Interview: Selim Lemouchi of The Devil’s Blood
Years before establishing himself with The Devil's Blood, Selim Lemouchi paid his dues touring and gigging with metal and rock bands. Unlike many young musicians, these weren't happy times as he learned his craft and traveled the world. Instead, the guitarist and songwriter suppressed what he felt was his true calling, struggled with drugs and alcohol, and at one point was bedridden with severe depression. Salvation didn't come from therapy or Christianity or self-help maxims. Instead, Lemouchi had a number of spiritual experiences – moments he says can't be explained outside of music -- that led him to embrace Satanism. He then started The Devil's Blood with his sister and vocalist F (The Mouth of Satan). Despair gave way to inspiration; images and dreams were spun into riffs.
The Devil's Blood made a strong first impression with the EP Come Reap and followed with the LP The Time Of No Time Evermore. They seduced audiences with blood-drenched performances and hooked listeners with macabre yet beautiful melodies. Their music is more scythe than hammer; it neatly cuts rather than bludgeons. They've made their strongest musical statement yet with The Thousandfold Epicentre, which will be released in the U.S. via Metal Blade on January 20. Lemouchi talked to us about finding salvation in darkness.
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Through a lot of your twenties you traveled around Europe with different metal bands. What were those days like?
I was in a metal band called Powervice that did pretty well. I was also in some rock and roll bands and in some punk bands. Those were just ways to get on the stage and perform live and tour and engage in all kinds of lecherous behavior. There's not much to tell because I wasn't in control of any of those bands. I never felt at home with their ideologies. Some of the music was pretty good; some of it was pretty shitty (laughs). It's just one of those things you need to do to get to the stage where you can do your own thing.
How old were you when you started touring?
You have to understand, touring in Europe isn't as exhausting as it is in America. I got on the road and starting doing things when I was 17 or 18. But I actually started making music when I was 12. But at that age, it's more like learning how to play and doing gigs locally. I was in my 20s when we really started to get out into Europe and do more stuff.
Did you and your sister do anything musically together before The Devil's Blood?
Not really, no. We had a very brief moment of trying to do something when I was about 17 but that fizzled. We both weren't focused enough yet to do something seriously. We weren't ready for serious work.
We were encouraged to learn to play instruments, but we didn't have any grand masters in the family. Everything was available and there was always the opportunity to do something. But it wasn't like the Japanese kids who are forced to pick up guitars when they are three years old (laughs).
On a recent video interview you discussed how the touring and what happened in your 20s led to some problems with substances and a personal low point. What exactly happened and how did you break yourself of that?
I won't go into any specifics because most of that stuff is quite personal. If you generalize the story, it boils down to a story a lot of people have at that age. It's ego versus inexperience versus drugs versus depression versus bad interpersonal relationships versus self-loathing versus psychiatric medicine, until you reach a point, rock bottom if you will.
There are two things you can do. You can stop digging and look for a way out. Or, you can keep doing what you are doing and end up dead or at least idle. I had the luck and perhaps the strength to accept certain things about myself that I wasn't able to accept before. In retrospect, a lot of the problems came from my inability to accept myself as I am. Once I was honest, things started to go in a direction where they are still headed. The Devil's Blood came about and the music started to appear, and the lyrical inspiration started to appear. The spiritual experiences I had before that time started to make sense viewed in a new light.
When you referred to hitting rock bottom was there one incident in particular or were you skidding along?
There were several things happening at the same time. When life falls apart it has a tendency to take everything with it. Relationships fall apart, your social network falls apart, the people you think are friends turn out to be enemies. It's the most clichéd story in the world.
At the same time it's a very human story because it's a road a lot of people have taken and it's never easy.
It certainly isn't. But nothing worth anything is. I view that part of my life as initiation into greater things. If you haven't sacrificed something you won't gain anything. That's how I look at life, death, music, and art. I'm very happy with where I am at the moment, and I value each experience that led me here. It's not anything to be ashamed of or regretful about. It's simply life doing what it does which is throwing you an occasional curveball and making sure all your plans become null and void.
Did you view doctors or medication as part of the problem?
No, no. It's not like the Roky Erickson story where he gets incarcerated in a metal home and given Thorazine. I was just extremely depressed and at a certain point the decision was made to give me anti-depressants. It worked for me at the time. It gave me a little edge to work some stuff out. I think I was on that stuff for about two years. It was just a tool I used to regain some of the ground I had lost.
When the depression was at its worst was it tough to get out of bed? Were you able to write music?
I wasn't able to do anything at all. It's like being a complete slave to your surroundings; nothing comes from yourself. It's the opposite of solipsism; everything that manifests itself manifests from the outside and you have no control over what's going on. A lot of that time I spent in bed, on drugs, on alcohol or other less than stellar situations.
For me, things happened the way they happened. The amount of time we spend in retrospect is almost as much of a waste as the time we spent living it.
Did you have a spiritual breakthrough?
Several, otherwise I couldn't be where I am now. There is no explaining these things. I've tried to explain and that's turned out to be our music and lyrics. If anyone is really interested then all they need to do is listen to our music and try to find out what's being divulged. Perhaps the questions can be answered there. But I strongly suggest that people don't think too much about me when they listen to the music but think more about themselves.
I respect and understand the journalistic desire to find out as much as you can about me as a person. But I'd like to stress that 'I' as a person is perhaps the least interesting thing I can talk about. With The Devil's Blood it's a waste of time to focus on the supposed creators of these works. We are not anything close to the creators of our music and lyrics. These things come from somewhere else. The time we spend focused on the egos in front of the music is the less time we focus on the music itself.
That's one thing I find interesting. It does seem like some of the pain we discussed was because of a focus on your ego . . .
It always is. The pain of life is always the ego unwilling to conform to its realities.
So, you found yourself on the path when you let go of your ego entirely and allowed larger forces to channel music . . . is that accurate?
Well, I wouldn't go so far as saying I've let go of my ego entirely. I'm alive so it's not a possibility yet. But I am doing everything I can in my power to reach that point. The glory of the mysteries do help me there, definitely.
When you started The Devil's Blood how did you decide to work with your sister? She'd worked in some cover bands and had a similar musical experience you did in that she couldn't find a place to channel her talent.
I wrote a song called "The Graveyard Shuffle". I immediately decided I wasn't the one to sing it. The only person I could think to express the emotions and atmosphere in the way that was needed was her. I gave her a call, and I showed her what I was thinking and the direction I was going to take it. She really took to it like a fish to water.
So you don't just share music but also are on the same path spiritually?
We do this together and we both have perceptions of what things are and what things mean. We both have a strong understanding of the fact that there is no truth, that everything is subjective, that everything we experience in this life is an illusion. Together, we walk on the aimless path toward ultimate self-realization.
What do you view as ultimate self-realization?
Death. That's a big part of it, anyway. When we have cast away all ties to our flesh and egos ,the logical next step in that initiation would be death. I hope to obtain the clarity and oneness that's unavailable to us in our existence.
You could also look at spiritual traditions like Christianity, Buddhism, and others. One of the tenets is to prepare yourself for death, for what's next.
This is something that comes up in a lot of traditions, and not just left hand path traditions but also right hand path traditions, that death is the ultimate initiation. But there's also the question of what you are being initiated to. In my case I am not looking for oneness with God, I'm not looking for the end of karma. I'm looking for oneness with chaos, to be set free in the flames. This is what sets me apart from the Christians and the Buddhists.
So a left-hand understanding of death might be an induction into chaos whereas a right-hand understanding implies some sort of order after your passing?
For a Christian the ultimate goal is to become one with God, what a Christian calls Heaven or a Buddhist calls nirvana. It's an end to the samsara of life, an end to reincarnations or the end to a suffering of a guilt-filled life. We're trying to be connected to the fire from which we came.
When you were developing your own beliefs did you study other religious traditions?
I still do. Any spiritual person, whether a Christian or a Satanist, should keep an open mind and study as much philosophy and religion as possible, even if it's just to test your ideas next to the ideas of others. If you study philosophy you don't just read Plato, but you also read Socrates and then you read Nietzsche and Spinoza and from all those views you find your own. The same thing can be done with religion and any tradition.
Is writing music a spiritual experience for you now as opposed to when you were just playing with bands?
How do you like to work when you write and how did things come together on The Thousandfold Epicentre?
You start with moments of tremendous confusion, of ideas floating through your head, disorganized structures of words and ideas and images and nightmares. It's usually not very comfortable. You can try to channel it through meditation or prayer, but in the end you just have to wait until the egg is laid. When it is I start peeling off the shell. I take an acoustic guitar and paper and write as much as I can. When I have a homogenous form, then I try to figure out the underlying form. Then, like a sculptor, you work on it till you find it.
When that's done I record my demo and take it to my sister. We work on lyrics together and then we record. Then we go to the rehearsal room. From the chaos of inspiration I create an ordered structure with mathematical absolutes. At the moment of performance they have the power to create chaos again in a listener's head. What we do is trigger or entice an emotional response. What that response might be and how it might affect that person is completely unknown. From the chaos, we create order. From the order, we send back chaos.
You create music that is very infectious. Does a listener have to be in sync with your worldview or can they just appreciate it on a superficial level?
Anyone can do whatever they want. They only thing I can say is no one views the world the way I do. There is no one who views the world like you do. Your absolute soul mate won't agree 100 percent. No one is the same person or has the same mind. Whatever people want to do with it is correct. Whatever they hear is true. Whatever they take from it is the proper thing to take.
The classical instrumentation is very beautiful. Who did you work with?
We worked with a classical arranger from Holland. He's a very talented musician who composes a lot for orchestra. We had no money to hire musicians. So I composed them, he arranged them, and then we programmed them with synthesizes.
I couldn't tell the difference.
It's becoming very hard to tell the difference. Someone who works with classical music could hear the difference, and there's always a lack of realness. But all that considered you still have enough room and ability to express emotions. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. It would have been fantastic to work with a real orchestra but financially speaking it was out of our reach. You have to be on a high financial level to pull this off. Perhaps in the future?
The Devil's Blood was named after a Watain song. Can you tell me more about your relationship with Watain and Erik (Danielsson)?
To say that I've been musically influenced by Watain would be stretching the point, because I'm much more of a rock musician. But atmospherically and spiritually I am tremendously inspired by them. The way they write music and how they express their emotions through it is very influential. As for our personal relationship, we've reached a very profound friendship, especially after the American tour last year. It was a very important experience and I'm very grateful for it. In many ways I view them as my brothers at war. I have the deepest and most profound respect for them.
I do see crossover when I see the cover of Lawless Darkness which suggests a void, all-consuming chaos. A lot of what we have been talking about is that all things lead back to chaos. Is there a link?
Definitely. And there are more individuals who share this. It's not unique to us.
Do you hear a lot from fans via Facebook? How do people contact you?
I don't know (laughs). I've never been an overly communicative person in that way. I respect when someone wants to share something with me. But I think there's a big risk with too much of that communication. I wanted to remain uninfluenced by that, if possible.
Is it hard to remain uninfluenced in the digital world?
You don't have to read it. I don't have a television, I don't have a radio. I don't have subscriptions to newspapers or any kind of magazines. Keeping the world outside your door is a matter of personal choice.
Do you spend any time on a computer?
I have to in order to manage the band and work with journalists and promotion people and record labels. I do have a Facebook page I use to feed the band's Facebook. But if something doesn't feel interesting, why should I try to understand why people are saying it? It would take up a lot of my time, and I think I could invest it more wisely in different areas.
Do you understand the impulse of a band like Ghost to stay anonymous and let their music do the talking without putting their personalities on stage?
In the beginning we more or less did that as well. But the way that people are, the more you focus on anonymity, the more they try to find out who you are. The best thing to do is to be as honest as you can and if you don't want to talk about it, just don't talk about it. That's what I've learned in the past few years; if you don't want people to know something, just keep your mouth shut.
When some people think of Satanism they think of the most negative things possible. But you seem to have a positive outlook on life, your music.
Well, I wouldn't go that far. Of course there is self-loathing inside of me. There's also the realization that the time I have on this planet is something I can use to my advantage. If I work hard I can be creator of my own destiny. This gives me freedom, allows me not to care about what people think, or how they perceive me, or how others perceive how I should live my life. To me it's "do what thou wilt". It's my will and how I set my life into motion. Trying to obtain freedom is the only thing I can do. When we allow ourselves to be slaves or downtrodden is when our lives become truly negative.
What is the biggest thing that enslaves people, keeps them from realizing their potential?
Trust in their peers. Democracy is a good example. You trust that the people running the country are doing the best for you. The trust in friends, that they will do what is best for you. The trust in the principle that we are not responsible for our destinies. That's one of the main reason people get chained and become slaves. From a very early age it should be required that people be responsible for their own happiness. Whatever makes you happy is what you should explore. There should be no guilt or taboos involved. If you aren't willing to sacrifice security or comfort or a certain sense of superficial pleasure for the greater good or your own salvation you'll never see any sort of salvation or revelation. There will just be ash in your mouth.
Self-realization is difficult in the middle of a primitive culture or in the middle of suburbia . . .
Well, you could argue that self-realization comes easiest for those in extreme duress. Wartime tends to weed out the weak very fast. It's a complicated issue.
Is the most subversive thing about The Devil's Blood that you easily put it on a mainstream rock station?
I like the juxtaposition between what people think of as pleasurable or horrifying. I think my lyrics and images and music are beautiful. So, the juxtaposition doesn't exist for me.
Yet some people have this expectation that dark lyrics need equally ugly music.
To those people I'd suggest: listen to Leonard Cohen and shut the fuck up. It's a ludicrous idea that darkness of the spirit as a lyrical theme should be confined to metal or metal-like music. It's idiotic nonsense that it makes me laugh. Music is one of one of the art forms we use to express our spirituality. But the music did not create the spirituality. If a musician is inclined to dark and aggressive and loud music, he'll express his feelings in those ways. But there are plenty of extreme metal bands that can only sing about sex or cars or going out on spring break. Should they be making '60s or '70s hippie music? I find that whole topic amusing, in a negative way.
Dark themes and images have been with us for centuries in music, literature and philosophy.
Exactly. I often get a question like: "you have black metal lyrics but you don't make black metal. Why?" It's like, serious, c'mon. It's like Coven or Black Sabbath or any bands from the '60s and '70s never made any records. There's also tribal music made for rituals and incantations passed on for generations that ended up in classical musical or pop music like The Beatles. This is a very interesting example of selective cultural blindness.
Outside of your music and your spirituality what are you most passionate about?
At the moment it would have to be my dog. I have a very nice dog I take long walks with in the forest. I have a lot of fun with him.
What's his name?
HEAR THE DEVIL'S BLOOD
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The Devil's Blood - "Fire Burning"
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The Devil's Blood - "I'll Be Your Ghost"
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BUY THE THOUSANDFOLD EPICENTRE
(Available from Metal Blade Records after January 20)
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