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Khemmis Guitarist Explains How Conan O’Brien Helped Him Overcome Depression

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As anyone who has suffered from depression knows well, it’s impossible to just “pull yourself out of it,” as internet smartasses or perhaps even an insensitive (or simply ignorant) friend may suggest. Depression works by shutting down the very mechanism anyone would use to motivate, taking over everything and making it difficult to accomplish even basic daily tasks. For artists of all kinds that can manifest in an inability to create despite the stereotype of the depressed artistic genius.

In a recent chat with The Pit, Khemmis guitarist Ben Hutcherson discussed that very phenomenon and stereotype, as well as dispelling the common notion that medication can dull an artist’s creative drive, explaining that an unlikely source — comedian Conan O’Brien — inspired him to seek help so he could get back to making music.

Hutcherson explained:

“There was an interview with Conan O’Brien on The Howard Stern Show of all places, where he talks about depression and anxiety and he was so afraid to get help for so long that he was like, What if I’m not funny anymore? And he got to the point where he was like, It doesn’t matter if I’m funny or not — I can ‘t FEEL anything. I need to feel alive, I need to be a husband and a father. And if I’m never funny again, at least I’ll be healthy, and there for my loved ones. 

“And of course it turns out, he goes to therapy, he gets on some medication — and he’s never felt more creatively charged. He’s like, I am in love with creating things now, and I don’t have to be miserable to do it. That really resonated with me. Because I knew that if I was sad or angry, I couldn’t create in the same way I wanted to, but I was able to understand that relationship in a good way. Like, this is literally getting between me and what I’m trying to do. So I need to address it. And it’s when I’m… not necessarily happiest, but most stable, that I can create music that speaks to these experiences in an authentic way. But when I’m in the middle of it? I can’t see the shape of it. I can’t see how it’s consuming my life.

“Being able to reflect on it, and understand how these things have come to pass in my life, and how I have or have not processed these things, I can put that into guitar lines so much better when I’m focused on it and not thinking, ‘Boy, I sure don’t want to be alive today!’ Because that can be a distracting thought.”

Thankfully for Ben — and for Khemmis fans — the guitarist is getting on much better now, and was able to dig deep for what will be the band’s new album, Deceiver, due on November 19. Listen to “Living Pyre” from that effort below.

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