to the UK before.

ZT: Any shows in particular stand out for you?
They were all phenomenal, but the Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland shows were particularly memorable. Ending with a sold-out show at Mississippi Studios in PDX was a killer conclusion to the tour.

ZT: Do you prepare for shows in any particular way?
Yes, we all have individual warm up routines in the 60-90 minutes preceding a set (e.g., pushups, jumping jacks, vocal exercises, guitar warm ups, meditation).

ZT: Your new album, Deceiver, is now out on Nuclear Blast… how are you feeling about it?
We are thrilled with the album and how the fans, new and old, have responded to it.

ZT: I believe it was a very tough album to work on emotionally?
Indeed. All of our records have been emotionally challenging because of the nature of our music and the central themes of our work. Deceiver was by far the most emotionally vulnerable we have been as a band, especially with the lyrics that Phil and I sing, but that candor is what makes us who we are, you know? Writing, recording, and playing these songs live is cathartic in a way unmatched by anything else in our lives.

ZT: Did Deceiver follow the path you were expecting musically?
Our guiding principle in Khemmis is to write, record, and perform music that we would want to listen to if we weren’t in the band. That means we aren’t beholden to the “rules” of any specific (sub) genre, but rather seek to produce music that sounds and feels compelling to us. “Compelling” and “authentic” are subjective, ephemeral concepts, of course, but we trust our hearts when we make this music. We know ourselves well enough to know when an idea has promise and needs refinement versus when it is a dead end; with that understanding, we wrote, edited, rewrote, re-edited, and (finally) recorded Deceiver. We entered Flatline Audio with Dave Otero armed with a collection of songs that spoke to our experiences over the preceding years, songs whose every musical element served the songs first and foremost. So, in the sense that we released an album that still feels like an authentic representation of the most tumultuous chapters of our lives and is a testament to the victory of surviving–and, eventually, thriving–in the face of suffering and loss, the album is absolutely what we had hoped it would be.

ZT: How would you say it follows on from your previous work, Hunted and Desolation?
Hunted was the album wherein we figured out who we were as a band. Desolation was the album wherein we challenged ourselves to improve on every aspect of the band. Deceiver is the album wherein we know, for the first time, who we are, what this band means to us, and what we are capable of creating if we center that honesty and confidence in every decision that we make.

ZT: You recently covered Alice in Chains, who else were your go-to bands when growing up?
Our influences vary widely, but there is absolutely a central group of bands on the Khemmis Influences Venn Diagram ™ that directly impacted our tastes and playing styles. That list includes Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, At the Gates, Morbid Angel, Thin Lizzy, Immortal, Dio, Alice in Chains, and, of course, Metallica.

ZT: Having come out the other side after a tough couple of years is there a greater appreciation for what the band gives you and perhaps renewed optimism for the future?
Oh, without a doubt! There is a genuine love for each other and an appreciation for what we create together. We all enjoy each other’s company and are able to be unabashedly ourselves around one another in a way that is beautiful. That joy, especially in the face of the horrors of the world today, is visceral and powerful and is present in every note we play, every word we sing. There is also a nigh-immeasurable sense of gratitude for the love and support that people show us. So many people have shared stories with us about how our music helped them through dark times in their lives, and their gratitude fills our hearts and gives us strength to persevere at the moments when the rest of the world seems to hellbent on stealing away any and all love and joy in any of us.

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