Geared up for the weekend
Metal band Khemmis definitely isn’t in it for the money
It’s a classic rock ’ n’ roll story.
Sociology grad student meets freelance engineering project manager through online ad. Enlists fellow sociologist with shared loved of slow, sludgy music. Head brewer at local brewery pulls up a drum stool. A little more than three years later, band lands a spot in Rolling Stone magazine’s best metal albums of 2016.
Maybe “classic” is pushing it, but Denver doom quartet Khemmis has made it work. The band will roll into the Marquis Theater Monday night riding a wave of momentum almost as big as the sound on its head- banging, heart- wrenching sophomore release “Hunted.”
Despite its critical success, Khemmis’ metal means remain modest. The band practices in a claustrophobic rehearsal space behind the Walnut Room that it shares with local post- hardcore trio Muscle Beach. A bus would be nice, but this tour’s rides are a Honda Civic and a ’ 78 Chevy van lugging a trailer. The band has received just one royalty check in its career. (“Some people, their car payment is aboutwhat that royalty check was,” bassist Dan Beiers said.) They are drawing interest from larger indie labels, but Warner Bros. Records isn’t kicking down their door.
Careful planning and smart decision- making have been essential to keeping the band from becoming a financial drag on its members, especiallywhen it comes to touring,
which the group and its agents knowit can only do in short spurts.
Though Khemmis is an upstart on the national scene, it’s in exact contrast to the devil- may- care band of young’ns that image conjures up. These are career men, either married or in committed relationships, their early 20s well in the rearview. Singer/ guitarist Phil Pendergast is the youngest at 28, Beiers the oldest at 41. Pendergast and fellow ax man/ growler Ben Hutcherson are sociology grad students at the University of Colorado in Boulder. ( The band’s current 15- date tour was scheduled with spring break in mind, but Hutcherson said he was planning to grade some papers in the van.) Drummer Zach Coleman is the head brewer at South Broadway’s Trve Brewing Company, and Beiers will spend most of the next 18 months drawing up blueprints for the redesign of the Guam airport. The self- employed engineer has an 8- year- old daughter and doesn’t get paid vacation.
Professional and personal commitments have kept Khemmis from throwing itself headlong into the realm of opportunity it has recently opened up for itself. Just as it was getting started, the band had to pass on a 6- week tour with Viking metal stalwarts Amon Amarth.
“In the moment, itwas like, ‘ Oh, man, this might be the only cool thing thatwe ever get offered.’ And thankfully, it hasn’t been,” Hutcherson said. “It’s somethingwe’ve always made clear as a band. We love the idea of being rock ‘ n’ rollers butwe’re not 20 years old andwanting to jump in the van at amoment’s notice and come home to overdue bills or all our ( stuff) out on the lawn orwhatever. We’re fortunate to be in a position wherewe don’t have to take every offer, and I think, to some extent, that helps us.”
That doesn’t mean that if the right opportunity came along— say a tour with Metallica or Slayer— the band wouldn’t jump at it. For right now at least, Khemmis is much more a self- sustaining hobby that pays for an occasional stop at a cool brewery on the road than a ticket toMotley Crue-burning- downhotelrooms levels of success and excess.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re right on the of cusp of something. A change. A big change. But if it hap- pens, it happens. It’s kind of out of our control,” Beiers said. “At one point, I would say we didn’t even entertain the possibility of doing the band as a thing for all of us for some period of time. I can’t speak for these guys, but I know I’ve entertained it now. If somehow it got to a certain level, of course, I think we’d see it through.”
Certain aspects of Khemmis’ wild ride still strike the grounded crew as surreal.
“People are like, ‘ Are you guys going to tour Europe?’ ” Coleman said. “And I’ll go, ‘ Well, our agent is working on it.’ Then it’s like, oh! That just came out of my mouth.”
But the band is keenly aware that its tight, emotionally gripping album work is at the center of its appeal. Thewheels are already turning on the next record, seemingly before the amp tubes cool down from the last session for “Hunted.”
In many ways, that album was a reflection of the personality of the band itself. Introspective, polished and filler- free, it’s more refined and expansive than its predecessor, thanks to thorough self- editing. It smoothly weaves together slab- thick riffs capable of inducing “Wayne’sWorld”- ian bouts of spontaneous head banging, Iron Maiden- tinged harmonies, Thin Lizzy shuffles and sparse, sorrowful clean parts while tackling honest, human themes like fear and doubt.
The five- track epic, released in October on superindie label 20 Buck Spin, not only earned the self- described “doomed rock ’ n’ roll” outfit that ( digital) ink in Rolling Stone, butwas also named 2016’ s album of the year by extreme scene authority Decibel magazine. That came after Decibel ranked Khemmis’ debut, “Absolution,” theNo. 9 album of 2015.
Among the people least caught off guard by Khemmis’ rise from local band playing for free admission and beer to critical darlings wasDaveOtero. He produced both their albums at his Flatline Audio studio in Westminster. Otero said the band brings a level of self awareness and thoughtfulness to its songwriting— just like it does touring— beyond that of your average noisemakers.
“Khemmis is one band that has ability to envision a path and actually realize it in their writing in a way that most bands don’t,” Otero said. “They know what they want and they have a clear vision. It’s rare to see a band that forwardthinking. And they have a lot of eyes on them now.”
While members plot and ponder Album No. 3, the band continues to stockpile an ever- more impressive catalog of career highlights. It played a sold- out headlining show at Brooklyn rock haven Saint Vitus Bar in January, weeks after thrash legendsMegadeth rocked the same stage. The night before that, the band members remember the crowd at a headlining show in Chicago screaming bloody murder before they even picked up their instruments.
Still, the band hasn’t forgotten its roots. Though they, like so many, are transplants, Khemmis proudly flies the red, blue and gold flag of the diverseif- nascent Denver metal underground that birthed it. Hutcherson and Beiers said the sold- out “Hunted” album release show at the Hi- Dive in October remains among their top musical experiences so far, right up there with Saint Vitus.
Monday night is a homecoming show of sorts, but once Khemmis really comes home after the tour ends on April 8, its members will settle back into their normal routines: drawing airports, brewing beer, teaching classes or crunching stats in CU’s criminology department and getting together on Thursday nights to jam and rehearse for the next show. Whatever spoils of tour come back with them are to be conscientiously invested.
“We’re not going to be so flush thatwe’re all buying Bentleys orwhatever,” Hutcherson cracked. “But maybewe knock down some individual- level debt.”
Dan Beiers, of local metal band Khemmis, practices in the band’s studio at the Walnut Room in Denver.
Local metal band Khemmis prepares for practice in its studio at theWalnut Room in Denver. The group is going on tour with Oathbreaker, a Scandanavian metal band.
Themembers of Khemmis— Phil Pendergast, Ben Hutherson, Zach Coleman and Dan Beiers— fit their “metal” life around jobs and family.