It’s safe to say that Mark “BBQ” Sultan is one of the most talented and underrated singer-songwriters working today. Maybe this is because he’s performed under so many different aliases over the years: Needles, Bridge Mixture, Kib Husk, Creepy, Celeb Prenup, Blortz, Noammnn Rummnyunn, and BBQ. Sultan earned his stripes in the 90s and early 2000s with two of the best garage-rock bands to come out of Canada: The Spaceshits and Les Sexareenos. After these bands called it quits, Sultan began performing under the pseudonym BBQ, a one-man band in which he sings and plays guitar and drums simultaneously. He also moonlights with former Spaceshits’ bandmate King Khan in the two-man band, The King Khan & BBQ Show.
I caught up with Sultan last month to discuss his current gospel-rock project The Almighty Defenders, his solo record, and the Montreal music scene.
R&G: How are things going in Montreal?
Mark: They’re good. I’m just running around and trying to get a bunch of things done while having some semblance of a life.
R&G: Are you working on your solo album?
Mark: Yeah. I had kind of finished it about a year ago. Then I just sat on it for a while. I ended up writing more songs for it that I liked better, so I’m just doing the last mixes. I guess it was worth sitting on, especially given the timing of everything else – how everything’s playing out with my side projects. Basically there’s too much stuff coming out all at once, so I didn’t want to just lump it in. It’s actually better that I waited; it gave me the opportunity to do some weird things like add string sections and stuff, which is cool.
R&G: Is it a Mark Sultan or BBQ record?
Mark: It’s a Mark Sultan record.
R&G: Can you tell me more about the album?
Mark: I would say the new record, if you stripped it down completely, might be good pop songs – a lot of ‘50s and ‘60s stuff – but a lot of it isn’t sounding like that. There’s a rock influence and industrial and straight-up psychedelic and country. There are a lot of other things thrown in the mix. It’s really really moody, so it might turn people off, as usual, but I think that’s also my point. I’ve done the rock & roll stuff as well as I could do. I wrote a lot of good songs, I think, and now I want to explore other sides of my influences, things that I wasn’t able to explore when I was playing as a one-man band. Over the years I’ve listened to a million kinds of music, so I have a lot of things bursting out of my brain.
R&G: Your current project, The Almighty Defenders, has received a great deal of press. I know it’s a genuine collaboration, but it was definitely marketed as some sensational event.
Mark: To be honest, it all sounded too coincidental when you read the way things were printed in certain media. That’s kind of dumb. Actually what happened was that the Black Lips got kicked out of India at the same time that Khan and me were recording our own album in Berlin. We’ve all known each other for years; they’re good friends of ours. They would have come anyway; for them, Berlin is a safe haven to begin with, since Khan lives there. It’s kind of weird now with all the hype. Seeing the way it’s dealt with publicity-wise is kind of embarrassing sometimes, but hey: if it helps us in any way so that I can sit on my fat ass and watch TV, it’s good by me.
R&G: How long did it take to record the album?
Mark: It took four days total, but those four days were also like hanging out and going drinking. We didn’t spend a ton of time in the studio. It was a couple hours here, a couple hours there, and a couple hours in a living room shooting the shit and coming up with ideas. It was a really quick record. There was no strict thing like, “Okay. You guys are here. Let’s do this.” It was really just like, “Hey, let’s do some songs,” and a couple songs turned into a couple more songs, and la la la. When you hear the record, it’s a great record, but it’s going to be obvious when it comes out that it was an album that a bunch of us did on a whim with some inspiration and a bunch of alcohol. It’s cool. It sounds like a drunken party recording, sort of. [Laughs]
R&G: Legend has it that when you and Khan were in The Spaceshits, your sets were 10 to 15 minutes long, and then you got kicked offstage, and eventually the band was blacklisted in Montreal. Is that all true?
Mark: Yep. That’s the whole truth. We started as late teenagers. I was three years older than some of those dudes. Our sets were like ten to fifteen minutes, but that’s just the way they were. They were really fast and energetic. We’d do all sorts of dumb stuff. Things would get smashed, fireworks would go off, there would be food fights, and so on. None of it was meant to be shitty towards the clubs we were playing, but it was really an uptight scene over here. Montreal back then was pretty boring. There was a lot of really bad wannabe grunge and a lot of indie crap that was really boring. That wasn’t the direction we were going in, having grown up listening to punk and rock & roll. When we’d play shows, chaos would just happen. A lot of the promoters and other bands would get really pissed off. Then, when we started putting out records in the States and Japan, bands here got really pissed off. “Why can’t we do that?! They fucking suck!” It’s like, well, whatever. Then we started getting more and more disliked in the city because of jealousy and because of the shows. Ultimately it led to us getting blacklisted everywhere, under the guise of, “Their show is crazy.” Actually, people were just bitter. That’s what happened.
R&G: I guess that’s a good thing at the end of the day.
Mark: How so?
R&G: Look where you are now.
Mark: Yeah, it gave us the excuse to tour in Europe. Had we not toured in Europe, Khan wouldn’t have stayed in Europe… Obviously, if you look at things like that in hindsight, it was great, but at the time it wasn’t so cool. There weren’t only stories about me; every member of the band had their respective stories of all this crap they were doing, which was totally untrue.
R&G: Both you and Khan’s popularity in the States has grown considerably in the past few years.
Mark: It’s going okay. It’s going better than it was. I think what’s good about the way we’re doing stuff and always have done stuff is that we’re never aiming for a certain level of anything. We’ve always done this for fun and love. Now that things are going a bit better, it’s great, but we’re not relying on it for the rest of our lives as far as any kind of popularity. That stuff is definitely fleeting, but we’re going to continue to do music until we die, I suppose, because it’s something we’ve always done. I haven’t worked in years. I just do this and try to scrape by as best I can.
You can catch The King Khan & BBQ Show on November 17th @ the Troubadour (Buy Tix)