Bustin' loose with the King Khan And BBQ Show
The garage-rock duo gets out of jail in time to play Minneapolis this week
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The King Khan And BBQ Show underwent some technical difficulties in mid-November when band members Arish “King” Khan and Mark “BBQ” Sultan were arrested with tour manager Kristin Klein while driving through Kentucky on their tour behind the new Invisible Girl. According to a statement released by the band, Klein has pleaded guilty to second degree possession of a controlled substance (which was widely reported as being psychedelic mushrooms). While the arrests prompted the cancellation of several shows, Khan and Sultan drove all night from Kentucky to Los Angeles to continue the tour after being released from jail.
Things were more or less back to normal for the flamboyant garage-rockers by the time The A.V. Club reached them by phone as they drove through the mountains of Northern California. They were still smarting from the Kentucky incident—and the attendant media coverage—but bound and determined to play their remaining shows, including a Sunday, Nov. 29 stop at the Triple Rock. We asked them about the jail stint as well as other pertinent topics, including American prejudice against Canadians, “hobo-sexuality,” voodoo, and smoking dope with GZA.
The A.V. Club: How’s it going?
BBQ: It’s going a lot better since our run-in with the mustache beasts in Kentucky. It was an arrest party! But we’re continuing with the tour. I took a shower!
AVC: Your official statement says you were “randomly stopped at a safety checkpoint,” which seems weird.
BBQ: Yeah, it’s apparently a town notorious for doing random stops and fucking with people. And we just happened to get ensnared in their ring of hatred.
AVC: Had you ever been arrested before?
BBQ: No, no. I’m clean! I’m a good boy. I think I’ve only had one parking ticket in my life. I try to keep my nose clean. And that’s another reason the whole thing was ridiculous. But whatever. It was an experience.
AVC: How did they treat you?
BBQ: Well, I must say, and you’re probably not going to put this in anyway, but so much of what was written on the Internet, so much of it was conjecture, and a lot of it was bullshit. Whatever happened is going to stay mum for the moment, but let’s just say a lot of it was bullshit. But we made some friends in jail. Life-long pals, I would say. Great dudes.
AVC: What was wrong on the Internet?
BBQ: A lot of people got a lot of stuff wrong. But it doesn’t really matter because what’s done is done, and we did get arrested, and a lot of this shit went down. Whatever needs to be said will be said after. But it’s just dumb. We’re from Canada, me and Khan, and it blows my mind sometimes. There’s usually a xenophobic vibe. Because I’ve had problems before, coming in with Canadian plates and being targeted.
AVC: The police target Canadians?
BBQ: Man, you have no idea. There’s some kind of weird animosity. I don’t understand it. I don’t think it’s right. But there definitely is, and it’s not limited to any particular part of the U.S. And I’d say the same when Americans come to Canada. There’s some weirdness.
AVC: What does it stem from?
BBQ: I have no idea. I just know the border is a lot different than it was. There’s a lot of weird distrust. To me it’s really strange. We’re brothers, you know? And it’s Canada. What are we going to do? Smuggle in donuts?
AVC: You and Khan have been in bands together since the mid-’90s, when you were in The Spaceshits. How did you meet?
BBQ: We’re both from Montreal. I met him and his crew a few times at parties and shit. I had a punk band at the time, and I guess a couple of them came to a show and they thought, “Wow! That’s really crazy and violent.” And then we all started talking. They were starting a band and needed a singer, and I said, “Hey, I’ll do it.” That’s how The Spaceshits were born.
AVC: What did you and Khan bond over?
BBQ: We were all into the same kinds of music, and into shenanigans and being brats. I guess we bonded over that kind of stuff. Over the years we’ve just become closer, because it’s just the two of us in the band. We fight like brothers, we get along like brothers, and sometimes we get along and fight like enemies. It just depends on what day it is. Ultimately I think we’re just too close for comfort sometimes. But we laugh at the same crap. We’re pretty psychic about things.
AVC: It seems tougher to be in a two-man band, because it doesn’t take very long to get sick of one guy.
BBQ: For sure. And vice versa. I’m pretty difficult to get along with. But we’ve known each other for so long that it pans out. It might take a couple of days, but even the worst shit—like this whole experience a few days ago—everything is back to normal now. Because it has to be, or otherwise it would be retarded. We’ve known each other for so long that we can’t let stuff like that get in the way.
AVC: Does being in a band together enhance your friendship, or does it make being friends harder sometimes?
BBQ: These bands where people aren’t friends and do it as a business, I think those are the absolute wrong reasons to start a band and start touring. When you’re close, you should be able to experience things like tours and misadventures and problems together. It makes it all the more special. It just enhances everything. When you write music, too, we know each other enough where we can finish each others’ thoughts.
AVC: Your shows seem really spontaneous and crazy. Do you have any idea of what you’re going to do on stage before the show starts?
BBQ: To an extent. We’re limited in what we can do given our set-up. But we don’t go in with a setlist. We ride off the energy of the crowd. If it goes, it goes. If it doesn’t, it still goes, but in a weird way. The first show of this tour, we played in Northampton, Mass., and I had two guitars for the first time ever in my life. I was so excited, and I thought, “Nothing can go wrong.” And, sure enough, both guitars fuck up. So we supplemented the show with really weird comedy and interaction with the audience and just stupidity, because we can do that, because we’re idiots.
AVC: Back in the Spaceshits days, you guys were known to shoot off fireworks during shows. Do you consider your performances confrontational?
BBQ: The idea wasn’t confrontation. It was more just chaos. We used to study magic, and chaos magic and black magic and everything else. We appreciate chaos—not necessarily violent chaos, but just making the energy in the room feel weird and the electricity crackle. Just making people wonder what’s going on without feeling like they’re in trouble. It’s good for you. It puts hair on your breast.
AVC: You and Khan have talked about not caring about money or materialism, and yet you’re also becoming more popular, and money usually comes with popularity. How do you reconcile that?
BBQ: We’re never going to change. If people pick up on it, even though it seems very trend oriented and kind of embarrassing sometimes, we’ll take it and run with it, because it’s not going to last forever. We’ve lost tons of money on this tour because of that thing that happened in Kentucky. We could have just easily gone home and cried about it, and punched each other in the face. But we’re doing a tour because we want to play music.
AVC: Have you ever looked at the audience and thought, “I don’t like these people”?
BBQ: Hell yeah.
AVC: How do you play a show like that?
BBQ: Because there’s ultimately the two people in the front looking you in the eyeballs singing along to your song, and that’s all that matters at that point. Sure, there’s the jock with the 8-foot thick Mohawk on his head, wearing some shitty Billabong shirt and head-butting a girl because he can’t get it up, and he’s looking in the mirror and hating himself because he’s secretly gay and all his friends hate him. Sure, that guy is there, and I hate him. He sucks. He’s the worst faker in the world. And he’s mouthing along to songs that we’re not even playing because he’s just trying to look like someone else that likes the music and he’s there for the wrong reasons. But that guy is going to disappear, because the music doesn’t mean anything to him. The people that do love the music will always come to the show, and it will always have a special place in their hearts. I sound like a cheeseball but I actually mean it.
(BBQ hands the phone to King Khan)
AVC: Is there anything you’d like to add to what BBQ said about getting arrested in Kentucky?
King Khan: It’s the worst way of ever getting stuck in KY.
AVC: BBQ said you met a lot of nice people in jail.
KK: Most of the people that were in prison were in for child-support charges. One guy had a concealed weapon or something. Apparently at that roadblock they had busted 15 or 20 people that day. So they were making a lot of money. That specific police station has been sued apparently a couple of times. It was very uncomfortable, but it’s that old war of the punks vs. the jocks.
AVC: You once said, “When I’m on tour, I’m neither homosexual or heterosexual—I’m hobo-sexual.” What’s a hobo-sexual?
KK: It’s like a hobo’s mentality of sexuality. Because you’re on the road, and if you see a piece of cheese with holes in it, there’s a chance for creative sexuality.
AVC: You’re a married man with two kids at home. Are you a different person on the road?
KK: Definitely. It’s a difficult task. It gets harder and harder. But it still has its perks. In the past I’ve toured a little too much so I haven’t been able to be a dad enough to my kids. I’m excited to go home. At the age the kids are now, they’re more fun than most of the people on tour. They’re 6 and 9 years old. They’re really funny. They’re getting into astronomy now. My older daughter is learning about it in school and stuff, so she’s telling me all these facts about space over the phone.
AVC: You’ve mentioned Little Richard as an influence, particularly how he tweaked gender identities in his performances. When did you discover him?
KK: I remember my mom used to listen to the oldies station whenever we’d drive around. I remember hearing Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and Little Richard, and really digging it. Then I got into metal for a while, and went through a classic-rock period. I remember hearing the Ramones when I was a kid and really liking that, too. But Little Richard is a hero to me. I’ve heard from people in the R&B world—like old people—that Little Richard was one person who never changed. James Brown, too. They were always pretty true to what they were in the beginning, and didn’t sell out, and were always crazy. I totally admire that.
AVC: Little Richard managed to be both weird and popular.
KK: That’s kind of what’s happening now. We have a following that enjoys the same humor and weirdness. And it seems to be growing. In a way I think it’s carrying on the rock ‘n’ roll tradition. Everything has really changed drastically in the music world. We’ve been able to make a pretty humble living. It’s comfortable, but we’re not businessmen. If we aspired to getting a manager who could get us tons of cash, we could have done that. But we chose not to go that way.
AVC: You’ve also talked about the influence of voodoo on your music. How does voodoo come into play?
KK: I like the whole idea of people being in control of their destinies, or being able to persuade what happens in your life through your own suggestion. When we were traveling in Brazil, I remember going to all these churches and checking shit out, and it was inspiring. The whole idea of a mass of people who are able to pull out a demon—I like these magic rituals. A rock ‘n’ roll show is a perfect place to also do that.
AVC: Do you feel a spiritual charge on stage?
KK: Definitely. I went to a voodoo ceremony in Berlin recently. It was in an apartment, and it was with a bunch of drums, and it was a celebration of this goddess called Oshun. It was incredible. It was in a normal apartment at midnight on a Tuesday, and it was so loud. The cops came twice, but they kept going. I find that voodoo is above the law in a way. It empowers the poor people. A lot of people think it’s hokey, but it’s all about how much you believe in it. You can make it real. Rock ‘n’ roll is like that, too. If Sun Ra could convince people that he was from Saturn, then everything is possible.
AVC: You’re also collaborating with GZA. How did you meet?
KK: We met at the South By Southwest Festival, where the Black Lips played with him. He asked me if I could write some songs for him. Then in Toronto we played a festival together, and I went to his hotel room. We were smoking a bunch of weed, and I had a guitar there, and he was freestyling. We were there for four or five hours, just having fun.
AVC: How do go about fusing your music with GZA’s music?
KK: I was talking to DJ Choco, who’s done stuff for Ghostface Killah and Wu-Tang, and he was telling me that when they were doing the 36 Chambers record, they would put the music through guitar amps to get it more old school and distorted-sounding. So I think we have the same kind of vision. Old-school soul, that’s what it’s all about.