Rollo & Grady Interview with King “Arish” Khan

Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan

Over the past year and a half, Arish A. Khan (a.k.a King “BlackSnake” Khan) has been to the depths of Hell and back. He was arrested twice while on tour, lost three of his best friends, parted ways with longtime collaborator and best friend, Mark “BBQ” Sultan, had a nervous breakdown, quit music, and considered becoming a Buddhist monk.

Naturally, Khan’s wife, family, and friends were worried about his well-being and encouraged him to check into a mental institution in Berlin. He agreed. At the hospital he was evaluated, prescribed “mind numbing” drugs, and monitored on an outpatient basis for a couple months.

Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan

When I caught up with Khan last month, he was no longer taking the meds and told me that this was the first month that he felt back in real life again. He is now channeling his spiritual awakening towards producing and recording on several projects: one is with Singer-songwriter Mary Ocher and another called KhanWood Clarke, which is his country music collaboration with Jeff Clarke from Demon’s Claws and Sean Wood from the Spits. He is also working on a new King Khan & The Shrines record.

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Image by Philip Virus

R&G: Hey Khan. It’s been a long time. How are things?

KK: Hey Carter. Well, I’ve kind of had a heavy year. I guess you would call it a collection of nervous breakdowns ever since BBQ and I split up and that whole craziness went down in Australia and China. We were on tour in the crazy land. After that, I kind of lost my mind completely. I had a couple of really dark months. I had decided to quit music. I wanted to become a Buddhist monk. Actually, I was in a monastery in Korea for a few days. Oddly enough, it was a women’s monastery. They say that when you hit the age of 33, everything kind of changes, and I know that for the Mohawk Indians, 33 is the age that you actually become a man. There was a lot of stuff leading up to it, but basically this whole year I have had to shed my skin and reevaluate everything. I lost three of my best friends: BJ from Atlanta, Jay Reatard of course, and another friend I grew up with who lived in Montreal who lived on an Indian reservation named Jayson Montour. I think losing these three Jays – oddly enough: Jay Jay Jay – really fucked me up big time. I guess I was on tour so much that I didn’t get to deal with it properly. I was just really fragile. My mind was fucked up. I would have these crazy episodes and start weeping out of nowhere.

R&G: I’m sorry to hear that man. I know that touring had been rough on you. You missed your Los Angeles show due to a drug bust in Kentucky. Tell me a little bit about that.

KK: Sure. Well, thank God it was really funny rather than being like something out of that TV show Oz. We had the orange uniforms and everything. The funniest thing out of the whole thing was that I was with Mark, who I have basically known since I was a teenager. We’re getting strip searched next door to one another and then we walk out in orange uniforms holding toothbrushes. You spend years with someone and you never imagine that it comes to this. [laughs]


R&G: Were you concerned about being incarcerated for an extended period of time?

KK: No, we got geeked (a term I learned in jail) for, what, a gram of mushrooms. One of the funnier moments was that when we got busted there were about ten cops around us, searching the van. I’m on my knees with those fuckin’ plastic handcuffs, and a cop actually comes up to me and asks me, “Are you white?”

R&G: Are you white?

KK: Yeah. He didn’t know what I was. [Laughs] Then, on my arrest sheet, my race is listed as “Other.” So, in Kentucky, there’s only like two races. The guy did not look like the brightest. It looked like he was a couple sandwiches short of a picnic. [laughs]

R&G: Were the cops good ol’ boys?

Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan

KK: Yes. Some of them didn’t even know what it was that was in the aluminum foil, but there was one Robocop-esque, Bruce Willis type cop who was like, “That’s shrooms. We got you guys.” It was ridiculous. Then, when we went to prison or jail or whatever, it was Christian County jail, of all jails. That tour was ridiculous. We missed a week of shows because of that stupid… Our judge’s name was Judge Lynch.

R&G: Jesus.

KK: When we first heard the name, I was going to shit my pants, but I found out that he was the only black judge in that county, so I guess we lucked out. Anyway. It was funny, but it nearly broke up BBQ and I.

R&G: You and Mark had another dust up at the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan

KK: Yes. Mark and I were asked by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed to play the Opera House. We were the only Rock & Roll band that they invited. Basically what happened was that I didn’t realize that the Opera House is basically like an airport. It’s like a national, high security building. We couldn’t necessarily get away with the antics that we do at normal shows, although that is what Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson wanted from us… They described our thing as putting danger back into the Devil’s music. If I read that kind of description, I’m assuming they want us to go crazy, like we always do. The first show I had a rubber snake that I was throwing in the audience, and I was like, “Keep the snake dancing!” The audience was throughout the show tossing this big rubber snake around, and we served food to the audience. We had leftover Chinese food in a big silver plate and we had a guy dressed up like a girl – our tour manager – who went into the audience and served food. I guess there was a little bit of a mess after the show [laughs]. Anyway, Lou and Laurie loved it and the next day Lou and Laurie invited me to go see their rehearsals for the show that night. I was really excited. I was hanging out with them all day. One really kind of ridiculous incident was that I was in the rehearsal room and there was literally just me, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson on violin and that crazy keyboard that she has, a piano player, and a couple sound people. I’m literally sitting next to Lou Reed and he’s singing this song – something about vanishing – and I was completely in the space. I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m here.” Me, I have this tendency, when I get this excited, I turn into a big kid. Cole [Alexander – Black Lips] had told me this story on the tour before about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy and how when he would capture kids in his basement, he would open up a small slot and go, “Gotcha.” So for some reason that flashed in my head and I looked at Lou, who was sitting right next to me, and I said, “Lou, that song was really great, but you got something on your sweater.” He looks down and I totally flick his nose, like, “Bam.” He looks up at me. I guess he couldn’t believe that I did that. I was like, “Gotcha.” [Laughs] His face! It was like an ancient turtle was bitten by a fucking mosquito or something like that. He just looked at me and said, “Please. Don’t ever do that again.” [laughing]

Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan

R&G: [Laughs] Holy shit, you were lucky he didn’t punch you in the face.

Khan: I know. After that, these Tuvan throat singers came in. Tuva is a province above Mongolia, and there were five singers who came in. Lou Reed sat on the floor right in front of them. I’m like, “Alright.” So I sit right next to him. Then the Tuvan throat singers start. Have you ever heard that? It’s really incredible. It’s like throat singing: “Ererererrrrroorro.” They do these harmonies that are so psychedelic and wonderful. There was a woman sitting in the back who was silent for at least ten minutes. The guys were singing the whole time. Then, when she opened her mouth, it sounded like the sweetest flute sound you’ve ever heard coming out of her. It was incredible. At this point, I hadn’t slept for a few days. I was just partying too much. I’m sitting next to Lou and I’m like, “Oh no. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep.” It’s like, “ERERERRroo…” and I’m like, “Oh God. I’m totally falling asleep!” I start totally nodding off. I wake up about to freak out and I look to the side and Lou Reed’s totally nodding off too! Thank God. I was living out every junkie’s dream… to nod off with Lou Reed!! [laughs]

R&G: I understand that the Opera House didn’t take kindly to the show theatrics you’d put on the night before and gave you a stern lecture of the do’s and don’ts for your next performance.

KK: Things got a bit hairy because when I came to sound check the security was like, “Listen. You can’t throw food. You can’t do this. You can’t invite people onstage. No more than four people.” We had like ten girls onstage dancing. They were basically like, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t do this.” Of course, I was in a crazed state already and I just figured, “Fuck that. I’m gonna go crazy.” That was not exactly the wisest decision. I got really drunk and we played. Mark was kind of pissed off. At the end of the show I started throwing my guitar into the audience, lobbing it into the air. They would catch it and throw it back. I think Mark thought I was attacking the audience. We got into a huge fight after the people had left. There was a huge screaming match between Mark and I.

R&G: At the time, did you try to make things good with Mark?

Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan

KK: The thing with Mark is that, man, we’ve known each other… We’re like brothers, but we’re also like a married couple. We blow up and explode and then the next day it’s like, “Oh, well, I’m okay. Let’s go play another show.” The thing was, we just figured, let’s just finish this tour. We have four or five dates left: China, Korea. Let’s just make the best of it. At that point, I might have even thought that I might have flown home after Shanghai. It took maybe two or three days for us to make up. In Shanghai, I met my sister. My sister, and Oily Chi from the Spaceshits, who were living in Shanghai, hung out with me and Mark and partied and it was great. We were fine again. Then we had a few days off in Beijing. Mark and I were like best buddies again. We went to Tiananmen Square. We saw all the majesty of China together. We went to the Great Wall and all this stuff. It was totally like being brothers again. Then, we go to Korea, and boom. It kind of exploded again. Mostly because of me getting drunk and because I was just in such a bad state of mind. We started fighting again and it just got worse. At that point, I just quit. I went to a Buddhist monastery for two days and tried to get my shit together. I wound up shaving my head into a mohawk. I had a blonde mohawk and I wrote to all of my family this crazy letter that I was going to quit music and become a Buddhist monk and I wasn’t able to do this anymore.
Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan

I lost my mind and when I went home, my wife, of course, was so worried. My kids saw that I was crazy, but obviously I’m not a violent guy. They were worried: Dad now looks like Gandhi. My family in Canada and America was really worried. In fact, my sister-in-law, Rose McGowan, the actress, her sister married my brother, and she was one person who actually was writing to me a lot at that point and saying, “Arish, your emails are insane. Go to the fucking mental hospital because you are losing your shit. Don’t be embarrassed about it. This happens to people, especially artists.” Luckily, I have this great support system built up. She was right, I was insane. So I checked myself into a mental hospital.

R&G: In Germany?

KK: Yeah, in Germany, in Berlin. I was an outpatient, but I was on a psychiatric emergency thing. It was rough, especially for my kids and my wife; they didn’t know if I was going to come back. I didn’t even know if I could write music again or do anything. I was really fucked up. Then they put me on different mind numbing drugs for weeks and then lithium for a month or two, which I didn’t know how I was going to react to it and basically it made me feel like a zombie. I had to go to the hospital weekly to monitor my behavior and change the doses of lithium. It was pretty scary.

R&G: How are you dealing with it these days?

KK: Basically, I’ve learned to curb it. I gave myself the chance to turn off my mind for two months with medication and basically go to a zero state. During that time, I realized that my true passion is to create music. I love being a showman, but my passion is to create and to help people create and to produce. I want to devote more of my life towards making epic things and not to just get lost in the mania, in a positive way.

R&G: That’s good to hear.
Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan
KK: Honestly, this is the first month that I feel like I’m back in real life again. This year seems to have really fucked up a lot of people and I am on that list. It was really hard, man, to lose people… to lose such important people in my life that were my age, and my buddies, and my best friends. It kind of made me reevaluate everything about how I was behaving. I am so fortunate to have people that care about me. I’ve got to say, my wife is like the greatest thing ever in my life and she really went through a lot of shit. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what I would have done. Also, my kids. I’m very lucky. That’s what I had kind of forgotten, running away from everything and touring so much and trying to earn a living through losing my mind and losing myself. I forgot about what I really have. It got to the point where my body was driving me to lengths of getting in trouble. Now I see when the mania is coming on and with the help of my wife and my friends and the closest people around me who are like, “Okay, hey, man. Chillax.” Chillax. I hate that word. But basically I went through the depths of hell and now have finally found light. It’s the same light that’s always been shining, but now I can really appreciate it and bask in it rather than get distracted and go back into the dark.
Taking a break like this, I feel like it’s completely reenergized the right parts of my body and brain. I feel like a completely different, newer person right now. My whole mission in life, at least now, is that I want to make majestic music. I want to make music like Lee Hazelwood or Sun Ra.

R&G: Did you quit drinking and doing drugs?

KK: I slowed down. You know what? It wasn’t the drugs or the drinking that was making me crazy. It was my own mind and my own hyperactive… I don’t know how to explain it. For example, I wouldn’t sleep for days. I would kind of go insane. Of course, the drinking and whatever else was not helping. I stopped all that, but now I can drink again and I’m fine. I’ve never actually had that much of a drinking problem except when I was kind of self-medicating myself with wine which turned out to be rather toxic.

R&G: Now you are in a better place mentally, have you reached out to Mark and tried to make things right?

KK: We’ve been in touch. We’re still friends and everything like that. I just think, man, we’ve been playing together since I was 17. It’s good to have some distance. He’s been really inspired lately. He recorded like two albums or something like that in the past two months. He’s doing great. Actually, he’s going to come stay over, in fact, next week. He’s on tour right now in Europe. So, yeah, we’re still friends. I think, in a way too with KK and BBQ, I think we did three really great albums, and I don’t know where we could go after… I think Invisible Girl was one of the greatest things we did together. For my personal sanity, I think I’ve got to focus more on being less of an insane person and just try to make beautiful music like I’ve always wanted to. Touring less has given me back the chance to really try stuff in my studio and have a ball at home with my family.

R&G: Last year, you lost one of your best friends, Jay Reatard. Can you tell me about your relationship with him?

Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan
Image by Kirstie Shanley

KK: Basically, the first time we met, Jay was 17 and he told me that he had just gotten engaged to be married, this was around 1996. The first time I met him, we loved each other. It was so amazing to meet a real punk. He told me these crazy stories. One time he played in a mechanic’s garage – a Reatards show. During the show, he opened up a can of motor oil, got naked, poured motor oil all over his body, and then was slipping and sliding and falling everywhere. Some jerk in the audience grabbed a spray can – it was like a dirty spray can, didn’t know what it was – and just shot it at the floor. Jay, in an inspired moment, grabbed the can, didn’t look at it, opened it up, and sprayed it all over his dick. Then, within three seconds, he was in a fetal position, crying on the ground. Everyone was laughing. Somebody grabbed the can, wiped the dirt off, and it was EZ Oven Cleaner. Can you just imagine the doctor’s face getting this 16-year-old naked kid covered in motor oil who has just burned his penis? Then, basically, my relationship with Jay from then on was just finding a lost brother.

R&G: When was the last time you saw Jay?

KK: The last time I saw Jay, which was about a year before he passed away, we got flown in to play South America together. We did two shows: one in Brazil in São Paulo and one in Argentina. In São Paulo, it was just insane. I’ve never taken so much drugs in my life. We were laughing on the way to the airport at 8 in the morning like, “Oh, I can’t believe no one died tonight.” The next day, we played in Buenos Aires. We all stayed at this really nice hotel. Me and Jay were swimming in the afternoon in the pool, just the two of us, and talking about how happy we were for each other and how great things had gotten. He was really happy too; he had just made peace with his dad and stuff. It was probably one of the greatest days of sobriety, even though it was just a day after a shitstorm of hilarity. We were really happy. The year that followed – the year before he passed away – I started to hear all of these horrible stories about stuff. He was going crazy and losing his mind. I think that it’s really sad that he passed on and I think that Memphis has completely lost one of its true kings. He got buried next to Isaac Hayes.

jay re

R&G: He did?

KK: Literally right next to Isaac Hayes. I think that Jay always gets the last laugh in these things. One thing is that throughout the time that I knew him, he was always a gangster. That was his thing, we were all in the Death Cult together and truly lived life to its fullest. Jay basically came from the poorest family out of everyone. He really struggled and he conquered, massively. It had a lot to do with him being a tough jerk, in some people’s eyes, but he was like a gangster. He would always make fun of the fact that I had a family and was still not making the big bucks. He was born into poverty, and so when he started getting all this money on the road all that cash can really change you. I think that he always had trouble dealing with money in his life. Sadly, he got heavy into the drugs and found a crutch that eventually devoured him. All in all Jay managed to become a true punk king crawling out of a cesspool. I wrote a song for him on the next Shrines record called “So Wild”… I miss him a lot.

Rollo & Grady Interview with King Arish Khan

King Khan is in town this week performing a special show with The Gris Gris on Friday, July 15th @ The Echo. For ticket info (click here).

The King Khan & BBQ Show – Invisible Girl
The King Khan & BBQ Show – Teabag Party
King Khan and The Shrines – Destroyer
King Khan and The Shrines – Que Lindo Sueño
KhanWood Clarke – Apache Love (Demo)
Mary Ocher – The Road

King Khan and The Shrines on iTunes
King Khan & BBQ Show on iTunes

Related Post:
Rollo & Grady Interview with King Khan (June 23, 2009)

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