Do you know where this hand has been?
At the show, King Khan will show you in graphic detail.
Midnight In The Church of Khan
He Parties Like A Rockstar, But Wants You To Talk To Him Like He's A Pornstar
I check my watch. My interview with King Khan was supposed to be after soundcheck at 5pm. It is 6:30pm. Venue nightclub on the Granville strip is empty. It is just me, a few barstaff setting up, and the frustrated sound guy. Word is the band is stuck at the border.
I have been through this before. Black Lips. Big Freedia. Busdriver. Yo! Majesty. Bands that live a certain kind of lifestyle or have a certain reputation tend to have troubles getting to Vancouver—or sorry, the correct way to say it is “delay at the border.” Sadly the delay can in some case be permanent if all the paperwork is not correct.
I get a text form the tour manager. The band will be arriving right before they are due onstage. Any interviews will have to happen after the show. I let out a sigh—this is my first chance to see the legendary performer live. There is still a chance they might not make it.
If you don’t know the legend, well google it. At a King Khan show, anything can happen. And I mean anything.
King Khan aka Arish Ahmad Khan is a Montreal-born musician who now has his base of operations in the music Mecca of Berlin. He tours as a member of multiple bands, King Khan and the BBQ Show (a duo of Khan and his long time friend-collaborator Mark Sultan), King Khan and the Shrines, and finally the Almighty Defenders, an indie skid super group merging of Khan and the BBQ Show and the Black Lips. Khan also has a rumoured collaboration with GZA to be coming out soon.
The band makes it to the venue and King Khan and the Shrines is the perfect mix of skid, classic 60s soul, pageantry, sex and rock and roll aesthetics. When the show ends, the crowd slowly exits in a post-coital high and the chaotic energy dissipates very slowly, but gently.
There is a curfew in effect at Venue nightclub this night in Vancouver. Staff rush around dismantling the club and pushing everyone out. If the club stays open another hour, the employees will all have to be paid extra—something the management desperately want to avoid. This means that as soon as King Khan steps off the stage, he is rushed into two interviews. I am the second. King Khan is wearing his stage costume, a gold sequined speedo.But mushrooms are incredible. They eat the dead and you eat them, and then you die a small death, and then you live again. So it�s kind of like a whole reincarnation, rebirth-afterbirth kind of thing.
Just before we start the interview, a guy striking down the stage asks where King Khan’s gear is. Khan has yet to clear it out of the club.
Scott Wood: You started in Montreal, but now are living in Berlin. What is your relationship with the Canadian scene now?
King Khan: Well, the hotdogs are superior in Germany. Oh wait, wait—what was the question?
Scott Wood: Since you are an ex-pat and have to come to Canada to make your living, what is your relationship with Canada?
King Khan: I dunno. My family is still here—my immediate family—and I love coming to Vancouver every year and rockin’ out. [He starts to laugh.] I guess yeah, my family is here and I love to visit, but I prefer the hotdogs of Germany.I don't really consider ourselves a revival act. But in some ways I guess we are, I mean I am trying to continue the tradition of Little Richard and James Brown and people who I guess are passed away. So, I definitely like the fact that we are not purists in any way and that we don't try to emulate a certain sound all the time.
Scott Wood: Now that you live in another country, how does that change your perspective on this country?
King Khan: It makes me realize how small this country actually is. And most countries are actually quite small. So I guess in some way, it makes a vortex, out of a vertex? It makes geometry seem a lot simpler.
Scott Wood: You guys don’t have a cell phone. You guys are one of the only bands I know who operate this way.
King Khan: I don’t believe in cell phones. I believe that personal space is invaded when someone has a cell phone. But I am also that jerk who will borrow everyone’s cell phone and use it, so there’s two sides of the coin.
Scott Wood: This interview is happening after the show because you guys were delayed at the border. How was the crossing for you today?
King Khan: It was smooth—as smooth as a knife cutting through butter.
Scott Wood: [I can’t help laughing]: Weren’t you there for four hours?!
King Khan: Yeah. Actually I’ve had very different experiences at borders and tonight was actually really smooth. And there was a very cute border guard.
King Khan in all his regal glory. When we did this interview,
he was in this costume, minus the cape and the crown. No lie.
Scott Wood: Nice!
King Khan: Who looked like some Brazilian cat.
Scott Wood: So you guys got a lot of press because of a problem you had down in Kentucky. [Note: In late 2009 while on a US tour, the band was pulled over in Kentucky by police and charge with possession of Magic Mushrooms.] So I was hoping you could talk a little bit about what mushrooms mean to your life?
King Khan: We’ve actually erased that incident from history—like legally—so it’s wonderful. That’s why border crossings are so much fun. But mushrooms are incredible. They eat the dead and you eat them, and then you die a small death, and then you live again. So it’s kind of like a whole reincarnation, rebirth-afterbirth kind of thing.
Scott Wood: As a tip to others who might get in that type of situation, how do you erase something like that from history?
King Khan: Uhm—with mental telepathy.
Scott Wood: Wow. Wish I had your powers!
King Khan: You know Reebok Pumps? If you do it at a certain tempo, you can actually erase history.
Scott Wood: You need an endorsement deal with them I think.
King Khan: No. I hate Reebok. Cuz they’ve erased too much important history, yo! Powers like that are always abused, so you should be careful.
Scott Wood: Noted. I was making a joke with a friend when I was explaining how I was waiting for you here at the club before the show, while you were stuck at the border. I was saying how being your tour manager must be a baptism of fire and once they have done a tour with you, they can handle anything!
King Khan: It’s funny. Our tour manager used to be Deerhunter’s tour manager and there was quite a lot of animosity between the members of Deerhunter, so she used to call our tours “heaven” because we somehow have reached this kind of like really incredible work ethic that kind of revolves all around love and family. It’s basically like being in a Barbecue, constantly. Everyday waking up with coleslaw on the table. There’s Uncle Joe making barbecue. It’s kind of nice.
Scott Wood: Tonight was the first time I saw King Khan and The Shrines. Seeing you live will definitely convert anyone to the cause. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a revival act?
King Khan: I don’t really consider ourselves a revival act. But in some ways I guess we are, I mean I am trying to continue the tradition of Little Richard and James Brown and people who I guess are passed away. So, I definitely like the fact that we are not purists in any way and that we don’t try to emulate a certain sound all the time. We like to mix it up. I love 70s punk as much as I like James Brown and old R&B and gospel, so I dunno. I definitely think we put the whole show back into the thing. I think that it is still possible to have a religious experience at a concert and that’s what we try to establish. And like any kind of magic ritual—[He stops to belch loud and long.]—the people that are involved, they’re a part of it.Back in the day when I was younger, shock was kind of our weapon to engage the audience. And these audiences who don�t know who you are, you know watching someone urinate on someone else or shocking people was really a way to get them riled up and crazy, but now thankfully we�ve grown up and now its transcended to another level where we don�t need to use those elements as our weapons. It�s just purely musical and like you saw today, people were going totally apeshit.
Scott Wood: I read a quote of yours where you said that “sodomy was a musical influence.” [He bursts out laughing.] Can you help me find that influence in your work?
King Khan: I think the only thing that can help you try to understand that quote is to maybe explore life.
Scott Wood: Uh-huh.
King Khan: I don’t want to be the one to help you like—
Scott Wood: I am talking about in the context of music.
King Khan: Oh, ok! I was thinking of kind of initiation.
Scott Wood: No.
King Khan: Which I am not about really.
Scott Wood: Me either, thanks.
King Khan: Yeah. Musical sodomy. That’s what it is all about.
Scott Wood: Ok, you guys are on the Vice label—
King Khan: No. We’re not officially on the Vice label.
Scott Wood: You’re off?
King Khan: We never actually signed a contract. It was a verbal agreement to put something out. And we’re actually in the process of searching for something new and different places. And we have offers from different places, so I have never actually signed anything with Vice, but they did good for us with the two releases that we had. I think that we are ready to flap our wings into a different direction.
Scott Wood: Can you tell me a little bit about the Brotherhood of the Kukamongas?
King Khan: Yeah. That was basically started when we were teenagers and the original Kukamongas were basically The Spaceshits [King Khans first Montreal band] and The Deadly Snakes [a now disbanded TO band]. And then over the years, it got spread around. The Black Lips joined and the Shrines. It’s basically a musical brotherhood. [He spontaneously says “brotherhood” with a thick Quebecois accent.] My Quebecois. [He starts speaking with a mock thick accent.]
Scott Wood: I guess what I am trying to get at is what brotherhood means to a band like King Khan and the Shrines.
King Khan: A lot of it comes from songwriting. People who really make songs that are amazing. I think that I was lucky enough to grow up with a crew of people that somehow, I don’t know how it was, or what was in the water, but I got to grow up with some incredible songwriter people around me. Like for example, Jeff from the Demon Claws or Mark Sultan of course. And the Shrines too: Till our guitar player and Simon; we’re like the three principle songwriters. So I don’t know: there was some kind of magnet that is around me. I guess my mom used to say that I attracted good souls around me. So I dunno what it is, but it’s definitely a brotherhood, because when someone writes song that makes you wanna cry, or makes you wanna jump up and down and be merry, then I definitely think that it’s a blood thing.
Scott Wood: You guys have such a visceral live show and one of the challenges for a guy like me is capturing you and what you do in a 10 minute conversation. This is not always easy. How can journalists do a better job of capturing and informing others about what you guys do?
King Khan: [This question catches him off guard and he starts sputtering like a cartoon character.] Wait. Is that question about what you should do?
Scott Wood: Yeah, I am asking you for advice here. You channel acts like Little Richard and sings songs that graphically describe sexual acts. It’s such a raw show. It’s difficult to ask questions about that.
King Khan: I guess in some ways, just think about me as an adult entertainer, like if you are interviewing an adult entertainer—in his underwear.
Scott Wood: You are a husband and a father and I read a quote from you that you were going to tone back the live show and your antics in the live show and leave it to the fans to pick up the slack. Can you remember a time where the audience impressed you?
King Khan: Back in the day when I was younger, shock was kind of our weapon to engage the audience. And these audiences who don’t know who you are, you know watching someone urinate on someone else or shocking people was really a way to get them riled up and crazy, but now thankfully we’ve grown up and now its transcended to another level where we don’t need to use those elements as our weapons. It’s just purely musical and like you saw today, people were going totally apeshit. I think it kind of cheapens the whole thing if we have to go back to that, what we did back in the day. But again, it’s like any kind of magical practice, you have to slice open something to find out what is inside of it.
Then Khan turns to part of his party entourage who are leaving the venue. He needs to work out where they will meet up later.
Scott Wood: My last question. I typically get the guest to talk about a song as the interview ends so I can play that track.
King Khan: Ok.
Scott Wood: I am gonna pick the song this time. Since your act tonight was so uber-heterosexual, how ‘bout “I Wanna Be A Girl”?
King Khan: Well this song was written in the tradition of the Velvet Underground and “Candy Says.” Since I’ve been a kid I’ve loved these songs about transvestites and questioning sexuality. I think that’s always an important part of someone’s development. So “I Wanna Be A Girl” is kind of like a guy’s fantasy of, like, what a woman is. I’m really happy that girls seem to get off on it even more than the men.
Scott Wood: What does your wife think of that song? Did you get it right?
King Khan [He bursts out laughing again]: We’re still married. She is still by my side. I like to put a lot of humour into the music. I think that is the most important aspect of what we do. We take everything with a grain of salt. So many bands are concerned with the image that they give off, you know? I like to think that we, or I, kind of make people at ease or relax. I think that’s why we rile them up, because they let down their guard. Get them laughing and crying and freaking out at the same time.
Tune in to the interview show with host Scott Wood for more interviews with your favourite indie acts. Find us at www.cjsf.ca (Vancouver, BC, Mondays @4:30pm), www.radiocfxu.ca (Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Fridays @11pm-12am), www.cfru.ca (Guelph, ON, Tuesdays @3pm) and www.umfm.com (Winnipeg Winnipeg’s Hit Free Radio, Tuesdays @8am). You can also listen to and download both new and old shows at www.winniecooper.net.