Saturday, August 9, 2008

KING KHAN! interview

King Khan & The Shrines, LA Record (online full interview)

The most fun I've ever had interviewing anyone. I might post the tape of the interview online, because his laugh is so entertaining. Guttural. He talks about Sun Ra's joyful noise at the end, and a smell contest that will supposedly take place at The Echo tonight. And Arthur Lee crying over his steak, etc... He also makes me a special promise after the last question.

King Khan & the Shrines (feat. Sun Ra Arkestra's Dave Davies

This is the erotic splatter film he starred in when he was 22 and he first moved to Germany, and his music video with BBQ for "Why Don't You Lie?" Interview below.

Hombre Fatal

Why Don't You Lie?

Before touring with his electric-magnetic-frenetic 10-piece soul revue orchestra for the new Vice release, The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines, the soul man cosmonaut brother-from-an-Indian-mother of the King Khan & BBQ Show talks with Rena Kosnett about painting babies, knife fights, Arthur Lee crying over his steak, and funkifying Larry Hardy’s house, all while cooking paella. And the good king poppa patriarch throws some dental hygiene advice in at the close for kicks.

Rena K: You do paintings of rock icons as babies. The Little Richard one is very cute.

King Khan: Thank you very much. ‘Baby: of Richard.’ When I first came to Germany I saw those paintings—actually it was in France when I saw the first one—I guess in the ‘60s there was an artist who made a lot of those baby-faced paintings. Often you find them hanging in kid’s rooms and stuff. I used to find them in the flea markets, so I had this idea—why not make baby musicians that I loved? And then what was really cool was when Saba Lou, my youngest daughter, before she was even talking she would play with them like they were dolls, and she would walk around with them—

There’re sharp corners on those things, no?

No, no. I mean, it’s wood, but it’s not super sharp. Anyways, she would play around with them and then when she got older she totally knew who they were and which songs matched which paintings. It was a great way for her to learn. I actually got an offer to do a children’s book with them. I want to do like a CD with one song from every musician.

What are dream dogs? They show up in your paintings often.

Dream dogs are the dogs in my dreams. I basically wanted to paint them and make them known to everyone.

You dream about little fluffy poodles?

Yeah. On tour it would happen often that I would wake up and I just had these dogs in my head, so I put them down. I have a bunch that I didn’t finish. There’s a dog made of spaghetti, and a dog made of circles. I have to keep doing it. It’s hard to find time when you’re touring. I dream about all sorts of different animals. Actually, I had a very disturbing dream just 2 days ago, after I saw There Will Be Blood. When I went to sleep I dreamt that I was going home and I lived in an oil well. It was a bit disturbing, ‘cause that movie’s pretty dark.

Did you intentionally set out to become the first Indian-French-Canadian to front a soul revue orchestra?

Yes. Actually, I killed the rest of them. We were all Siamese twins at one point, and I managed to keep the brains for myself. No, I mean, coming from Montreal, it’s such an international place, so I never really thought of myself in that way. But I guess that is true. I’m a French. Canadian. Indian.

Well, yes. Among other things.

I’m really excited to bring the whole orchestra here. The freak show. It’s crazy because I feel like rock n’ roll has renewed itself again, with the new wave of musicians. I’m really proud to be living right now, in this time. The quality of music that’s coming out from my peers and my buddies, I’m very proud of it. I think that growing up today is not as dismal and shitty as I thought it was gonna be.

Speaking of dismal and shitty, you know how we hear stories about Arthur Lee yelling at members of Love and how James Brown was tyrannical over the people in his band—

I met Arthur Lee! I had dinner like right in front of him. I mean, we hung out. That was really crazy. I was playing a blues festival in Norway and Love was playing also. So I asked the organizer if it was possible for me to meet Arthur Lee, but he said ‘Oh, he’s kind of strange about meeting anyone.’ He said Arthur Lee usually plays the show and then goes directly to the hotel—he doesn’t socialize at all. So I said, ‘If you could give him a CD that would be great,’ and he said no problem, and that he would pass the CD on. So then at dinnertime I went to the hotel to eat, and I got a plate of food and went in to the dining room and Arthur Lee was right there! And I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ So I sat at the table next door to his table and one of the guys from his band was like ‘Hey, King Khan, what are you doin’ here?’ So I felt more like one of them. Then they asked me, ‘Where you from?’ and asked me about my life. I told them I left home when I was 17, so then Arthur Lee was like [lowering and gruffing up voice considerably to do the Arthur Lee parts], ‘I left home when I was 17 too. My daddy bought me a car, and I drooove away.’ So I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, my dad was a bit of a jerk.’ I told him my dad was addicted to cocaine, that he had a problem when he was young. And then Arthur Lee was like, ‘Really? Where’s your dad right now? I could use some of that stuff right now.’ I didn’t really laugh out loud at that, so he got kinda nervous, so I was like, ‘Oh yeah, haha.’ So then he said ‘Why don’t you come eat dinner over here?’ So I sat next to him and I was eating steak with him. We ate steak together. And then it was really kinda sad, because he asked me what I do, so I told him about the projects with my kids, and he was like ‘Ya know, I don’t have a momma. I don’t have a poppa. I don’t have any kids. I don’t even have a wife. I dance alone.’

Oh, Jesus.

And then, I swear to God, it looked like he had a tear come out of his eye. I was really shocked. In my head, I was like ‘Oh my God.’ We were sitting there eating, and he was almost crying. I was pretty shocked.

I’ve heard he was a tyrannical, crazy man to the members of his band.

Yeah, but he went through a really rough life, I think. Obviously, that kind of tyranny comes out of how happy you are at home. I’m, well—I love cooking for my band, I love being a poppa.

So we’re not going to hear any horror stories about you yelling at the Shrines?

No, not at all. The thing with the Shrines is—it’s really like a dysfunctional family. Everyone has their annoying little behavioral things or smelly body parts.

What’s the smelliest body part?

[laughing] what’s the smelliest body part?

The smelliest body part on the smelliest person.

Actually, if anyone can find out, I’ll give them a free record.

At your show in L.A.?

Yeah, if anyone is brave enough to test the waters.

You know, people are going to take you up on that.

Yeah, I know. [laughing laughing] So? I’ll just line up the Shrines and we can blindfold people and have their noses lead them.

Is the video for ‘Why Don’t You Lie’ based in reality? About BBQ going with you to Berlin and getting jealous and insecure?

The video is actually supposed to be a fake gay romantic art movie.

Really? I didn’t get gay—I just got like, really good friends.

It was supposed to be two gay lovers!

You should’ve kissed.

We made the mistake of doing that like twice in public, and it was really, uh, strange. Especially the second time because we thought it would be really shocking but then we realized that no one was even looking! That video was actually made by the director of the movie I did the soundtrack for—Oliver Rihs—called Schwarze Schafe. The video was the director’s idea. He thought that was really hilarious, to do that.

Does BBQ get jealous when you tour without him?

No, no.

He’s never said, “If I can’t have you no one can!”

[laughing] No, we share. It’s better that way.

What was the one deciding factor that made you want to stay in Berlin in the middle of your Spaceshits tour?

The Spaceshits had been together for five years at that point, and I think all of us were really itching to try something else, do something different. And out of the Spaceshits came a number of bands that were great. My sister started playing with the guitar player, and they got married and had babies. And Les Sexareenos came out of that too, so there were all these offshoots and I think it was a wise decision. I personally wanted to live in Europe because after the tour I was so happy being there, and amazed at how people are treated in general there, especially musicians. All the freaks of rock n’ roll music seem to survive in Europe. It’s been like that for a long time. People who are forgotten and disappear in America are really celebrated in Europe somehow. They might be small circles of people, but in every city you’ll find a couple hundred people who really have a passion for finding rare, odd, crazy rock n’ roll.

Do you ever see Jessie Evans and Toby Dammit around Berlin?

I didn’t know they lived in Berlin. I have a home studio in my house, Moon Studios, and I record there. I rarely go out. Just when friends come out to play shows, or something like that. I’m actually going to be putting out a compilation of the Moon material on In The Red. It’s recordings from the past eight years. I want to have volume one come out hopefully at the end of this year. It’s got Deerhunter on it, and Black Lips, and Saba Lou, and Demon’s Claws. Some solo stuff too. It’s like the family exposing itself. What I like to do mostly when people visit is just record songs. I do that with my family, my brother and sister too. I’ve been recording with them for ten years. I’ve been waiting to put it all together. But this year went really well. Deerhunter came out, and Demon’s Claws, and it all sounded so good. I can’t wait. I think it’s going to be great. And it’s on In The Red Records—L.A.’s finest.

I really like the duet you do with Saba Lou on ‘Passed and Gone.’ It’s very sweet.

Thanks, I just recorded that a couple weeks ago. I was working on that song for the Shrines, and Saba Lou was just sitting and watching, and quietly came up to me and was like [in a little girl voice] ‘I want to sing the song, too.’ It’s amazing because now that she can read, it makes things a lot easier. She’s turning eight on the 19th of July! And Bella is five.

You had kids at a fairly young age.

Yeah, I was twenty-two. I had a baby, me and my wife got married, and we moved into our new apartment, all in the same week. I have it all on the same roll of film. Our wedding, our moving in, and our baby’s birth. It was pretty crazy.

Did your decision to stay in Berlin have anything to do with their general acceptance of sexual deviancy?

Yes, definitely. It’s common for girls here to woo men with hashish and lure them into their dungeons and do wonderful things to them. I think in general Europeans don’t make their kids feel ashamed about sexuality. Growing up, kids are introduced to it in a really nice way, rather than in a way that makes it seem evil and horrible. I can tell just in the way my wife was raised. It’s a completely natural way of discovering things.

Are Berlin sex shops different than Montreal sex shops?

There’s probably a lot more leather in Berlin. Actually, Montreal is kind of kinky in that way too. But I don’t really go into sex shops. I like to be creative on my own.

Oh, yeah. I, umm, don’t go in to sex shops either.

[laughing] Unless it’s someone’s birthday!

The Black Lips list you as a member of the band in the Good Bad Not Evil notes, but it says that you caused major ruckus and distractions for them. What did you do?

Well, I’ve known them for a long time and sometimes I write songs for them. It’s like family antics. Like when a drunk uncle does funny things at your birthday party.

Did anybody end up crying?

[laughing] No, I guess not a drunk uncle—maybe when your cousin pukes on something. It’s like blood family. I go kinda crazy when I see them. I get excited, and like a kid—we all do. I jump on stage sometimes. That’s how I am with music that I love. I wish more people were like that too. There’s been some funny instances. One really funny one was when they played in L.A. recently. Larry Hardy was out of town and he let me stay at his house for a week, and the Black Lips and the Spits were playing in L.A. that week. So he knew that I was gonna have them over, I told him I was going to have them over. But we made a mess. I mean, I didn’t make the mess.

No, of course not.

Cole let a fart bomb off in his house and we had to open all the windows. So they equally make a ruckus when they’re around me too. I’m not always the troublemaker.

So they can’t blame you.

It’s fun to say, but they’re pretty trouble-making themselves.

I want to talk about Hombre Fatal.

Oh, God. That film was made by a really hardcore ex-skinhead punk girl. She’s the girl that’s in the movie with the tattoos all over.

It’s really hot.

It was pretty much her idea. I think maybe she had a thing for me or something, and I guess it manifested itself in the movie. She’s pretty hardcore. Her name is Iris Cuntze. And she was a really hardcore nasty skinhead. And she was notorious for beating people up and stuff. But then she went through this reform and I happened to be there for that.

You were totally cold to that Asian chick who shot Iris for licking your chest.

I know, I know. It’s because my wife was pregnant while that was being filmed. I was going through some shit.

The only part I was able to see was when you were dancing in your little bikini and then the Asian chick shoots Iris.

It’s a short film!

That’s the whole thing?

Well, there are the credits at the end where I’m signing autographs outside my dressing room. That’s kinda funny.

Have you ever met King Khan the Bollywood star?

No! But I really want to play a villain against him. I have this dream of doing this Bollywood film where it would just be villains, where every character gets introduced separately. Like a Sergio Leone movie. Or like El Topo with Indians. I’d want evil people, one after another. But I don’t know about that actor, actually. I’d like to meet him, I guess, but I heard recently that he did commercials for this cream called ‘Fair and Lovely,’ which is a skin cream in India for dark people to become light skinned.

Fuck, that's awful.

Yeah, so I was very upset when I heard that. That’s really horrible to put anything like that on the market. It’s sad. You see that a lot in India—it can be a pretty racist place. There’s still a lot of racism against dark people.

Do you think he’d have a problem with you using his nickname, now that you’ve publicly spurned his product endorsement?

I didn’t know about him when I came up with the name. I began using that name ten years ago because it’s very anonymous. Khan is my real last name, but the name ‘King Khan’ is common—like, if an Indian person moves to, you know, Idaho, and opens up a chicken place, he’ll name it ‘King Khan Chicken.’ Also, when I first moved to Germany I got a German WWI helmet as a present—well, it was made of plastic, it wasn’t a real one—and I would wear it everywhere. I would go grocery shopping with that thing on, and it would freak German people out—an Indian guy wearing a Kaiser helmet. The first time I went to Hamburg I was walking down the street drinking a beer with my girlfriend, and all these street bums were coming up to me and screaming ‘Kaiser!’ And ‘kaiser’ is like ‘king,’ so I thought, ‘Man, I’m a king in Germany!’ So that’s where the name came from.

Did you respond to the bums that were yelling at you?

Yeah, I was drinking a beer and giving them a salute—

Wait, wait, what kind of salute?

What? Oh… no, like a cheer! We don’t have those kind of bums anymore.

If George Clinton and James Brown were in a knife fight, who would win?

Definitely James Brown. James Brown was a boxer, a fighter. I think George Clinton would be trying to distract him by doing some kind of funky dance, and then James Brown would just cold-cock him. And I mean a punch.

How about Long Gone John versus Larry Hardy in a knife fight?

I don’t know if I can answer that. Well, I would say Long Gone. But maybe Larry has some kind of mysterious Tai Chi training or something.

Larry does have youth on his side.

Yeah, but Long Gone’s kind of Larry’s poppa in a way.

So it would be like a Star Wars kind of situation.

Long Gone John is Darth Vader and Larry Hardy is Luke Skywalker.

You’ve worked with Goner Records in the past, and Sympathy For The Record Industry, and In The Red Records. So why Vice now? Why not find a comparably independent record label based in Berlin, or somewhere else close to your home?

I just wanted to get the music out to the masses. It’s great to work with underground labels, and I’ll continue doing that. But Vice has a whole strategy to get it out there and push their shit onto normal people, not just music fans. And I think that it’s time this music gets out of the whole underground thing, and gets to younger kids. It’s done that a bit naturally, already. You’ve got Thrasher magazine writing about us and Jay Reatard and stuff. But I guess with Vice, I’m down with them really pushing it all over the place.

Was it Vice’s idea to release a compilation record or was that you wanted?

That was what I wanted, to test the waters. Also that Shrines material was pretty much an exclusively European thing. I didn’t really tour all over America with the Shrines like I did with King Khan & BBQ.

It wasn’t due to a lack of new material to run with?

No, I thought it would be good for the older stuff to get more exposure. We have a new album—we’re working on it now. But I think that the songs on Supreme Genius still hold up. For example, songs like ‘Torture.’ It’s ten years old. And it’s about time people took notice of those songs. I think a lot of people, especially in the States, didn’t get a chance to hear them. Another thing about Vice, we’ve got this great booking agency working with us, and it’s little things like that—I mean, King Khan & BBQ do really well in America, and I think it’s because of that, that I finally got to bring the whole band—Oh shit, I forgot the rice!

[Sounds of pans crashing. Pause.]

Are you burning your dinner?

I’m checking—I don’t think it’s burned. Okay, it’s good. So the success of King Khan & BBQ enabled me to bring the Shrines over.

Considering that you’re barely out of your twenties, do you think declaring your ‘Supreme Genius’ at this point in time is selling the rest of your seventy or so years a bit short?

That title’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek joke. My dad had a big collection of Indian classical music, and it’s common for sitar players to have the phrase ‘supreme genius’ in the titles of their records. It’s similar to the phrase ‘Popular Favorites’ in the U.S.—like those records that say [making his voice like a 50s radio DJ] ‘Rock n’ roll: Popular Favorites’ from the ‘50s and ‘60s. So that’s where the ‘Supreme Genius’ came from. It didn’t come from an ego problem. Which I don’t have.

It reminds of Korla Pandit—his records.

Did Korla Pandit have a ‘supreme genius’ album too? He looks crazy.

He’s not really Indian! He was a light-skinned black guy.

Yeah, he was from L.A. right? I’m really Indian, though.

I believe you. I want to know about your fashion choices. I really like your bone wear and your grass skirts—and the sparkly gold onesy you were wearing while you were giving your friend a hair cut in New Orleans to make him look like Ghandi.

My wife designs all that stuff for me. We should sell that stuff. It would be great to start a fashion line of my dresses.

Do you pick out outfits for the Shrines like James Brown used to do for his band?

My wife picks out and makes all the costumes, and I help here and there. I’ll wear them and she’ll stick pins in me. It can be quite scary and erotic.

Do you already know what you’re going to wear at your show in L.A.?

I’ve had the same suit that I’ve worn for the Shrines, the white one, for years now. I’ve taken that suit on tour for two months and it doesn’t smell bad. I could wear it every night. But I have to dry it. I’m not really one to bring too much luggage when I go places. That’s actually why I prefer to wear hula dresses with King Khan and BBQ—they’re a lot easier to pack.

So in the smell challenge, you’re not going to be the smelliest one?

No, no no no. Ah, well, maybe. It depends on what time of day it is.

Do you smell worse at night?

I have this musk that comes out, like a beaver. Or a raccoon.

Is it in response to external stimulus? Like a skunk?

I always keep a little pouch of beaver musk wherever I go. Most Canadians do.

Can you explain why you like Sun Ra to me? I ask because he’s someone I’ve always admired, but I have trouble getting to the root of it, since I don’t go for all the extraterrestrial cosmic awareness stuff.

What I always loved about Sun Ra was the way he created his own myth. And then that myth became reality. When I think of Sun Ra, I think, ‘Well, now he’s back in space.’ I really believe that. What he did was musical alchemy in a way. He brought people together in Philadelphia who probably would’ve never played instruments, and told them what they should play, like a pharaoh. He would look at someone and say ‘You should play drums!’ And we don’t know if they would’ve found that without him. He was a catalyst for a lot of people.

He had that one quote: ‘We’re all instruments, and everyone is supposed to be playing their part.’

It was kind of like being a magician, his ability to influence people. Like Anton LaVey—a much kinder, gentler Anton LaVey. LaVey was kind of scary—not scary, evil. What’s beautiful and unique, what I love about Sun Ra was that he preached for people to listen to the music inside themselves, and not the programmed music that was shouted at them to numb their brains. And that whole idea is still applicable now. I especially love the Sun Ra doo-wop stuff that he did—the space doo-wop stuff. I think that music is so psychedelic and wonderful and pure. It’s unbelievable. Like Henry Darger’s paintings.

But, again—kind of scary. Those paintings can be really scary. But some of Sun Ra’s later electronic keyboard compositions are really frightening.

People like that, Henry Darger and Sun Ra, they don’t create for the masses—they create for themselves and their own healing process or whatever it is. They don’t even necessarily want it to be shown to everyone. It’s just beautiful and uninfluenced by stupidity. The first time I really had a religious experience with music was when I was 22 and first moved to Germany. I met this painter and sax player, who was actually going back to America—he gave me a stack of video tapes of Sun Ra. And I flipped out. I had known a little bit about Sun Ra, but I didn’t know the whole philosophy behind it. And after that I found my way. I wanted to do that same kind of joyful noise.

Last question. Do you think your wife would mind if you and I reenacted Hombre Fatal with me playing the part of the tattooed lady that licks your chest?

I think because we had this interview and everything, it’s part of the job, and it would be disappointing if it didn’t happen—so no, she wouldn’t mind. Please brush your teeth before we do that. And don’t forget to floss.


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