Q&A with King Khan about reviving dying rats with weird prayers and the source of his blood curdling screams

Categories: Interviews

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Megan Cullen

While this week's profile on King Khan focused primarily on his trip to jail and how he first got into garage music, it only scraped the surface of our interview with the guy. Known for some insanely great live shows both with the Shrines and BBQ Show, Khan gives almost an equally entertaining interview.

It's a slightly bizarre trip with him opening with a story about one of the guys from the Fresh & Onlys (who are touring with the Shrines) reviving a dying rat, or at least that's how appeared.

From there, we delve into some Khan history and some of his primary influences, like the Mighty Hannibal, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Sun Ra. Then there's talk of free jazz and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the King Khan persona and a new Shrines album possibly coming out next year. Oh yeah, there's also the somewhat gruesome scar on his chest. And no, it didn't come from a shark, alligator or a tiger.

Westword (Jon Solomon): Has any wacky stuff happened on the tour so far?

King Khan: On the first day of the tour, we were eating at a restaurant in Atlanta, and as we were leaving, we found this rat on the sidewalk. And it was like dying, like it was poisoned or something. It was like a fish out of water and gasping for air. It was really sad to see. A bunch of us were staring at it, wondering whether or not we should put it out of its misery.

Then one of our friends who's on tour with us -- Wymond from the Fresh & Onlys -- he kind of went down on his knees and put his hands over the rat, not touching it, and, kind of recited some weird prayer or something under his breath. His hands were kind of shaking and we were staring at him, like, "Wow, what is he doing?"

Sure enough, after about five minutes of doing that constantly, the rat just got up and ran away. And Wymond was all spaced out and stuff. It looked he really did revive that rat. And then I bought him an ice cream. So, that's some beautiful healing for you.

WW: How did you first get into the garage, R&B and gospel stuff?

KK: When I was a teenager, I kind of went through the classic stages ... you know, you start off with classic-rock stuff, and then you move on to metal and then discover punk. So I kind of went through that, but I left home when I was seventeen, and I joined a punk band called the Spaceshits. That's when I really started getting into obscure punk, like these '60s compilations of these crazy rare rock-and-roll bands and really amazing gospel stuff like Reverend Louis Overstreet or Reverend Charlie Jackson.

It's primarily because of labels like Norton and Crypt, who really put out these incredible compilations. Once you get a taste of it, it's almost like you become addicted to it. And then, with the combination of touring all the time and having all these juvenile-delinquent experiences as a teenager on the road -- then I guess you can't do anything but; it kind of makes you into a pirate.

WW: I saw the interview with you and Mighty Hannibal on Pitchfork, and it looks like he was a big inspiration for you as well.

KK: Definitely. Sound-wise and spiritually. He's amazing. I'm really happy to know him and have him be a part of my life. He's doing well.

WW: He had his 70th birthday last year, right?

KK: Yeah, I sang with him at his birthday party. I brought the cake to him on stage. It was pretty awesome.

WW: And you're into to Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Little Richard and Sun Ra, as well?

KK: I think it's important to carry that tradition on, like having, you know, characters in music. Not just bland ... like people kind of put that fantasy style thing back into the whole... you know, madmen style. Because once that's gone, it's a sad thing. But I think that the fact that we get a lot of younger kids and stuff out at the shows, I think it's working.

WW: How did you develop the King Khan persona?

KK: It's not that far from my own self. It was never something that I planned out or something like that. It kind of just developed. I guess when you start traveling and touring as much as I was doing for most of life, then you kind of find who you are in a way, because you're in different cities every night. It's a natural thing that develops. It was definitely not pre-planned or programmed or anything like that. It's all natural, one hundred percent.

WW: Do you see you role in the Shrines as different than with BBQ Show?

KK: Yeah, definitely. With BBQ -- Mark Sultan -- I've know him since I was seventeen-years-old. We're like blood brothers. Making music with him is so easy because we're basically inspired by the same things, which is a number of things like world music and psychedelic music, not just R&B and garage. With the Shrines, obviously there are eight people working together. It's a totally different thing.

I like to have the duality of the thing. With Mark, we challenge people, but it's just two people. We have primitive tools and try to make it an orchestral kind of sound with the little things that we do. We try to make it sound like ten people. With the Shrines, it's like a whole new different thing. We have a lot more free jazz influence in there and there's a whole soul revue aspect.

WW: I know you're into Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and that last time you were in Denver, you were wearing that thing on your head thing that reminded me of Sun Ra.

KK: We just came back from Australia and our tour manager is like a total free jazz freak. We played these really big festivals with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and stuff. It was a lot of young kids, and our tour manager was really happy that these kids who were like seventeen or eighteen, who have no idea that Sun Ra or the Art Ensemble of Chicago even exist.

They get caught up in the frenzy of the whole thing. They really feel it. We usually have this ending to the shows where our last song is a total freak-out. He was really happy to see these teenagers bopping their heads and digging something that they probably never knew about.

WW: The last time you were supposed to come through Denver with BBQ, the show got canceled because you had that little incident in Kentucky.

KK: That's all smoothed over. All the charges were dropped and everything, so I'm happy. It was like the full-on jail experience. It was funny, because that tour, it felt like a boys-to-men tour, like our rite of passage into manhood. We got the full fucking orange suits and everything and the towel and the soap and the walking down and waiting.

And at the end of the tour, we played in Ottawa, and all these Outlaws -- the biker gang -- came to the show, and then we would up hanging out with those dudes. They took us back to their headquarters, and they're like one of the biggest rivals of the Hells Angels. I just remember sitting in their house and telling them stories about me in prison. It felt like, "Oh, my God, I finally grew some hair on my chest." It was bound to happen one day. I'm happy we went through experiences unscathed and the rock and roll will not stop.

WW: Are you working on any new material?

KK: Oh yeah, of course. I just put out like three or four records almost simultaneously. The new BBQ Show came out the same time as the Almighty Defenders album with the Black Lips. Also a punk side project I have called the Black Jaspers, which was released on In the Red, and Sub Pop put out a single, too. There's all sorts of stuff. The Shrines are going to start working on a new album toward the remaining part of this year. Hopefully we'll have something new by early next year.

WW: Any new songs you'll be road testing on this tour?

KK: Oh yeah. We've got some new stuff that we want to try out.

WW: One more thing: I realize it might kind of personal, but I was wondering how you got that scar on the left side of your chest, if you don't mind talking about it?

KK: I had a collapsed lung when I was eighteen or something like that. The doctors totally fucked up the operation. In Canada, some doctor didn't know how to do ... they were supposed to put a hole in my lung -- or my chest, basically - and put a chest tube in. She screwed it up like three times, and then sent me home with, basically, a tube with a bag attached to it. She was like, "OK, you have to come back here in a week, and we'll take it out." But she totally fucked up that thing.

In the process of sending me home, I got taken to my mom's place in a really shitty car, and it was really bumpy the whole ride, and it scraped the inside of my lungs, like really badly. So then I went to hospital for almost two months. I guess that's one of the reasons my screams are so blood curdling. It was like shredded up in there. But now I'm fine.



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