King Khan: Rock n’ Roll Soul

Photo: Rebecca Smeyne

“I think this career choice was a lot smarter than boxing,” says Arish “King” Khan, formerly known as Blacksnake.  King Khan is the frontman of the retro soul-punk outfit King Khan & the Shrines.  “I definitely chose a better type of brain damage,” he says.  Besides playing with the Shrines, King Khan also plays alongside good friend Mark Sultan (aka BBQ) in the two-piece, doo-wop punk band The King Khan & BBQ Show, and recently hooked up with Black Lips to record an album.

Newcomers to King Khan and his music will be surprised, shocked and possibly moved.  When I first heard King Khan’s music, I felt like I’d found something I’d been looking for all along: true rock and roll.  There’s nothing gimmicky, false or over-hyped about The Shrines or his music with BBQ.  I could immediately tell it came from a deep-rooted passion, almost as if they were playing in a certain vein of music not because the times were changing, but rather because a man like King Khan was answering a calling to pay homage and continue to create the type of music that makes so many of us continue to fall in love with records time and time again.

Take Arthur Lee from Love, mix him with dashes of Bo Diddley, James Brown, Sun Ra and the punk rock of The Cramps, throw in a few scandalous Bollywood characters and you still won’t have even half the sum of who King Khan is on stage.

King Khan and the Shrines, who play here at Urban Lounge on April 9, are currently storming through the States on tour, bringing their soul-infused rock to needy individuals as if it were gospel.  They met through personal ads placed in the German magazine Happy Weekend.  They’ve been playing chaotic, fervent rock ever since, spreading their madness like disease.

King Khan opted to stay behind in Germany after a tour with his former Montreal-based band The Spaceshits, a band which was notoriously banned from most venues in Montreal. Germany is where King Khan still resides, operating his own Moon Studios, which he and his wife built in their living room and where they have recorded countless records, including the last King Khan & BBQ Show album, Invisible Girl, as well as Black Lips’ Let It Bloom, Georgiana Starlington and Demon’s Claws.  “People like to be entertained, and entertaining is what I do best,” he says about his live show, which is filled with often notorious exploits.

The Shrines boast a variety of talent and a collage of influences (including some members having worked with Ike and Tina, Bo Diddley and Curtis Mayfield), and says their approach to music, while it may not sound like it, is to “keep it stupid simple.”

King Khan approaches each show with a sense of spirituality, blending it with a certain mix of turmoil and soul.  “My spirituality has a lot to do with chaos and firing up a bunch of bodies, whether it be through humor, pure psychedelic frenzy or music,” he says.  His stage antics are matched by his outfits (which his loving wife creates) and energy.  “It’s a question of soul-power and how to light a candle under the collective ass.”

Apart from being a manic rock n’ roll soul preacher, many might not know that King Khan is a father of two and a loving family man. “I got married when I was 22 and we had our first baby a week after the wedding,” he says. “Being a dad is the best thing ever and was the best inspiration to work hard and spread the rock n’ roll love I have burning in my loins.” King Khan also supports his sister’s musical endeavors, who resides in Shanghai with her kids, and is helping her release her debut LP, after having been in the garage rock band The Del-Gators and Cocobeurre.

King Khan’s passion for music and life seems to pour out of him, and his dedication to his trade shows. He released three albums in just the last year and was part of numerous tours, including a tour with BBQ that was unfortunately cut short, thanks in part to the Oak Grove, Kentucky police department. Later this year, King Khan and BBQ will play numerous North American festivals, which includes time as Almighty Defenders. King Khan is also going to collaborate with GZA, working on his next album and touring in support of him.

He’s also just finished creating the score for the German film Schwarze Schafe. “Director Oliver Rihs came to my house to show me a sex scene that he wanted one of my songs for,” he says, “It was so great, the lovers even play chess after they make love.” It sounds right up King Khan’s alley. He continues, “I dug it so much that I asked if I could score the whole film. Next thing you know I was in the editing room with the film editors.” King Khan has taken to life in Germany over the past decade, getting involved in nearly everything he can. “The film is a really great German black comedy that really captures the essence of Germany,” he says.

King Khan is also a member of the Kukamonga Death Cult. The group started from The Spaceshits and Deadly Snakes, and also includes Demon’s Claws, Gris Gris, The Spits and the late Jay Reatard. Reatard, probably one of the world’s greatest guitarists in recent memory, was dear friends with King Khan, having known him for over a decade. “Jay was definitely one of the greatest punk rockers I’ve ever known,” Khan says, “I met him first when he was 17 and smoked dope with his mother at 5 am and then went to his place and watched UV porn.”

“One of the best tales about Jay would have to be this show he played in a mechanic’s garage,” he says, “He got naked, covered himself in motor oil and then, by mistake, wound up spraying oven cleaner all over his balls and burning two layers of skin off his penis. Imagine him going to the hospital like that!”

King Khan’s love for his family, music and friends shines through as he laments the last time he saw Jay Reatard.  “It’s really hard to believe that I’ll never see him again. The last time we got to hang out was in South America. We did some shows together, and we were talking about how nice it is to meet in crazy parts of the world,” he says. “We went swimming and took a long walk and had a very nice couple of days together.”

“It gives me some solace to know that he is buried next to Isaac Hayes. I think that makes me really believe that we’ve all been following the right path in life.”

Other members of the Kukamonga Death Cult include members of Black Lips, with whom King Khan and BBQ recently teamed up in Berlin to record as a supergroup under the moniker Almighty Defenders. The album was recorded in four days in King Khan’s living room following Black Lips need to flee India and seek asylum in Germany and boasts a great blend of some of the best parts of both group’s musical leanings. King Khan, who is of Indian descent, says that India isn’t ready for punk rock, but adds, “If I ever go there I wanna be typecast as a villain in several Bollywood films.”

King Khan’s adventures include many graphic tales of debauchery (pissing into a pint glass during an interview), Tarot cards and countless other wild sounding things, but at the end of the day, you can see he’s one of the most easy going, excitable and genuine musicians you’ll ever meet.  When asked about Voodoo, he simply answers, “Invite me over to dinner and we can have a long talk about it over some owl meat.”  Apart from touring with The Shrines, BBQ and Almighty Defenders, he’s also going to be working his fingers to the bone while working with Bloodshot Bill and past project The Black Jaspers, released on In the Red Records. “There is a lot of stuff to look forward to, but all the music stuff aside, I just wanna go home and cuddle,” he says.

Anyone looking for a glimpse of what the true embodiment of honest rock n’ roll looks and sounds like shouldn’t miss the group when they grace our state with their fiery brand of music.  You won’t see any wannabe gypsy pirate folk-heroes on stage, but rather might catch a glimpse of King Khan and his loins.  I’d say that’s a fair trade.

King Khan & the Shrines play at Urban Lounge on April 9.

Photo: Rebecca Smeyne