The ever-changing garage punk monarch King Khan never sits still for long and returns to our consciousness with a brand-new album from another of his highly flammable rock ’n’ roll outfits.
With a new album on the loose by way of one of his many projects, LOUDER THAN DEATH, the ferocious punk proclamation King Khan has surely seen it all throughout his celebrated 20-year career in music. Whether it be fronting garage rock bands The King Khan & BBQ Show and The Shrines, running his own label and being a dad to two budding musicians, this Canadian punk continues to raise the bar through his own unhinged vision of art – all while sustaining notoriety for his outlandish on-stage behaviour, wild costumes and rousing back catalogue. Ahead of a Liverpool stop with Louder Than Death, Brit Williams chats to King Khan about his latest project, getting arrested before meeting Lou Reed and his first proper Scouse meal.
So, you and I are both Canadian expats living overseas. Was there a particular incentive for moving to Berlin from Montreal?
Totally. I guess it was around 1999 when I left and had just finished a tour with a punk band called The Spaceshits. When we did our European tour, it was really eye-opening how much more respect people in Europe had for really weird and obscure rock ’n’ roll. It was kind of a clear decision for me to want to move there and start a new thing. With that tour, we went all over including Scandinavia, France and Germany. Basically, the second to last show, I met a girl in Germany, she invited me to come back and hang out and I did. Then eventually I started a band with the guitar player for The Shrines who had promoted that show and we recruited all these people from Europe.
You started Louder Than Death with some Bordeaux-based musicians. How were you able to practice and record with them while you were living in Berlin?
Bordeaux is a special place. There’s a really great crew of musicians there in France that play in all sorts of great bands and one that I really loved was called Magnetix. I wanted to play with them for a long time and it took, like, 20 years to happen, but it finally did and it’s a lot of fun. It was really easy actually to record. I went over to Bordeaux for a week, we had a couple rehearsals and then they came to Berlin and we recorded in the studio. It only took two or three days to record 14 songs. A lot of it’s from a punk band that I started in 2000 with this guy Jasper, a British buddy of mine. We recorded two albums but we never had the intention to tour or do anything with those songs, so we finally decided to.
Was there a particular sound direction or inspiration for the new album?
I wanted to do a serious punk rock kind of thing, like 1977 punk-style. Very influenced by the sound of Cleveland. One of the things with LTD was to make something rawer. I find that the youth of today are stuck in this really bad, lounge-music thing. I guess maybe it’s always been like that, that popular music doesn’t really set a fire under your ass and make you want to break shit, go nuts and challenge authority. I feel like I got the ‘best of the best’ of musicians to really make a revolutionary kind of sound. I mean, it’s been done before, but the ultimate compliment is when you get old punk rockers who see something completely beautiful in what you do.
I hear that your daughters both play in bands. What has that experience been like seeing the next generation of music being released through them?
My daughter Saba-Lou has a band out of Berlin and the guitar player Oscar met her when she was five and he was 14. We used to sneak him into The Shrines and BBQ Show gigs and into the bar. So he grew up watching all the different bands that were connected to us, like Black Lips and Demon’s Claws. It’s really heart-warming to see my daughter play with someone who really grew up with our music. Saba-Lou has her own vision and I’m happy to see it blossom the way it does. Her second album is coming out in a couple months, she produced it all herself, more soul and country. My other daughter, who’s 16, just started a band called Bella And The Bizarre. Bella is writing more punk songs and has even more of a Germs kind of influence, which is really cool. It’s really beautiful to see them continuing in this family tradition now.
You’ve been working with In The Red Records for the last 15 years. Did you feel there was a need to start your own label, Khannibalism?
I started the label was because I was asked to complete this unfinished album by William S. Burroughs, recitations of Naked Lunch. I got that job because of Hal Willner, Lou Reed’s producer. We became really close friends and then a year or so after Lou passed, Hal reached out to me and mentioned he wanted to reopen this lost Burroughs recording. So he sent about 12 tracks to me and suggested I release them somehow. I got all the permissions from the Burroughs estate, and I got an Irish artist who I work with a lot to make the cover of the album with William S. Burroughs standing on a pile of dead junkies, with his cat and two naked leopard boys next to him. Then we also did a special thing with the vinyl to make it look like his shotgun paintings.
So hang on a second, you knew Lou Reed?
Lou Reed was a big fan of both the King Khan & BBQ Show and The Shrines. He championed us a lot and were one of eight bands he chose to play his festival at The Sydney Opera House. It was funny because the night before the Sydney gig, we had flown from Barcelona having just played Primavera and the most bizarre thing happened. When we were leaving the venue, all these fans started swarming the cab that we were in, pounding on it yelling “King Khan, King Khan!” When I went outside to greet them, they picked me up and put me on top of the cab. I was having fun, so I mooned them and got into it but what I didn’t realise was that when I was up there, the roof of the car caved in a bit and the driver ended up taking me to the police station while arguing in Spanish to my friend in the backseat. As I get out, about ten cops surround me and I’m like, ‘What the fuck is happening?’ They take me into the station and it’s still not really clear why I’m there. I’m like, ‘Man, you can’t do this, I have to fly to Australia. I’m playing a show for Lou Reed!’ And then they put me in a holding cell for a couple hours.
Luckily outside, my friend in the band Los Chicos had corralled a bunch of people who were harassing the cab driver saying, “Dude, you can’t do this, you can’t put this guy in jail!” Eventually my buddy goes, “Hey man, what you’re doing is really heavy!” and the cab driver responds, “Heavy? No man. I’m heavy! I love Iron Maiden”. And my buddy goes, “Oh shit! I’ve seen Iron Maiden seven times in my life”, and names every Maiden show he’s been to in Spain. The cab driver looks at him and goes “Alright, I’m going to drop the charges.”
Meanwhile, I’m in the holding cell and get the attention of an officer and go, “Please, you can’t keep me in here!” She asks, “What ‘style’ are you?” I was like, “Uhhh rock ’n’ roll? Ramones? Rolling Stones?” Just after that, these other cops come in and say “King Khan! Photo?!” and I think they’re making fun of me, so I reluctantly pose with a huge frown on my face. And then, one of the cops puts Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones on his phone and goes “OK, you are free to go!”, walks me outside of the prison with the song blasting and says, “Always remember the Barcelona police!”
And dude, to make this even more ridiculous, the cab driver insists on driving me back to the hotel, the guy who called the cops on me! And on the way back, he’s telling me how much he loves Johnny Thunders and all this stuff. I was like, ‘Shit, I have to go and meet Lou Reed now’. It was insane.
Please tell me you told Lou Reed about this…
By the time I saw Lou Reed, I didn’t even tell him about all that, I just wanted to know about The Velvet Underground’s [Live At The] Gymnasium album. I flicked his nose once too and thought he was mad at me, but he wasn’t. After all that in Barcelona, I got kicked out of his festival and the only way I could come back was because Laurie Anderson and Lou said they would be my babysitters and hang out with me the whole time, or else the security guards were going to make me leave.
I explain this big story because I had met my hero Alejandro Jodorowsky a month before and he invited me to his house to teach me all about the Tarot of Marseilles. When I was leaving, he told me, “This year is the year of your crucifixion,” and I didn’t realise what that meant, but, it really was, actually.
I think that art has to mutate you and if you’re not changed forever by a piece of art, it’s not working. So, I think meeting these guys in the same month and having them not only acknowledge that they respect me for my work was special, but also that they wanted me to be a part of their brains. I mean, they’ve always made me believe that I set the bar really high for art.
That’s the greatest story I think I’ve ever heard. Hopefully we can expect something like that when you return to Liverpool in September?
I love Liverpool. I’m excited to play. I had a blind Scouse once and I remember complaining about it. Sometimes you just expect more from your dinner, with like a little bit of meat. I think we ordered the wrong thing. England has changed quite a bit though. When I first moved to Europe in the early 2000s, the UK was the worst place to tour because there was no respect, no money, shitty food. But then, in the past ten years it’s completely changed and become super fun to play there. I feel like they understand my sense of humour a lot too, and I love British humour.
Louder Than Death play The Zanzibar on Friday 13th September. Stop Und Fick Dich is out now via In The Red Records.