Rollo & Grady Interview :: Hanni El Khatib

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2011 is going to be a big year for the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Hanni El Khatib. The San Francisco native generated industry buzz when local music blogs Passion of the Weiss and Aquarium Drunkard each presented him in shows last year. Soon after, his music was featured in the HBO series “Hung” and he landed a slot opening for Florence and The Machine.

Hanni’s music is straight up rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of soul and blues. Influences range from Johnny Cash to the Sonics, and his cover of “You Rascal You,” is a dead ringer for a Black Keys song. Still, his sound is his own, transporting a hybrid of the past and present. “Build. Destroy. Rebuild,” Khatib’s second single, sets the tone for his debut album Will The Guns Come Out, which will be released May 2011 on Innovated Leisure. When he is not touring, Hanni serves as creative director for HUF, a skateboard company founded by professional skater Keith Hufnagel.

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R&G: So where are you right now? Los Angeles?

Hanni: Yeah, I’m in Los Angeles. I moved here maybe 4 ½ months ago from San Francisco.

R&G: Was moving here an easy decision for you?

Hanni: Yeah, moving was kind of work-related. I’m the creative director for a skateboard company called HUF. We moved our whole operation because the industry is down here. I looked at the bright side of things: the label I’m on is down here and I came down here a lot over the past couple of years anyway, so it kind of worked out. Now I’m here and I don’t think I’m moving any time soon.

R&G: You released your first EP, Bullfighter’s Heart, which was an acoustic, folk-based album.

Hanni: Yeah, I did. That was me testing the waters with music on my own. I have always made music, but prior to Bullfighter’s Heart I’d been pretty involved with work and doing what I do creatively outside of music. I used to pick up and go on tour with my friend’s band called Her Space Holiday. He [Marc Bianchi] took me to Japan and Europe a couple of times and all I did was play guitar. It wasn’t my music; I just kind of showed up. We’re like best friends; it was kind of an easy thing. That was the extent of what I did with music. A few years ago, I felt like recording something on my own, but I didn’t have a studio. I just recorded a few songs at my house. I put out that acoustic EP and basically gave it away. I decided to go from there to actually recording a record, but I had no plans to do anything with it. I literally just recorded it because I felt like recording an album.

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Hanni El Khatib

R&G: Your current style of music is rooted in blues and rock & roll. What was the reason behind the shift?

Hanni: I’ve always liked old rock & roll. I’m a fan of rock & roll in general – all areas of it – but I’m definitely a fan of 50s and 60s rock & roll. I really like soul music and doo-wop and the classic stuff, plus a lot of 30s blues things. I’m all over the place in terms of what I listen to on a daily basis. That all comes out when I write songs or record. I draw from everything that I like and try to put it all together and spit it out.

R&G: You describe your music as knife-fighting music and your music’s audience as comprised of those who have been shot or hit by a train. Can you elaborate on that statement?

Hanni: In short form, I like aggressive things, tragic things, and raw things. I like keeping things emotional. I feel like I’ll always try to make music with that aesthetic. I would rather keep a first take than not. If I can bang out a song in one take, then it’s done; whether there are fuck-ups or mistakes doesn’t really matter to me. I like listening to music like that, so I gravitate towards leaving all that stuff in. I like the idea of struggles or rumbling. I like that kind of stuff.

R&G: You licensed “You Rascal You” to the HBO series “Hung.” How did that come about?

Hanni: The label I’m signed to, Innovative Leisure, is a very new label. There are two main guys over at Stones Throw: Jamie Strong and Nate Nelson. They are both doing my record through the label Innovative Leisure, which kind of runs through that family, I would say. It’s not limited to what’s going on over at that label. They can sort of do whatever they want. The guy who runs Innovative Leisure also handles a lot of licensing projects and things like that. The music supervisor over there picked the song “You Rascal You” to be featured in the episode of “Hung.” It happened really organically. He said, “Are you okay with this?’ I said, “Yeah. Of course. I totally watch “Hung,” all the time.”

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Hanni El Khatib

R&G: That was my next question. Do you have boundaries in terms of where your music is placed in television or film?

Hanni: My thing is that if I personally can agree with it or if I like it in some capacity, I’m okay with it. I’m not too precious about that kind of stuff. Getting your music out there in those ways is kind of how things have evolved in music and I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with it if I’m okay with what it’s being connected to. Let’s not forget, musicians are in the business to make music so that people can hear it. In this day and age, why limit that just to vinyl or just to hearing it on indie radio or stumbling upon it somehow or going to a show? People get their information in all sorts of ways these days. Why not?

R&G: No doubt. You’re pretty open on Twitter about homeless people, weed, and mushrooms. You mentioned you wanted to name your first born, “Cobra.” You’re obviously cool with people seeing what you do day-to-day. What are your thoughts about social media as a musician?

Hanni: I was actually fully not into it before all this music stuff happened. I’m the type of person that would be like, “Well, if you’re my friend, then fucking call me on the phone.” When it comes down to it, though, social media is the way that you can actually interact with people that don’t know you. You can expose your music or art or whatever you do to as many people as you would like to reach out to, as long as you participate. Everyone does it differently. I was like, “I’ll just roll with it and go with it and be myself normally and whatever happens happens. Whatever interactions come out of weird social networking things, it’s cool. If nothing happens, that’s cool. Either way.” There’s a fine line with getting too personal and exposing just enough. Then again, I don’t consciously edit myself in that sense, so I guess sometimes it can get personal. Until it gets extremely weird, I’ll just go for it.

Dead Wrong 7″ (Buy)
Rollo & Grady Interview :: Hanni El Khatib

Build. Destroy. Rebuild. 7″ (Buy)
Rollo & Grady Interview :: Hanni El Khatib

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MP3: Hanni El Khatib – Loved One

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