Friday, 22 August 2014

Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies: Past The Self, No Borders

Preparing the third and last chapter of Selim's tribute through the art and words of some of his friends, colleagues and fellow-countrymen was always going to be difficult. Excruciatingly so, for many reasons I will explain when the time is right. 
Selim has been on my mind almost constantly since the day he left us, having carved an indelible mark in my consciousness since seeing him in the flesh for the first time. Who could possibly forget those eyes? The way they lingered, searching for a connection of pure fire.
I purposely let time pass in order to take stock on the blustery fluctuations of my thoughts and feelings and, as it is always the case with powerful issues concerning life & death, the longer I waited to put my words down, the more it festered. He would have known exactly what I mean. So I am indeed gathering my strength to capture the right stream of words for these pages, sincere and naked as always, to finally conclude my Eindhoven special in his fond memory. 
In the meantime, Guido Segers kindly offered to share an interview he conducted with Selim (in Dutch for the Eindhoven magazine 3voor12 in November 2013) upon the release of his beautiful final album as Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies. Because you see, both man and musician will never be forgotten by the people he touched somehow, somewhere, with his music and his tormented, ablaze, yet immensely tender, endearing spiritual energies… 

A special thank you goes to Paul Verhagen and Brendy Wijdeven for the gift of these beautiful photos.

Yours Truly In Chaos & Order,
Alex Mysteerie

A conversation with the ex-frontman of The Devil’s Blood on a new road, letting go and collaborating for the new album. 
By Guido Segers.

The Devil’s Blood is no more. The band that gained worldwide fame under the rule of bandleader Selim Lemouchi suddenly called it quits early in 2013. The record ‘III: Tabula Rasa or Death and The Seven Pillars’ was released, but after that this chapter was closed. A few months later, a new band appeared as a support act for Ghost: Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies. Lemouchi later played a gig for the Eindhoven home crowd on July 13th in Café Oude St. Joris. Now the debut album ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’ is ready to be released. Time to check how things are going, so on a Sunday afternoon we ring the doorbell at the Lemouchi residence.
Imagine the house at the end of the street. You know, on the corner, the odd one out. The one house where the curtains are not proudly opened wide to let people look inside. It was different to the Dutch stereotype in that way. There were stickers on the door, depicting various band logos. Inside the place was crowded and filed up with books, records and cigarette butts. In between all the stuff a huge dog is walking up and down, well mannered but quite shy. One wall is covered in traces of blood and in the corner is an altar set up, just like everyone has seen in the documentaries and interviews. Contrary to what many people have assumed based on my interview, there was no gloomy atmosphere, no foreboding feeling to the words Selim spoke to me. His home was a regular terraced house, on the corner of a regular street that just housed an extraordinary person who was very welcoming and friendly.
A new Path
Since we were raised with the right manners, we thank Selim Lemouchi for making the time for us. Today the musician has enough time: “It’s Sunday, the last day of rest before we really have to start working towards the seventh of December. We must start building up for the show at TAC (Temporary Art Centre), so it’s really time to act now. Sugar or milk?” Lemouchi goes into the kitchen to make some coffee and continues talking enthusiastically. While the coffee drips from the pot, Czech black metal makes sounds on the background. Sitting down on a flight case, Lemouchi continues his story: “I want to offer people more during the release show than just another rock show. Everything needs to be perfect. The music is not the most important, I’d almost say. They used to have better words to describe that, a complete experience, a happening. Music should never become a mass product, no ready made music that gives away all it has to offer on the first play. I want music that sticks to you. If I don’t experience that myself, then it’s not good enough. That’s how I always worked with The Devil’s Blood, I didn’t care what others thought of my music, as long as I liked it.”
He continues: “With the Devil’s Blood, I would always work with the same mould, I had to let that go of that on the new record. The formula went overboard and I decided to let the inspiration go it’s own way, letting it flow out, so to speak, and choose the direction it wanted to go. That has been a huge step, alongside opening up to others and work together. Robbie Geerings (Alabama Kids, mostly known from record store Bullit) even wrote two songs for this record, namely ‘Deep Dark Waters’ and ‘Next Stop, Universe B’. We produced the record together.”
Were these ready made moulds and formulas perhaps the reason for The Devil’s blood to quit, that is the question. “No, I think that within one form you can do endless variations and have an enormous spectrum of possibilities. All music already exists, I truly believe that. That means that one can go anywhere within certain parameters. All the records we made, I’m very proud of. I just think that with this way of working, I said everything I wanted to say. It was time for a change.”

‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’
On ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’, the musical journey of Selim Lemouchi continues. There is a new sound and a changing group of musicians who surround him. “I keep wanting to change things. At this moment in time I listen to plenty of black metal. Maybe that is the next kind of record I would want to make. For ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’ I took it onto myself to not hold back, not to limit myself with goals and targets. It was mainly experimenting, letting in others and collaborate on music making. That was the biggest challenge for me after being in full control for seven years. I try to steer the others, motivate them, but also to learn from myself as much as I can.”
A cup of coffee is placed in front of me on the stuffed table. It’s a mug with the Tasmanian Devil on it and the text reads ‘100% Animal’. Lemouchi drops down on the couch and grabs his phone to let me hear a bit of music. “When Robbie (Geerings) moved in here after Bullit closed, I handed him a guitar. He hadn’t touched one in years, but was he just sitting on my couch, doing nothing? I wasn’t having that. So this is what came out, which made me think: we can probably work together!”
Lemouchi  was sometimes named the dictator of The Devil’s Blood. Is he now more the manager of Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies? “That’s a good description actually, I think of myself more as a director or producer though. I tell people about my ideas and let them work with those in their own ways.”
The next step in his journey wasn’t a casual step forward, it evolved. First there was the  EP ‘Mens Animus Corpus’ (Mind, Soul, Body) was released. A title that seems to be more focussing on the ‘I’ in relation to its surroundings. “That is very true, that record was the first step outwards, it’s like a bridge between how I used to work and the new way; I didn’t feel like letting go of the reigns yet, I needed a sense of control. I recorded demos until I felt it was safe to hand over the music to others, which was still very difficult for me. But I did it and and took this new course I’m on now. From element A in the music, you need to get to element B and there’s only one right path. You have to find that, otherwise it doesn’t make sense, it’s not what it potentially could be and that’s the inspiration you need to unleash, for yourself and others.”

Lemouchi blames himself for the difficulty of the path he chooses when making his music: “I demand the best from myself and I’m painfully honest towards others about their input. I expect the same hunger and critical position in return from them as well. Some people have a hard time with this attitude, the current group of musicians I work with as well. At the start, we’d almost get into fights in the rehearsal room. Now everyone knows what I want to achieve and the drive and motivation I have and expect. The music must be great, emotions and egos have to be put aside to achieve that. This is just as true for myself. I think a band loses its quality, when people stop telling them ‘No’. When the keenness and challenges fade. I want to avoid that, but that’s not easy. Artists have to unite creativity with their narcissistic side. Of course, all of it has to do with money as well, but money is something I never really understood much of anyways. My role in this band, is to challenge others and hone them into critical musicians. That way, the band is bound to produce great things. Maybe the choice for the name ‘His Enemies’ has something to do with that, the hostility towards each other now and then. The art is the most important thing in the end.”

Art needs inspiration, but the question that inspires Lemouchi will obviously not receive a standard answer. He gives some examples: “I listen to a lot of music, music is something that’s as broad as you can imagine, when you let go of categories and genres. Take what I am listening to right now, for example (Master’s Hammer from the Czech Republic is playing, red.): I read that a lot of the inspiration for this band comes from Bathory and other classic black metal. It was a review that totally
missed the point. My thought was that the writer was incapable to hear the Czech folk influences in the music or the classical influences. People limit their framework of reference and that annoys me. Music is like a spider web, everything is connected and all inspires everything else. Without the Beatles there would not be any Pink Floyd and without them none of the bands that followed and so on. Don’t limit yourself to a genre or a scene by locking yourself up in it.”

Two Faces
“When I’m making music, I only listen to my own music, nothing else. When I have something and record it, I just get into that for days and delve into it. I listen to the recordings a hundred times over, until I think its perfect or I’m utterly sick of it. Then I start writing my lyrics and fill in the gaps in the music. I don’t even know what is popular right now, I only focus on my own music. Of course I do listen to things now and then, I have a list of songs that I think are the best…” The mobile phone comes up again and a series of band names are read out loud: “Jethro Tull, Czech band Root, Coil, Thin Lizzy, Beatles, King Crimson and Black Sabbath… and so on. I listen to this when I feel my own obsessiveness is making me go insane, but even then I have to force myself to let go and listen to something else.” The term ‘Occult Rock’ doesn’t say much for Selim Lemouchi: “I once wrote that in one of those boxes on iTunes for The Devil’s Blood. I love those boxes that you fill in with style names and inspirations… The term fitted with The Devil’s Blood and our sound at the time. Later they asked me what I thought of the occult rock scene, but I don’t know of any scene. Is Occult Rock a scene? It’s not like we and other bands that get this label meet up and hang out at shows, most of these bands don’t interest me at all or I’ve never heard of them. Ghost did make some good music, but the comparison between us and them? Nah, I don’t see it…”
Many books are being read by Selim for ideas and inspiration, but sometimes he reads nothing at all. Lemouchi describes himself as a peculiar reader. “I like to read on the toilet, I always keep a pile of books there that I read randomly. Lately I’ve been reading a lot from the French poet Rimbaud. I enjoy reading the Compte de Lautréamont, who wrote extensively on cruelties. Of course I read plenty of books on theology and theosophy. I started reading ‘An Antarctic Mystery’ by Jules Verne again and I’m reading ‘The Dark Tower Saga’ by Stephen King. I’ve always been able to draw a lot of inspiration from those books. ‘Bloody Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy is also a great book, which takes place in the early days of the United States. Like you’d expect I read plenty of religious books, grimoires and books on archeology. The Bible and the Koran keep providing ideas and inspiration as well. It’s always good to read books in which others try to find the truth. You should always rely on your own ideas, but those of others can definitely stimulate you.”
This inspiring mode works the other way around as well, as can be heard on the record ‘Earth Air Spirit Water Fire’, which is presented on the 7th of December. An album where Lemouchi inspired the band with his ideas. Lemouchi asks the first question about the album himself: “When you listened to it, did you hear one album or five pieces?” I answer it’s double, the songs are very different, but it feels like one. Some songs remind you of Pink Floyd or doom metal, others are more dreamy and kraut rock inspired, enthusiastic he replies: “I recognise that. For myself, I only listen to the full album in a file of 43 minutes, which I got after the recordings. I have the separate mp3’s as well, but it’s the whole that feels good. The peculiar thing is though, that these are indeed very different pieces of music, written separately, that form a whole. The album feels like the time between sunset and sunrise, the night. Some songs, like ‘Chiaroscuro’ and ‘The Deep Dark Waters’, are simple by design, with just one riff. These songs have a very narrative style and are basically quite simple, containing just one guitar riff that is reshaped, bent and repeated. They never get too complex, too stifled with extra stuff. ‘Next Stop, Universe B’ sounds dreamy. It seems like a very simple song, but it keeps changing although it’s hardly noticeable. It’s like the song ‘Just Dropped In’ by Kenny Rogers, never the same; if feels logical, but it’s completely irregular. It’s almost like we let go of the standard structure of a song in that one. Robbie (Geerings red.) hated it. If I couldn’t write a normal song, he asked me. That told me it was right where it had to be. We fought a lot over that song, but it really became a very good one.”

Having arguments with people is definitely a side of Selim Lemouchi, very different than the friendly spring of words today would seem to be. In his terraced house in Eindhoven he is calm and patient. It is as if he becomes someone else. I confront him about his two faces. I wrote about his friendly side and his artistic side in my review. “Yeah, I read that, but I think I have more than a thousand faces really… No, I think you were right. The friendly side may be a mask, a screen; I present myself as nice to be able to work in this society. On stage, with my music, I become a predator. I leave the herd behind and I see a red glow in front of my eyes. I think that’s where I open up, I show myself, because there I have to be in full control and everything must be right. I’m exactly where I should be and do what I have to do. Everyone else around me is required to do the same. The normal values fade away in those moments.”

Lemouchi looks away thoughtfully, he is not entirely happy with that darker side: “I keep working on it, that’s part of the task of collaborating with others. However, I need to express myself sometimes, even when I don’t want to. I can’t control that. There is a side of control and order to me, but also the creative, chaotic side. Those are intertwined and I’m still looking for the right balance.”

Thursday, 14 August 2014


Reflections on recent Vemod performances 
by Jonatan Olasson Håbu

This year's Inferno Festival had a handful of interesting bands on Friday's bill, of which Vemod was the most interesting. The readers of Wyrd's Flight should by now be well acquainted with this Norwegian band. Since the purpose of this text is to convey my recollections of Vemod's performance at the mausoleum of the Norwegian artist Emanuel Vigeland the day after their performance at Rockefeller Music Hall, I will briefly recount my impression of Vemod's performance that Friday evening. 

The concert went well technically, and the sound projected through the PA system was the band's clearest yet, and made the concert their most accessible performance to date. This does not mean that the band was less uncompromising in the delivery of their music: the clear sound, the size of the stage and the professional lighting, the reputation and commerciality of the festival, and the band's presence on stage, all contributed to increase Vemod's appeal and hopefully reached the part of the audience not usually attending the less commercial festivals Vemod have played thus far; for the audience's sake, that is. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and though the band's slot of only 45 minutes meant that the song Bortenfor was not included in the set list this time around, the concert was still the highlight of the evening for me personally.

(All photographic sources for E. Vigeland Mausoleum: and

Saturday dawned bright and warm, and I was eagerly awaiting Vemod's concert at the mausoleum of the artist Emanuel Vigeland. This concert had not been publicised at all and only 30 people were allowed to attend. Due to the fact that I had at previous shows assisted the band in matters of paramount importance to the success of their performance, I was invited by Mr. Blix to attend the concert a few days prior to the event. I was now humbly harvesting the fruits of my more than willingly given assistance. I had no idea what I would be experiencing other than a notion that the day would hold something greatly intriguing; after all, the music Vemod has released thus far shows great skill in creating atmospheres of a profound character. 

The crowd outside the mausoleum was handed out leaflets containing an overview of the concert's schedule. The leaflets resembled the ones handed out at funerals, and I noticed that my feeling of solemnity increased due to this and that I started to pay more attention to what my senses were experiencing. Before entering the building an employee at the mausoleum gave a short introduction to the artist and the mausoleum itself. Upon entering the mausoleum we walked through a low-arched doorway only 152 centimetres tall, above where the ashes of the artist rested in an urn inside a niche in the wall. Thus we were already humbled by the presence of the remains of the deceased artist when our eyes, growing accustomed to the sparsely lit hall-like room, fell upon Vigeland's painting Vita, which covers the entire surface of the mausoleum's interior save the floor. 

The painting depicts human life from conception until death, in dramatic and often explicitly erotic scenes. Candles in front of the ad hoc stage and sparse light from lamps set along the two sidewalls were the only sources of light in the room, and we walked cautiously up to the chairs set out for us and sat down to the reverberation of our footsteps: the fashioning of the interior not only catches the attention of one's eyes, but also one's ears due to a reverberation of almost 20 seconds. 
Already assembled in the room were Vemod, dressed in black and radiating solemnity and steadfastness. In front of them were a table on which stood objects of a ritual character. Beside and behind the table stood the instruments to be used in the performance. 

When the room had fallen silent, the concert began with a purification of the space occupied by band and audience. Through purifying the space wherein the concert would take place and establishing a sacral dimension within the bounds of said space, our minds and hearts were made ready to participate, however briefly, through the medium of music, in an experience of a truly spiritual nature. A spoken introduction then ensued, followed by the main part of the concert. At times the three performers functioned as a choir, and their voices, acting in unison, left none untouched. Other parts incorporated drum, guitar, flute and electric cello accompanying the singing, mainly performed by Mr. Åsli. The pieces were strung together seamlessly and one could say that the progression of the separate pieces in fact constituted the unfolding of a totality.

The concert ended with yet another purification. The conclusion of the unique event we had just witnessed signalled a return to the profane dimension of everyday life and its banalities. Once the applause had ended, the band silently exited the room, leaving us behind to digest the impressions left upon us by the performance, and to explore in more detail Vigeland's magnificent fresco. This was the perfect way to end the performance; we were left inside the room, our minds still occupied with the profoundness of the musical experience and our eyes catching ever more glimpses of the profound, and sacral, nature of the cycle of conception, birth, life and death as presented in the painting.

When I at last exited the mausoleum, I found the band engaged in conversation with members of the audience while Mr. Åsli was being interviewed by a journalist from a foreign music magazine. Speaking first with Mr. Kalstad I learnt that he now was a proper member of the band, and that Vemod did not consider this performance to be an exclusive one-time-only affair. Mr. Blix asked me whether the concert had been as I had expected. I do not remember the exact words of my reply, but it went along the lines of the fact that none could have envisioned such a grand happening taking place. Truly, the performance at times made me leave behind the constraints of the physical world and sent me on a journey both into deep, dark cavernous landscapes, and to peaks where a radiant light enveloped all. 

Staying behind to help with the equipment, I told Mr. Åsli I felt as though having attended a funeral and he somehow agreed. Since than, the feeling has become clearer and easier to put into words, at least in my mind, after having pondered over its nature. Here is an attempt at explaining that feeling: With their performance at the mausoleum Vemod revealed a new dimension to their music, and consequently altered my prior conception of both the reach and the depth of the band's musical universe. Thus it played the part of both funeral and birth.  
Vemod now stand before me in a different light than they did before the performance that Saturday in April.

The following quote by C. G. Jung aptly describes the result of the acts of introspection and contemplation:
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

The above picture, taken during a trip to a lake to the north of Oslo, makes Jung's statement somehow visible to the naked eye:

Like the moon, through beholding its own reflection in the surface of the lake, is turning its gaze inwardly experiencing more profoundly the moon within, so also should we turn our gaze inwardly and in doing so behold with clarity the inner being looking back at us.

The music of Vemod is a powerful means to this end.  

Jonatan Olasson Håbu

Booklet and moon photographs by Jonatan Håbu.