King Khan digs voodoo and "hobo-sexuality"
The soul-punk sultan on the "magic ritual" of making music
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Though his on-stage antics have made him famous, off-stage that same devil-may-care attitude of garage rocker King Khan has gotten him in some mighty hot water—specifically this past November, when Khan was on tour with his side gig, The King Khan And BBQ Show, and Arish “King” Khan and Mark “BBQ” Sultan were arrested with tour manager Kristin Klein while driving through Kentucky. He's since returned to normal—or, as normal as it gets for Khan—and gotten back to touring with his soul-punk group, King Khan And The Shrines, which makes a stop through Emo's on April 5. The A.V. Club spoke to the newly liberated Khan about his “hobo-sexuality,” the influence of voodoo on his music, and smoking dope with GZA.
The A.V. Club: 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.