Interview: Khemmis

We have diverse tastes and influences, but collectively we all draw pretty explicitly on Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top, Sleep, Iron Maiden, Yob, and Neurosis.

From inauspicious beginnings in 2013, Khemmis exploded on to the metal scene with the release of Absolution in 2015. Following an extensive local tour, Khemmis have helped save 2016 with the release of a second, spectacular album in the form of Hunted. The critics (myself included) have fallen over themselves to praise their unique brand of punishing stoner-doom, a mix of ferocious riffs and heavy bass with lashings of gorgeous, expansive melody that manages to push the envelope without upsetting the apple cart. As the maelstrom that is 2016 winds down, album of the year lists from all across the critical spectrum have included Hunted somewhere high on the list: the venerable Rolling Stone list it at number 11 in their top 20. Nick Dunn catches up with the band to find out more.

(((o))): Looking back on the last two years, have they turned out like you expected? What has surprised you most?

Khemmis: The responses to both albums have far exceeded our expectations. Honestly, it felt like a huge victory just to have a cool label release Absolution on vinyl. Considering we were initially in this just for fun, friendship, and drink tickets, it has all been a really pleasant surprise.

(((o))): Is there anything you might have done differently?

Khemmis: Truthfully, no. We’ve been very fortunate to have a relatively painless existence as a band, and we’ve always emphasized having fun together and writing the most compelling music we can over chasing notoriety.

(((o))): What is the writing process like for you?

Khemmis: We typically start with a handful of riffs that Ben or Phil has worked out on their own, and then play with the rhythmic feel, different melody and harmony ideas, and song structures collectively during rehearsal. Songs usually come together pretty quickly, but we certainly agonized over the details on a few. ‘Candlelight’ and the intro to ‘Hunted’ both required a lot of hours in the practice room to shape the pieces into the finish products you hear on the album.

(((o))): Was there any difference in how you approached Hunted to the way you created Absolution?

Khemmis: For Absolution, our only goal was to write a record that we liked, and release it on vinyl. I think it is fair to say that our primary concern was on stringing together cool riffs, and the vocals were a bit more of an afterthought, at least until we got into the studio. For Hunted, we had more specific goals, and the biggest one was to write good, dynamic, and catchy songs. We were much more explicit about identifying a “chorus” and “verses”, and trying to strengthen and sharpen our more melodic elements, the guitar leads/harmonies and vocals. We also extensively demoed the songs out before entering the studio so that we knew what worked and what didn’t, and streamlined things as much as possible.

(((o))): Looking ahead now, what does the future hold for Khemmis?

Khemmis: Riches beyond our wildest imagination, we hope. Or, at the very least, writing more songs we like while drinking good beer and being thankful that our music resonates with so many people.

(((o))): Are there plans afoot for any international tours? Can we expect to see you at any of the big British or European festivals next year?

Khemmis: We would love that! Playing something like Wacken is absolutely a bucket list item for all of us. Hell, just playing overseas at all is. We’re working on making it over to Europe in 2017, so keep your eyes open for updates.

(((o))): Colorado is a state rich in musical history, producing jazz legend Glenn Miller among many others. Which bands would you most recommend from your state?

Khemmis: Blood Incantation, Primitive Man, In the Company of Serpents, Cobalt, Vermin Womb, Spectral Voice, Abrams, Dreadnought, Cult of the Lost Cause, Call of the Void, Necropanther, Pueblo Escobar, Spectral Voice, Poison Rites, and Muscle Beach are all excellent bands and people who highlight the remarkable diversity of the Colorado scene. The state’s heavy music scene is constantly growing – we’re sure there are new, kickass bands we haven’t even heard yet!

(((o))): On a wider scale, which bands have influenced you the most in the creation of the Khemmis sound?

Khemmis: We have diverse tastes and influences, but collectively we all draw pretty explicitly on Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top, Sleep, Iron Maiden, Yob, and Neurosis.

(((o))): Thinking more personally, what kind of music – bands, albums, or songs – would you say represent you most as people?

Phil: I’m most drawn to classic rock and metal, R&B/soul, and psychedelic/progressive rock. But what is most important to me is a great storyteller, someone who can put together songs that take you on a journey. Some of my favorites are David Bowie, Tom Waits, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Dr. John, Steve Winwood, Miles Davis, Electric Light Orchestra, Ray Charles, James Brown, and JJ Cale.

Ben: YOB – The Unreal Never Lived, Neurosis – Through Silver in Blood and A Sun that Never Sets, Weakling – Dead as Dreams, Steely Dan – The Royal Scam and Pretzel Logic, John Prine’s self-titled album, Metallica – Master of Puppets, Primitive Man – Scorn, At the Gates – With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness.

Zach: I’ve always responded to music in a very physical and visceral way — sometimes a song or album will totally stop me in my tracks. Here are a few: The Cure – Pornography, Samothrace – Life’s Trade, Thin Lizzy – Johnny the Fox, Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Merciful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath, Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales, Demoncy – Joined in Darkness, Sixteen Horsepower – Sackcloth ’n’ Ashes.

Dan: More times than not I’m you’ll find me listening to old R&B.  Otherwise it’s classic rock/metal, 80’s “goth”, or something vintage punk or post punk. As far as how I’m represented in this band: High on Fire, Kyuss, and Iron Maiden are big sources of inspiration. Some of my all-time personal favorites, though, are Fugazi – Repeater, The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced ?, Iggy and the Stooges – Raw Power, Queens of the Stone Age – Queens of the Stone Age, Led Zeppelin – II, Horace Silver – Songs for my Father.

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