“The Only Proof I Need For The Existence Of God Is Music,” An Interview With Khemmis
Khemmis are something of darlings within the hipper end of the metal community these days. Having had a meteoric rise based on the strength of last years masterful Hunted the band has leaped from peak to peak. One of the highest such triumphs was Psycho Las Vegas, where I had a chance to sit down with the band to discuss their place in the scene and what it feels like to become iconic entering your thirties. Zach and Ben are extremely articulate dudes and getting to pick their brains on the true power of doom was a pleasure. Dig in.
How the hell are you guys?
Ben (B): We’re doing really good, it’s Psycho, it’s an awesome weekend. Everything is pretty badass.
Have you been here before?
B: Vegas yes, but during Psycho is much more my speed. Fewer families. More people with patch vests jumping in pools.
Zach (Z): This whole area is so contained, you could spend a weekend here and never leave!
Obviously you’ve had a meteoric rise in the last year or so – what do you think triggered that?
Z: Not to downplay hard work but a lot of being in the right place at the right time and the right people finding our music compelling.
B: It’s a lot of different variables happening to come together in a way that is very fortuitous.
Why do you think the right people find your music compelling?
B: Ask them! I don’t know. I think part of it is that we tried to make something that we find compelling and that’s the main thing for us. That’s sort of palpable to people who see us live.
Z: Part of it might be that we all have different tastes but meeting in the middle is how we make music. That drives the direction of some of the songwriting. To a degree maybe some of that commonality of tastes and interests crosses over with a lot of other people.
B: It’s hard to parse that out because a lot of this seems very natural so trying to imagine how it strikes other people or why other people find it compelling is hard. I’m glad it strikes people though, I’m glad that Dave at 20 Buck Spin heard us and was like “Yes! That’s good!” I’m glad folks at good websites hear it and it resonates with them, because if they hated it and this is all we know how to do we’d be shit out of luck.
That’s the fascinating thing about Khemmis – it’s very much a distillation of what’s great with this scene…
Z: We’re big fans of metal. We like whats going on with a lot of bands that influence us. We can listen to death metal and choose what we think is cool and has a certain heaviness to it or Judas Priest and be like “Oh my god!” All of that influences us because we are fans of the music in a real way.
I thought you only liked Mercyful Fate!
Z: (Laughing) This is true – I really like Mercyful Fate.
B: We all love Mercyful Fate and King Diamond but Zach definitely takes the cake!
What draws you to Mercyful Fate, Zach?
Z: I actually didn’t like them for a long time. In my teens and stuff. It just changed one day and I was like “This is it!” I think part of it is that it has a heavy metal sensibility in the songwriting, but it’s a little progressive, the song structures are weird, the playing is really good and the lyrics are about Satan! It checks all the boxes for me! Not that the lyrics have to be that but it’s cool. It has a dark element too.
One of the other things I’ve always found fascinating about Khemmis is that you’re all late 20’s or older – did you ever expect to randomly become the most talked about doom band in the world?
B: Absolutely! We knew going in! (Laughter)
Z: Not at all.
B: From the moment we started this band we were stoked that we were four guys who liked each other and could make music that we found compelling. Phil joked when we first started that we wanted to play cool shows and get drink tickets!
Z: The two of us have been in bands for fifteen years and a lot of it made us miserable. We didn’t expect anything from it because our past experience wasn’t successful. This did feel a little different though, working on the material I was like “I think we have something” but I’ve thought this before.
B: However we’ve both only played in extreme bands, but I went in wanting to do things that we a little more accessible. I didn’t want to play in another death metal band or a blackened sludge band. There’s a certain part of things I write that I never got to do in a band, that was the rock and roll side. It was cool to tap into that part of our creative psyche.
I think that’s one of the very satisfying parts about doom metal, as much as it’s heavy it can have pop songwriting…
B: It’s more accepting than other genres. Looser boundaries.
Z: More is allowed. If you’re in black or death metal the subgenreification is everywhere. Doom in general is pretty open. It’s about what sounds good. It’s not as specific. It’s a little broader. That was appealing to us because we all have a pretty broad range of things that we like and to be able to do that under one umbrella is nice. The doom tag feels like it fits less as we keep developing. It feels good because we have found our own sound. So when we play something it feels like a “Khemmis thing”
It’s such a weird vague term whereas when ten years ago it was just Ahab…
Z: I have this analogy with the beer Cezanne, it’s such a broad range of beers in terms of colors and flavors, but it’s all Cezanne.
What do you love about music?
B: To say something like it’s an expression of human potential might sound pretentious but it’s a way for people to find commonality and express themselves especially for people who might have a harder time doing that verbally. It’s a living form of art that is this process of writing and recording and bands that have been going for twenty years still tweak things. It’s a way for people to offer who they are to other people in a naked and honest way, and say “This is who I am” through a stack of amps.
Z: Music has kept me alive as a human being. The other appealing thing is that it’s a universal language and it just is insane that something that doesn’t have the physical presence can have a physical reaction in your body but it’s also ethereal.
B: As someone who is very much not into the ideas of the metaphysical world, music has that almost religious thing – it builds communities and brings people together and lets people work through stuff.
Z: Vonnegut said “The only proof I need for the existence of God is music”