It must take a colossal ego to perform under the name King Khan, right? Not for Indo-Canadian garage-rock superhero Arish “King” Khan. Sure, the 35-year-old singer and multi-instrumentalist is notorious for his on- and offstage antics: urinating on his audience, getting arrested with mushrooms in Kentucky, and even shoving his bare, royal ass in Lindsey
Lohan’s face (http://bit.ly/AqK5Dx). But this veteran of countless punk, gospel, country, doo-wop and psychedelic soul side projects (most recorded for and released on Vice Records) is actually a fierce proponent of raw American music in its most elemental forms. Surprisingly, he’s also a happily married father of two daughters.
Folio Weekly caught up with King Khan to talk musical integrity, German electronic body music and alligators of both the Floridian and African variety.
Folio Weekly: You’ve pulled some crazy stunts in the past: doing cocaine off speakers during a show in Brazil, performing naked and in drag more often than not, destroying TVs and other assorted gear. Now that you’re 35, are y
calming down a bit?
King Khan: In some ways, yeah. Back in the day, we used shock to lure or repel people. But the music has always been the most important thing. And it all depends; if the crowd gives a lot, then they receive a lot. It still gets pretty nutty and crazy — maybe just less frequently.
F.W.: How did you get your musical start?
K.K.: I started playing guitar when I was 12, but my parents played Indian classical music on my mom’s belly through these big ’70s headphones before I was born. In high school, I got into Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, and then that evolved into metal and punk. By 17, I had left home, and joined the Spaceshits, playing with them for five or six years all over the world. When I did the first tour with Mark “BBQ” Sultan and Black Lips, we used ripped out pieces of an atlas, not laptops or GPS. So I’ve been doing this for quite a long time.
F.W.: How exactly did a Canadian musician of Indian descent end up living in Germany?
K.K.: The Spaceshits’ last tour was in Europe. I was 21 and fell in love, but I also felt like bands were treated differently here; in every city, there was a cool punk niche and people really knew good music. Plus, when you’re that age, going as far away from home sounds great. So I fell in love with the girl who is now my wife, and started a family.
F.W.: You’ve collaborated with countless bands over the years, in every genre imaginable. What’s on your plate now?
K.K.: I’m working with this amazing German singer, Rummelsnuff. He plays very Rammsteinesque, dark electro music. Over here it’s called EBM, or electronic body music. Most of my life, I’ve been playing old-school rock n’ roll, so I thought it’d be funny to venture into this electronic world. I’ve also been focusing on The Shrines’ new record.
F.W.: I’ve heard you describe The Shrines as “a Japanese animation monster tearing things up with eight dicks.” But really, the 10-pluspiece ensemble is more about funk, soul and jazz, right?
K.K.: When I first moved to Germany, I got into a lot of avant-garde black music from the ’60s like Sun Ra and Art Ensemble of Chicago. You hear so much revolution in their music, so The Shrines try to bring that together. It’s important to keep that revolutionary spirit alive — otherwise we turn into robots.
F.W.: Seems like you have a fascination with raw American sound.
K.K.: I’ve always loved desperation in music. Whether it’s punk or James Brown, desperation adds depth, which you really feel in your heart. My intentions with music have always been pure and not tainted with delusions of grandeur or trying to attain some big golden bucket. The people who come to the shows feel that — they see my music for its integrity and honesty. Music is a lot like voodoo or any kind of spiritual magic — if it’s done with the right intentions, it can give you great spiritual benefits. I think my fans follow me because they feel that no-bullshit honesty.
F.W.: Do you like touring in Florida?
K.K.: I really enjoy it, except for that well-water smell. Isn’t there an alligator problem there, too?
F.W.: No, but we do hunt them at certain times of the year.
K.K.: Wow. I saw some crazy African tribe on YouTube, and their initiation for young boys is getting these open cuts, which they disinfect with this leaf so it makes a specific scar. Then they have to spend a whole night in the swamp with only their eyes out of the water, almost becoming an alligator. Can you imagine how scary that would be?
F.W.: We don’t do anything quite like that here.
K.K.: There must be a biker crew down there that does it.