“I Don’t Think We Would’ve Topped It”: Selim Lemouchi On The Devil’s Blood, His Enemies, and The Dude
Selim Lemouchi is a surprising person. Like, it was surprising that his band The Devil’s Blood released one of music’s most impressive debut records ever, The Time Of No Time Evermore. And as their embryonic buzz grew, few expected him to abruptly dissolve his tasteful, artful occult rock sextet — not in the era of juicy paychecks and big hype for ‘70s-inspired devil rock, and definitely not in the afterglow of their second masterpiece, The Thousandfold Epicentre. More surprising still, Lemouchi and TDB released a posthumous third album in demo form on June 11. Sure, in 2013 “demo” quality is superior to studio quality of just a few years ago, but was Lemouchi asking fans to interpret an unfinished sentence? Was an unrelenting visionary dumping out a work of art marred by incompletion?
The answer, according to Lemouchi, is no. To the contrary, he told MetalSucks that the III: Tabula Rasa or Death And Its Seven Pillars (Metal Blade) demo-album is complete as it is — and used a reference to The Big Lebowski to illustrate that point. That surprised us in the now-familiar manner, as did hearing him warmly explain that the sudden end of The Devil’s Blood was the only option (but not in the way we might expect). He also took us through his new project Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies, the non-importance of band infighting, the danger of overstaying your welcome, and the future of his former bandmates. Awesome interview.
Anso DF: Do you think that a fan of The Devil’s Blood might be surprised by your decision to release material that’s “unfinished.”
Selim Lemouchi: I could imagine that people experience that, I really could. I think it just as to do with the unexpected and unannounced disbanding of the band. It kinda came as a surprise to us too, to find things ending the way they did. We just thought it might be a good idea to, like I said, to simply end the story in a way that [we could process now.] It felt like a very natural thing to show the world, like, “This is the point where the story stopped.” That’s exactly what we were doing at that time. Things hadn’t been recorded with vocals yet, because the lyrics weren’t written. It’s a end-of-story chapter.
No no, because to me it is perfect. That’s kind of what I’m trying to say. After we stopped working on the demos — basically what was to become the record — we looked back on what we made and we were shocked by its commitment, by its emotional … change. By its thematic completeness. It tied everything together, in the words of The Big Lebowski, y’know? [laughs]
It really tied the room together. [laughs] And we kind of looked at it in that way as well: Of course — and perhaps there are better circumstances — but it does signify this really unique and perfect moment in time, this sense of completion, and this sense of perfection that we have when we look back at this breadth of work that is The Devil’s Blood. So for us, it doesn’t really feel like … We don’t feel sorry about it at all. We love the way it is. We listen to it with a lot of pleasure, and with a lot of understanding. I can really relate to people who don’t necessarily have that understanding. That’s a little more different, “This was not what I was hoping for.” That’s something that they’ll have to move beyond, and with time perhaps they’ll be able to see it for what it is.
I read [something] last week I think, where it basically said “They just made this just to fulfill contractual obligations.” But everyone who knows me and the way we’ve been working, they know that doesn’t happen to us. We don’t have contractual obligations. The Devil’s Blood never signed a contract. We had a deal —
But that happens.
Definitely. It surely does. And I always have felt very bad for bands that have to work in that way. That’s not something I would choose to do. For me it’s our nature basically, it’s what the record industry is about. [Tabula Rasa has] its own worth. I’m very proud of it. I love every minute of music on there. It’s some of the best songs that we’ve ever written — and would ever write. That’s the finality of it as well … I don’t think we would’ve topped this. I don’t even think we would’ve done a better job of it in the studio. That’s as far as I want to go with that.
This has to do with the fact that there are several moments on this record … For example, certain notes that Farida [Lemouchi, TDB singer] hits, or a certain emotion that she manages to put into a vocal line. The same goes for me with the guitars: For some of the guitar solos, they are simply the best that I could do. I could’ve tried to do it again, or to add to it, or to get it all down by practicing on it for months and months, and then trying to get it the exact same way. But at the end of the day, I would’ve probably tried to use the takes from the demo sessions anyway — which is something that we did on previous records as well. If the demo take is good enough, use it. Don’t throw anything away, ever. The closer you can be to the pure moment of creation, the better it is for the oevrall aesthetic of the thing. Perhaps this is more spartan and more [pauses] austere aesthetic that it has, to me this makes it the better record of the three.
It’s not hard for a listener to adjust to the demo quality of it.
Okay well that’s good to hear [laughs].
It could’ve been the other way around as well. I’m a person who loves listening to, like, the first Hellhammer recordings; they make as much sense as [Celtic Frost’s] To Mega Therion. To me, production is never really an issue; it’s the music. Production is really just an asthetic. It doesn’t make the music better or worse, it only allows you to listen to it better or worse. It’s really [sighs, pauses] When we lose perspective of art, and we only look at the, the, the packaging, if you will — how good does the guitar sound? — that’s all fine and great, but at the end of the day we’re talking about the songs. The songs should move by themselves. If people don’t allow themselves to be moved by it simply because [of its production] that’s the kind of … [pauses] When you have those things on the sides of a horse’s head so it can’t look to the sides? Know what I mean?
You can only look straight ahead and aren’t allowed to look at the sides of a thing so you can get a broader picture of it. That’s something we’ve come to expect from the metal underground; it always has been a very conservative bunch. That’s fine — maybe in time they’ll be able to see it through different eyes. When it comes to critical acclaim, that is, what has always been a very good example to me is the last Dissection album Reinkaos, which met with terrible reviews when it first came out. “There are no blast beats on this.” “It doesn’t sound like black metal anymore” blah blah blah. Until a few people who just stuck with it a while, set that panic aside, and started listening to what exactly it is that’s being offered here — how good are those songs. Are we really going to make a point about the drummer isn’t playing the same drum breaks as he used to? Because that’s just ridiculous. That doesn’t have anything to do with essence of the music, with the power of it. That’s just aesthetics. To me that’s always been a very important thing. You shouldn’t just have a lot of guitar solos because that’s what you’re supposed to do now. It should fit the song. It should be played in the right way, and not too many notes, and blah blah blah.
I predict that kind of reaction to the new album by Watain.
I haven’t listened to any of that yet, so I can’t really give you … I’m waiting until I have the vinyls in my hand and I can listen to it under the right circumstances. I don’t want to do that on Spotify or whatever [laughs]. That’s me being a little too close to the fire to enjoy it that way. But I think I understand where you’re going with this, and you’re probably right.
You mentioned the end of The Devil’s Blood. What happened? How can you stop now?
Well, because we were done [laughs].
It was a bit of a shock to us as well, because we found ourselves incapable of continuing. And of course that generated a little bit of frustration, and even some in-fighting. But at the end of the day, we look back on that and we decided, Well, of course — we always fight. We’re an idiot bunch of aggressive assholes. So yeah, it was gonna be a gonna fight. [laughs]
But our fighting is not that important, you know. It’s what’s going on beneath the surface. We felt, both of us — me and my sister as well — that we had done so much from this point of view, if you want, from this certain aesthetic, from this … well, not dogma, but in a certain way we had this very clear plan of how everything could be done and how it should stand, and nothing was left to [pauses] chance. We looked back and we were like, Yeah, there’s nothing really to say anymore. We’ve said it all, we’ve done it all. Especially when we looked at the last record, at the demos, we were like, Wow. This is the third record. There’s never going to be a fourth record. You feel that. You know that. You know it when you’re done. Like a painter watching a painting: You can touch it up, you can step away from it for a while, you can go back and add a few colors or something — but there’s a point where you look at it and say, Okay now it’s done. Now I have to stop messing with it because I’m going to ruin it. And I think a problem with most rock ‘n roll bands is they overstay their welcome [laughs] —
— by a long shot. I’ve never wanted to be a band that overstays its potential. Y’know? I always think that the Rolling Stones is a good example. After Some Girls, who needs another Stones record? The Beatles … That’s exactly how you should end a career: Right then and there at the high point of creativity. At the high point of having something to say. “Well, we’ll never be able to do this again. Goodbye.” That’s just honesty. That’s what an artist should always stand for.
That’s exactly what’s so exciting and so great [laughs].
I really love that. The sense of starting a brand new adventure on different terms and with my own name, with my own music, with my own lyrics. With everything being under my wing. As much as people like to think that I was always in charge of The Devil’s Blood, they’ll know, especially within the band, that it wasn’t me that was in charge. It was something outside of me that influenced me and pushed me onward. The hand upon my shoulders. That hand has tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know what? You’re done. You’ve done a tremendous job, thank you, and now fuck off and go do something else.
I’ve been set free. I can do anything I want now.
That’s a terrific feeling. I began writing like a week after the band, I started writing demos and recording new songs. And we went into the studio to record a single that came out the same day as the Devil’s Blood album came out in Europe. I just keep on going. That’s all I can do. I’m a musician. I want to play, I need to play. I want to express myself. There’s a lot of things that I want to say, that I think need saying, and that need hearing. I’m just going to keep on going.
That’s great! There was a moment where I was reading the notice of The Devil’s Blood’s disbandment. It sounded angry, so I started to fear that —
Well, anger and passion are always a big part of what we’ve done — and still is, I guess. What a lot of people thought was bitterness or anger, or even sadness, was actually relief. It was a sense of, Wow, that was what the fuck we did. Looking back over the last seven years and tell me one thing, just point at something and tell me it didn’t go exactly the way it was supposed to: There’s nothing. Just a perfect game, you know? Strike after strike after strike after strike [laughs].
No gutters. Again, The Big Lebowski. All strikes, no gutters. [laughs]
And that’s really the way we look back. I guess when people read something like [our statement] … It was really short to the point. I didn’t want to overemphasize any part of it; I just wanted to get it out there. A lot of people might have been shocked, bitter, and angry, and therefore saw those emotions in there.
What is your vision for your new project, Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies? Will we see you on tour?
Ah I don’t know. I just recently played my very first gig. We did a performance as support for Ghost, which was really interesting. Ghost asked me to do it and they kinda like pressured the venue into telling me to go on stage. Of course, I didn’t even have a band or a line-up or a setlist. So I asked a lot of musicians that I knew, friends of mine, to help me out. We rehearsed once and did the gig. It was pretty good.
We’re doing another one in a few weeks. But after that I think I’m gonna cool down a bit. I’ve just started recording the first full-length album, which [exhales] hopefully will be out before the end of the year. Then, we’ll take it from there. I’m kinda hoping to get one release out in America, and perhaps do some gigs there after that. But we’ll see. It’s all up to the fates, you know.
There was a moment where I thought maybe there’d be no more music from you guys.
I think these coming months are gonna be very surprising.
There are a couple new Devil’s Blood releases floating around: a live release, an acoustic EP. Can you tell us about those?
Yeah, this is gonna be dealt with the moment there is enough energy and motivation to actually do it. Everything is more or less done, but some stuff needs to be mixed and some stuff needs to be edited a bit. The live material still has to be plowed through and selected. To be honest, I just couldn’t get myself to do it yet. It’s too much work on something I really love. I’d rather spend my time right now writing new stuff than plowing through dozens of recordings to create a very good live record from that.
It’s something that will happen in time. Of course we will take the same kind of care as always. Everything is going to be special, just the way it always used to be. But there will be no new things recorded — nothing added to what is already there. It’s going to be exactly what it is.
To a fan, this is the best break-up ever!
There’s so much music and good vibes coming from it. And I was so worried.
[laughs] Okay that’s good!
Can you tell us about the other former members of The Devil’s Blood? Do they have plans that you know about?
Some of them have already been working with me on new projects. The drummer and guitar player, for example. The first [Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies] gig, I actually had all of The Devil’s Blood members on stage except for my sister. She’ll join me onstage for the gig that’s coming up. Everyone’s working very hard at their own projects; there’s tons of stuff coming out in the coming year by all of them. There are some really talented people.
The relationship with your sister is the same?
Yeah! More or less. Things are never exactly the same as they were yesterday. We love each other dearly and, y’know, we still want to make music together. I have this thing where I can make her sound really good, and [laughs] … I don’t want to say too much about this, but she’s actually looking into making some kind of solo record, something she wants to do for herself by having people she respects and admires write songs for her. Of course she has all my deepest support imaginable. She’ll be fine.