Arish “King” Khan is a French-Canadian Indian living in Germany and used to go by the name Blacksnake. He’s also the leader of King Khan and the Shrines; a 10-piece retro-soul
rock n’ roll band. Khan puts on one of the most exciting live shows I’ve ever seen and he has over a decade of solid records under his belt. His career started with the garage punk-rock band The Spaceshits, playing alongside his partner in crime Mark “BBQ” Sultan – they weren’t afraid to strip naked and wreak havoc in every town they performed in.
I caught up with Khan by phone in Montreal last week, which was a tough feat considering he doesn’t own a cell phone – he bummed his brothers for the interview. When I called, he was heading out to catch the death-metal band, Mayhem. We discussed his upcoming gospel project with the Black Lips, stage head and his family.
R&G: When did you get back to Montreal from Los Angeles?
Khan: I got back about a week ago, and after that last Shrines tour, me and BBQ were invited to go play in South America, so we played in São Paulo and Buenos Aires, and then flew back to Montreal.
R&G: Do you own a cell phone?
Khan: No, I don’t.
R&G: Will you ever?
Khan: No, I won’t.
R&G: Do you see it as a hassle to own one?
Khan: Yeah, I’ve gone so far without a cell phone. I’m notorious for borrowing people’s cell phones, but I think it causes brain and testicular damage. It’s too powerful a thing for it not to do something to your balls – if it’s right next to them. I choose life.
R&G: You live in Berlin, right?
Khan: I do.
R&G: What are you doing in Montreal?
Khan: My brother’s getting married this summer, and I also just got a bunch of invitations to a host of festivals in Canada that me and BBQ have been invited to play. I figured I’d hang out here. This is where I’m from – there’s plenty of stuff to do.
R&G: Will you sing at your brother’s wedding?
Khan: Actually, yeah. The Black Lips are coming down for it too. We’ve got a musical family, so there’ll be some rocking going on for sure.
R&G: How did the U.S. tour go?
Khan:The tour went really great. I’m really happy and lucky to be enjoying the kind of success we have in America. We also have a new band with me, BBQ and the Black Lips. It’s a gospel band called The Almighty Defenders. Our album should be coming out on Vice sometime in September.
R&G: Was the album recorded when the Lips fled from India to your studio?
Khan: It was. They came and visited me a day after my birthday this year. They telephoned me on my birthday and were like, “We’re coming over tomorrow. We got kicked out of India.”
R&G: Were they freaking out?
Khan: Yeah. I’ve known them for so long. They’ve been in weird situations before. It wasn’t like a massive heart attack, but it was pretty crazy. Basically, me and BBQ were invited to go to India with them on that tour. At the last minute… when I told my mom about going there, she was insistent that I not do it. She was like, “India’s not ready for your kind of stuff” – which was right, I guess. Maybe the kind of music that we do is too raw for India.
R&G: I think if you paired up with those guys, you might have been in more of a mess.
Khan: That’s what a lot of people were saying – that we probably would have gotten kicked out after the second show rather than the 3rd or 4th.
R&G: Why did you choose gospel music? Were you guys fucked up?
Khan: No. With the Shrines, I’ve always been influenced by gospel music, and Cole, from the Black Lips, has been a gospel aficionado for a long time. I’ve wanted to do a gospel record and it just happened that we were in that spiritual kind of mood. We were at my house, and it just rolled together.
R&G: Are you taking a leak [laughs]?
Khan: I am [laughs].
R&G: Tell me about the Kukamonga Death Cult.
Khan: The Kukamongas started in, I guess it was 1999 and it was kind of like The Spaceshits, my old band, and this band called The Deadly Snakes, from Toronto. We were buddies and went traveling on tour together and stuff. We just decided to name our collective organization the Kukamongas. In a way, it was kind of a gang, a musical gang. We got tattoos, and it’s funny, because when we were doing those bands, I remember the first time that we got a government grant – that’s the way Canada is – but the Spaceshits got a government grant for going to Europe. The first time we got accepted for that, when we got the money, the first thing I did was I paid for a bunch of tattoos for the Kukamongas with it [laughs].
R&G: Are Jared [Swilley of Black Lips] and Bradford [Cox of Deerhunter] members?
Khan: Bradford not really, but Jared, yes. I guess, since then, the whole Kukamongas thing is kind of like a big family. We have members now in Brazil, France and all over the place. I just figured they totally fit into the whole criteria of the whole brotherhood thing. I bought Jared a Kukamonga tattoo. It’s similar to what they were doing with the Slaughterhaus and it was probably a couple years before that. Jared included us in that family, and we included him in our family, so it was like a swap: two large gangs combining.
R&G: Where do the tattoos go?
Khan: You can get them anywhere. My sister even has one because her husband was one of the founding members of the Kukamongas. The originals were on our left arms. But people have them all over the place.
R&G: What’s the craziest tour experience you’ve been involved in?
Khan: I think São Paulo is definitely one city where really crazy shit happened to us. That’s where me and BBQ played and one of the people that was kind of hosting us, his girlfriend decided that during our last show she would give her boyfriend a blowjob on stage while we were playing. So, while we were playing, she grabbed him, threw him onstage, ripped down his pants, and started – you know – doing her duty. We were all like, “Oh my God.”
Khan: A few songs before that I screamed, “Alright, São Paulo! If you love us, give us your drugs!” Everyone started coming up onstage and dumping cocaine all over the amps. It was unbelievable. Maybe that’s why the guy couldn’t get his dick up – too much cocaine in the air.
R&G: Did all the band members snort coke off the speakers?
Khan: Yeah, people were just coming up and dumping it and offering it to us. At one point we were playing a song and I was so high I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that we were playing. We just stopped in the middle of the song, turned around and started doing rails. It was funny.
R&G: Did you get nude on any of the U.S. tour dates?
Khan: Um… Actually, I wasn’t nude that much on this tour. My saxophone player was getting nude more than I was onstage. He would do the “tuck” during “I Wanna Be A Girl” song – he did it in a couple places – that was pretty hilarious. I guess I take my clothes off a lot less since I quit taking hard drugs.
R&G: That’s right. You were dead sober when you went on the stage at the Echo. Do you normally perform sober?
Khan: I had a run-in last summer with nose candy and stuff like that. It wasn’t that I was addicted to it – I was just doing it too frequently. It was always around on tour. Like all good things, if you do too much, you just kind of start going nuts with it. That’s what happened to me last year. At our first Shrines tour, I was borderline crazy. I just remember hearing stories afterwards, after the tour, and being like, “I don’t think I did that. Did I?” and being kind of embarrassed. I basically took a vacation off of the crazy shit. I’m really happy I did, because it was ruining my relationship with my dear friends and the people in my band.
R&G: I hate to blow your cover, but the two times I’ve met you and even on this call, you’re laid back, friendly, happy-go-lucky, and I don’t think a lot of people know that you’re married and have two daughters. Tell me a little bit about the persona of King Khan versus…
Khan: I guess I’m really lucky because I was on welfare for a couple years and that actually helped a lot because it let me focus on touring and spreading the good word. My wife’s basically the main reason I’ve gotten this far in the whole thing. I think I’m lucky to have chosen this kind of a job because there’s endless fun in this thing. I’m glad to do it. My kids and my wife really also enjoy the benefits of this. For example: the Black Lips coming over and recording stuff at my house. My little girls have the best uncles ever. They always come over and when they do record, there are always kids running around and having fun and going to the playground. I like to keep it really close to the family and I guess that also affects the music in a way because it keeps the music kind of honest and whole and not contrived or bullshit.
R&G: How long have you been married?
Khan: Ten years? I was 21 when I got married.
R&G: Is she cool with your antics on the stage?
Khan: Yeah. She thinks it’s hilarious – she makes my costumes. I guess she kind of expects these crazy stories and I’m honest. I love her like crazy and I think that we have a very strong thing happening. I’m a very happy man.