Interview with Ashmedi of Melechesh

Right before their gig in Dűrer, we had the opportunity to have a chat with  Murat Cenan, better known as Melechesh Ashmedi.

I think this one is your 14th gig in a row, so how fresh or how tired you guys are now?

I’m not tired at all because this tour is actually very organized, and we get to sleep more than we get to sleep at home.

Really?

Yeah, it’s very comfortable, and there’s a crew that sets up everything. Our routine is more like sleep, watch movies, come to soundcheck, do the concert, drink and party. A little bit worn down from the stage performances, it takes a beating on the body, like bad pains and stuff, but other than that it’s fine.

You have been here for the first time in 2008, after that twice in 2011, and I just counted that now that’s your 8th performance here in Budapest in the last 10 years. So how do you like this country and the city?

Well, it’s a rich city culturally with a good, interesting history, but it’s also metal as fuck, and we always get a good response when we play here. Last time we were here was in 2018, at the same place, I think… so yeah, we played a lot in Budapest.

There is one question, what I always ask from everybody. Could you categorize me please, putting into boxes, what kind of genre do you play? Is the Mediterranean Blackened Thrash still a valid term?

Yeah, that’s the thing with journalism because you need to write sound into words, you need to kind of explain it. In the end, the essence is metal music, rock and roll, but it’s actually… I tried to invent the Middle Eastern style of black metal, and it also has a lot of thrash metal, heavy metal, hard rock riffs, it’s just our own way of doing things. And if you really look at the metal scene, pretty much every band in the extreme metal has lyrics or names of songs or names of bands from our region, so it shows that there’s something interesting happening there.

You said in past interviews that you don’t really like to be a headliner because it means that you are a club closer with the last gig. So how do you feel now?

It’s literally when… yeah, as soon as we’re done with the concert, you go to take the showers and… Well, we do party and stuff on the bus, but not in the venue. There is less opportunity to go and find a bar or something like that, that’s what I mean [laughs]. And sometimes the showers are cold by then and the towels are gone [laughs], but these are minimal stuff… so that’s what I mean from a practical point of view.

Maybe I missed something, but I just tried to figure out what’s happening with the band, and I found no signs about any kind of new releases after Enki. Are you working on any new material and would it be possible to share details?

Well, yeah, I’m working on a new material, of course I am, but it’s going slowly. A few years ago it was a difficult period for me, so there was a bit of delay in the creative process, but it was all past now and I’m back on track, I’m happy to say that I feel better. When I want to compose, I really want to be sincere about it, not half-assed, you know. But yeah, there’s a lot of material on guitar. The only thing is I need to start making demos for it, and once I have like two or three demo songs complete, I can actually book a studio.

It raises the next question about the way you create a song. Is everything arising in your mind immediately or you are restructuring and then re-creating those things?

There are many ways… sometimes it starts from a title or it starts from an image or from a riff or a sound, and from there you work around it… like a jigsaw. Adding, adding, changing, and then the last step is literally having a demo, and then after minimal changes, you just have a skeleton, a song, a rough picture like a sketch with a pen before you do the oil painting.

It turns to the next question: where does your inspiration come from? Mediterranean and Middle East culture is a known thing, but are there other sources inspiring you?

I think everything can inspire you without even knowing. Some of the best material I wrote was in the gloomy, rainy Amsterdam, so it’s what’s inside your head… anything could inspire you. A picture can inspire you, so it’s hard to pinpoint, it’s not that black and white.

Religion and culture have quite an important role in your life, from the Assyrians until the Kabbalah. Have you ever studied those things, or you just became interested in them?

In the past, we read so much we could have gone to university and studied it and became a teacher or something. I read a lot about it… in the past, not now, because I kind of finished everything, you know [laughing]. Well, but before, I could tell you everything, but now I’m getting old, I start forgetting [laughing].

So you cannot recall sentences from Sepher Jezirah?

No, I cannot recall anything, I can’t even recall where I put my phone today [laughing].

Where does your interest in religion and culture stem?

When you were raised in Jerusalem, you see all this… I’m a surrealist in a way, and that’s why I like science fiction movies, and that’s why I also like mythology. They were all around me, the ancient structures, the landscape, so it just inspires you.

You are doing most of the instruments, including guitars on your albums. Have you had the chance to learn to play those instruments, or it is just coming from the air?

I never had a guitar lesson, I couldn’t afford it. When I was a kid… You just pick an instrument and start making a sound, and when the sound is pleasant, that means it’s working. Of course, you learn how to do the picking and stuff, like the fretboard and stuff like that. So, you just make a sound… give me an instrument, I’ll make a sound, and when that sounds good, I’ll use it.

This is what I call talent.

…I don’t know… I just don’t have the patience for lessons [laughs]. When I was a kid, I literally had no money to pay for lessons.

Can you also play traditional Middle Eastern music on traditional instruments?
Yeah, I do play on oud, on saaz, on bouzouki, on tarbouka… I can survive on those, yeah.

Unbelievable…

… they are just stringed instruments, you know! We just need some time to get used to the picking and stuff.

Is Melechesh at the moment your main occupation?

Yes, unfortunately…

Why unfortunately?

Because there is a lot of work with it [laughs]. You see, when it’s like a passion or a hobby only, it’s an outlet or release, but when it’s also your job, you’ve got to be responsible for serious things, it becomes also a responsibility, that’s what I mean. Then sometimes you get stressed out from it… but it’s a privilege, so I’m lucky! And every album in the metal scene… you know, it’s like pretty much every album is your last album unless it’s really good. Like the slave driver: ‘make a better album, make a better album’ [laughing]! ‘Entertain us, entertain us’ [laughing]!

Do you have a family?

No, I can’t.

But how can personal relationships tolerate this lifestyle, hanging a lot in studio or doing a tour? I think it’s hard to find ways to manage it timewise…

That’s why I’m single… in the beginning, it works, and they get all happy and excited. I also find it healthy to spend time away from… like a partner or friend or something, and then come back, but when you start missing their birthdays and stuff, it starts getting annoying. And some of my friends do this and they have kids… it’s hard for them. My brother has kids, and I missed them… imagine me having my own, it would be difficult.

Just asking a little bit about the private things and your background. If I’m right, then you have Syrian and Turkish ancestors, you used to live in Jerusalem, and now you live in the Western countries. What do you think, which culture are you connected to the most?

Well, first of all, my mom and my dad have Turkish roots, but they’re Armenian Aramaic, and they moved to Jerusalem, and I was born there. When I was two years old, I lived in Senegal, Africa, so the first language I spoke was French, accidentally. And then I lived in America, I lived in Orlando… the whole world is pretty much the same with minor differences as decoration. So I’m related to Planet Earth, but I do feel comfortable places where it’s very global, where I see the benefit from that stuff, the diversity and stuff like that. It’s just a small planet, it’s not that big, and pretty much most people are the same. Look at wedding photos around the world, unless it’s forced, they’re all happy, or look at graduation photos, look at the father in the photos, all proud! People are the same! Or look at babies when they lick a lemon… that’s pretty much the same.

That’s absolutely right, but in the case of yourself, we are talking about the hottest point of the world, where different religions are trying to live together, and it is not successful as we can read in the news.

Well, actually it’s more successful than in Europe or in America. They do coexist religion-wise but is it politicized, and the politics is not working. But the people who are actually praying and are religious, they don’t bother each other, if you’re really supposed to be a good person. It’s just a lot of uneducated people… I only say ‘uneducated’ if they aren’t in school, you can be as dumb as fuck and have a Ph.D., it’s not that… I mean intellectually open, but a lot who are not, are easily manipulated through religion or politics. That’s why some of the closed-minded people could be religious, but being religious doesn’t mean necessarily you have to be a bad person. But a lot of the religious aspects are about control, and that creates problems. It’s not about spiritual freedom, it’s more about control. But other than that, if you’re just a good person, then do whatever you want.

Do you have any religion, or how you are working from that point of view?

No, I don’t have any religion. I’m not an atheist, I just say there are no absolute answers. Who am I to say something I don’t know about?

And how can you live together with the religion in the countries where you did live?

I don’t mind if it makes them feel good and it doesn’t do bad, because for me it’s like saying ‘I like Lord of the Rings, Part 1 or part 2 or part 3’, and then other people come and they say, ‘no, we like Harry Potter better’. Whatever, man. You understand me? When I see they do stuff that harms them personally, that’s unfortunate… but if it just makes them happy inside, I’m like, whatever, you know.

What does music and playing mean to you?

Oh, many things… creating sound is almost like magic, like physics… music is made of sound waves, so when you made them from nothing into something, that’s pretty cool, that’s an invention, but it’s not really tangible… that’s sonic magic I call it. And it changes your mood, and also frequencies can change you physiologically. So wow, that is a kind of a form of science or magic… it’s very interesting. On the other hand, I see it as an excuse for people’s egos, and I find it pathetic.

What does metal and extreme metal mean to you?

A lot of bullshit and a lot of good, creative music… you know, it’s not one thing, it’s so big. It’s like saying what does food mean to you? Some of it is good, some of it’s horrible. But what it means to me, it is like tribal music… it’s cathartic, it’s primal… that’s why it works, actually, with tribal music, because they’re both. That’s a very healthy way of expression.

And what about the bullshit part?

People don’t go into it… they just do it because it’s like… a hobby. Self-indulgent and not more… and that’s fine, but there’s a lot of really recycled stuff out there. And I’m like… why you’re bothering, why you buy an instrument to keep on recycling, you don’t need to do so, just listen and have fun! Do something with it, some meaningful, I don’t mean you have to be original, just be good, you know.

Written by Á