This interview has been published on Radio Metal the 29/12/2020.
We’ve never known much about Farida Lemouchi. Even though she was the voice of The Devil’s Blood, the center of the attention on stage, off stage, she was mute; the composition, lyrics, and declarations of the band were all handled by the mastermind and guitar player of the band, her brother Selim Lemouchi. After his death in 2014 and a deeply emotional performance on the stage of the Roadburn Festival a month later, Farida took a step back. For years, we only heard her in a couple of collaborations, including a memorable cover of Aphrodite’s Child’s “Four Horsemen” with Griftegård.
And then in 2019, with three bandmates from The Devil’s Blood (Job van de Zande, Oeds Beydals, and Ron van Herpen) and a couple of new associates (Marcel van de Vondervoort for a while, and then Bob Hogenelst and Matthijs Stronks), she came back on the same stage for the 2019 edition of the Roadburn Festival as Molassess. After a first EP, Mourning Haze / Drops Of Sunlight, the album Through The Hollow was released seven years after the last creations on which Lemouchi, Beydals, van de Zande, and van Herpen were all involved: III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars, the last – and aborted – album of The Devil’s Blood, and Earth Air Spirit Water Fire by Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies.
But Molassess isn’t a headless version of The Devil’s Blood: it doesn’t aim to reproduce formulas that were proven successful, nor to resurrect what has been put in the ground years before. It doesn’t try to leave everything behind either: the band sounds like it’s actively digesting its past, constantly negotiating with the ghostly presence of Selim. Despite its sophistication and the beauty of its arrangements, Through The Hollow feels pared-down, authentic, at times brutally so. Brave and vulnerable, meticulous and imperfect, deeply alive, it tells the detailed, sometimes grueling story of a grieving process, and the story a rebirth, too: it looks like emancipation – Farida is finally singing her own words, the musicians play their own music – but goes with its own brand of suffering as well. Death takes but gives, too; it’s the source of the brightest creations; it transforms, metamorphoses: Selim may rest in peace, the ones he left behind obviously heard his message.
Through The Hollow was the perfect opportunity to finally listen to what Farida, who was once called “the Mouth of Satan”, has to say. Here are her musings on art, life, death, and everything in between.
Through The Hollow was released a couple of days ago. How do you feel? A sense of closure, maybe?
I’m happy it’s released now. It was very intense, we worked on it for a very long time, and in the end you really need to get it out there so it’s really done. You don’t wanna listen to it or hear about it for a time, and then it’s good that you can finally let go. It’s closure, yes, and it means you can start new things again. I’m really happy about it. It’s a good thing that it’s out there, now we can move on. I feel good.
Did you see some feedback yet?
[Chuckles] I try to avoid it a little bit, but of course, I’m nothing but human, so I’m interested in whatever people think. It’s been very positive, in general, I read some good stuff about it, so I’m glad.
The band was put together for a special performance at Roadburn in 2019. Can you explain how it happened?
It was Walter “Roadburn” Hoeijmakers who contacted us individually to ask if we wanted to put our heads together for a commissioned piece for Roadburn. The assignment was to write 70 minutes of new material. “Do you want to do it with these guys?” he said, and of course I wanted to. Everyone involved said yes immediately; that was the beginning. In the process of writing, after a few months, it became clear that it would become more than just that one show.
So the line-up of the band has been set up by Walter.
Oeds [Beydals], Job [van de Zande], Ron [van Herpen], and me from The Devil’s Blood, plus another guy called Marcel [van de Vondervoort] who used to play in Astroniq back in the day were the ones who were asked. We wanted to include keys and we needed a drummer, these were our own choice.
Is Marcel still in the band?
No, he’s not. He was involved in the beginning. He’s a drummer, but because of severe health issues, he had to stop, so we looked for another one.
How was it to write music together again?
It was great. It all went very naturally, as if we hadn’t done anything else in the meantime. It was a very good timing, we came together and everything happened organically.
How was it to get back on stage—and what stage!—then?
[Chuckles] Many, many different emotions… I was very tense, but I’d worked very hard to get there, it’s not like I got Walter’s message and one day later, I had to be on that stage. After a year of work, you feel very ready. I was ready to perform again, and it was great, the venue was packed… It was a relief of some kind.
You played an hour-long set of new material. Did everything end up on Through The Hollow?
Everything that we performed then is on the album, except for one song that didn’t make it. And of course, we had the single. We played “Mourning Haze” at Roadburn, it’s not on the album because we had released it already. But after that, we kept on writing and added some extra things.
Did you know that it would be more than just a live performance at the time? When did you figure that there would be an album?
Very early on. The four of us, the old members of The Devil’s Blood, we were always thinking about one day forming a band again, coming together and doing stuff at least. But everyone had their own band, their own projects, and I was very busy with other stuff in my life, so it was never the right time. But now that we finally came together again, it seemed that we had so much to do and so much creativity going on that after a few weeks already, it was already very clear, I think, that we would go on. We had so much more than the 70 minutes. It felt very good, so we discussed the fact that we needed to at least make an album even before we hit the studio for the Mourning Haze / Drops of Sunlight EP.
It was released on Ván Records and for Through The Hollow, you signed on Season of Mist. How did it happen and what did it change?
Sven [Dinninghoff, from Ván] and us, we’re very close, and we talked about this many times. We discussed it with him, and he was actually the one saying, “Maybe you should go out and look for something that fits more to this story,” and that’s how we ended up with Season of Mist. We had ideas on how we wanted to do the album and what we wanted to achieve, we figured it was the best way to do it. I didn’t change anything on the creative level or how we proceeded.
After The Devil’s Blood disbanded, all the musicians went on to do other things (Selim Lemouchi and His Enemies, Death Alley, Gold, Dool, ZooN etc.). Not you though, except for a couple of featurings. Did you need some time to digest the whole thing, even more so after Selim’s death?
Yeah. It was some very wearying years… I was busy: my son, who was 14 when Selim died, and my mother needed my care and attention. Time goes really really fast, so before you know it, you’re four years later. I never chose to not do anything anymore, it just went that way. Sometimes, life is just what happens.
You’re known for your vocals in The Devil’s Blood, but were you singing before? When did you start?
I’ve always sung. When I was a very young child, I was singing the whole day, in school and plays and musicals, but I never had any ambition. Or maybe I just never hooked up with the right people, I don’t know how that went. But I used to sing in all these small things here in my hometown, just for fun, never really with the idea of ending up on a big stage. It was never my intention anyway. One day, my brother called me and told me, “Hey, I have this song, maybe you could sing it,” and I did, and the rest is history.
I think this is the first time you actually sing your own lyrics, and very personal ones at that. How did you write them?
I worked together with Oeds. We are very close and communication is easy, we have this ping-pong thing where I think about something, I put it into words, and I share it with him. Then he comes back to me with some changes or questions like, “Is it what or how you feel?” and that’s how thoughts become lyrics.
What did it change for you as a performer, to sing your own words?
Good question. It changed a lot because this time, it felt like I had to walk this whole long road on bare foot… It was more me, which was a choice, also, it had to be about me, so the singing is more… In the end, it didn’t change anything. At first, though, this fact that it was more about it made it scarier: you really put yourself out there, then. You stand alone, and you don’t have anyone else to lean on. That’s was the biggest thing to overcome: I had to do it by myself, on my own. Before, I always had my brother. He was there all the time, and if you’re so connected to someone, you always feel safe, you know that he will never let you down or let you do something that is not good. I trusted him completely. Now, I had to trust myself. This what the biggest struggle for me, I think.
How did the band work on these songs? Four of you worked together in The Devil’s Blood, but The Devil’s Blood was mostly Selim’s thing. Did you find new ways of creating together?
Yeah, it is very much a band thing. Ron and Oeds already had some ideas, so we took them in the rehearsal room and to jam and play with it. Everyone has their influence on every song, very much. It’s a collective process.
Did it help—especially since in a way as you just said, you were standing alone—to work with people you already knew, your band members, Pieter Kloos, the producer, or Max Rovers, who did the artwork?
It felt really good to have familiar faces. Working with Pidah was an obvious choice, first, because he’s a fucking great producer and technician, and second, because we know him of course. It felt right to have him there instead of taking some chances and go out there to look for different stuff for the first album. We decided to take it easy and grow into it again with some of the usual suspects. It felt very good.
Was it easy for Bob and Matthijs to fit in that? What did they bring to the band?
They fit in very well. At first, it always takes some time before you get to know each other, especially since we haven’t been in a van together, we haven’t been on the road yet and this is where you get to know each other really well. They come from really different backgrounds, they’re not into metal at all, so it was really great to have them with us. They have a completely different approach to sound. They both studied at the conservatory, they’re very educated and technically crazy good. They brought a lot of that on the table, which was very welcome, and I think it shows in the album.
Did you have any input in the writing of the music?
Yes, we did everything together, really. We’re a very democratic band. When you’re in a rehearsal room and just talk or jam, then everyone can bring their own tastes and ideas of how it should sound.
Through The Hollow is a bit of a paradox as it feels both like a closure and a new beginning. Death is everywhere yet ultimately it feels full of life. It must have been a very cathartic experience to work on that. How does it feel like to you?
At times, it was a very painful and very slow process, very tiring, but at the same time, it was totally uplifting. As you say, it’s paradoxical, it’s the end and the beginning, and the beginning of an end and the end of a beginning. It goes on and on and on, through the hollow and back. I think every emotion one can feel is in there, and I felt it along the way.
There is also a paradox in the fact that it’s about letting go and yet molasses – which is the title of the last song you worked on with Selim – is very sticky!
Yeah! It’s exactly the symbol of it. You can let go, but you can never really let go. I mean… It goes deep and we could talk about it for hours. You can say that you have to let the past be the past and move on so you can do new things or be a better person or another person or whatever, but you always take something with you. It will always be there. This is maybe what I was struggling with before we started Molassess: How do you move on, how do you let go of someone that you don’t wanna lose, that you still love very much? How can you prevent it to drag you down, back into the past? How can you manage to take it with you in a good way and then move on? I think that this is the sticky part of molasses.
“The Devil Lives”, which closes the album, has been at least partly written by Selim. It’s quite a statement to finish on—the whole album feels a bit like you all looking for your own way through his heritage or legacy. Do you think you reached what you wanted to reach with that album, you and the rest of the band?
For everyone it’s different. The two guys who came later, they never met Selim, they didn’t know anything about The Devil’s Blood before they came with us. For them it’s different, of course, and for the other guys, even though we talk about it all the time, I don’t know if I could represent them very well. But I can talk about me. Of course, it’s a process that will go on for ever… I learned many things, and I needed for me personally to do this, and maybe to find out in a way that this album is not the answer [laughs]. But I don’t know, I’m not there yet! I had to do something, I had to struggle through it and this album is a closure of a period, and a statement for myself, that I’m still standing and stronger than ever and free of some things… But I know there’s still a whole journey ahead of me also. You’re never there, you’re never finished, it’s never done.
I was there at Roadburn when you played and I thought you really looked like that—free.
That was the main thing for me, the freedom… It’s great that you could feel it, I’m happy.
Let’s pretend that we’re going to get out of the whole COVID situation soon: you have a tour planned with Tribulation and Bölzer next year [the interview took place in 2019; unfortunately, the tour couldn’t happen so far]. It’s a very diverse line-up, how did it come to be?
We were just asked for the tour and we said, “Yes, of course!” [laughs] There’s no story behind it. I met the Bölzer guys many times, we know each other very well and we like each other very much, so it’s great. I met the guys from Tribulation guys only once in person and that was cool, but there was no Molassess at the time, so no, no story there!
Are you guys planning to do more music together?
Yeah, we are, of course—to us it really feels like the obvious thing to do, because what else could we do? We’re not done yet, I think… We’re writing new material at the moment because we can’t do anything else, and there’s a lot more that we need to do together. At the moment in our country we can’t even rehearse, it’s all a little bit difficult. Music, writing, sharing ideas, this we can still do thanks to phones and the internet, so we’re trying to find ideas on how we can deal with this COVID shit, and maybe come up with some inventive new stuff. I don’t know yet, but there will be more!
Thanks to Farida for her persistence and generosity.
More about Molassess here and on Facebook.