“We’re not a band that ever writes happy songs,” says guitarist Ben Hutcherson. “We are not a sunshine and rainbows band, and we are not a ‘Let’s go fight a dragon’ band. All of our songs are always introspective and about our lives.”
The bandmembers wrote the six-track album, its first worldwide release with Nuclear Blast Records, during the COVID-19 pandemic. They found themselves pondering what the long shutdowns and quarantines meant for their personal and professional lives.
“It afforded us the ability, forced us, to take a step back and take stock of a lot of things and ask ourselves some tougher questions we hadn’t had to ask ourselves before,” Hutcherson says. “So much of our lives became so routinized and so jam-packed with work in the worst possible ways.”
The bandmates even wondered whether they wanted to keep recording.
“We agreed that not only do we want to keep doing this, but we felt it was vital to our own well-being to do this,” Hutcherson says. “How could we tell these stories that weren’t just a relentless barrage of darkness?”
Music has always been cathartic, Hutcherson says, and provides an opportunity to find solidarity with like-minded people while balancing the demands of life and work. He rejects the convention that misery and suffering are necessary evils in the pursuit of happiness. Society, he says, tends to fetishize misery but also minimize it.
Hutcherson struggles with his mental health, and that personal battle reached a terrifying apex in early 2020 when he sought emergency psychiatric care. He says that at that point, he was in the worst headspace of his life and needed to confront the reality of his mental illness.
“That [experience] in and of itself would be enough for a lot of albums, but as is the case with this band, we never just do one thing,” he says. “Life is a series of balancing acts, and so is the approach we take to telling these stories.”
Now finishing up his doctorate in sociology, taking medication and seeing a therapist, Hutcherson says he's reached the best mental state in his life over the past eighteen months. He credits a great deal of his recovery to his wife.
“I suppose it’s almost obligatory to talk about how great your partner is,” he says. “But the reality is, my partner is way better than I am and way better than I deserve. If it wasn’t for her, I most literally wouldn’t be alive today.”
Hutcherson notes that it's important not to shy away from the darker aspects of life — confronting family legacies, intergenerational trauma and living in a world where rapid climate change, institutional discrimination and police brutality are all unfortunate realities.
With all that in mind, he adds, members of Khemmis are all still seeking moments of joy and folding them into the music as a contrast to the darkness. As Billy Joe Shaver said: “If I had not seen the sunshine, hell, I would not cuss your rain.”
“There are so many song lyrics, so many aphorisms about [balancing light and dark],” Hutcherson says. “We all nod our heads and say, ‘That’s right.’ But as my therapist tells me on a weekly basis, ‘There’s a difference between knowing something in your head and knowing it with every ounce of your being.’”
While the band didn’t just give into the darkness, it does permeate the record, he notes. But in the end, it’s all about finding equilibrium between the two opposing forces.
“There’s always going to be that light,” he concludes. “Sometimes you have to really work to find it. Sometimes you have to really fight to find it, or fight to create it. It’s important for us to always represent that balance.”
Deceiver is available on November 19 through Nuclear Blast Records. Check out khemmisdoom.com for more information. The band plays the Bluebird Theater on January 22; tickets are available at axs.com.