If you don’t already know Hanni El Khatib, who will be at the Casbah on Friday night, you’re about to. The first-generation American son of Palestinian and Filipino immigrants, he has toured with Florence Welch and caught the eye of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and multi-instrumentalist/producer/songwriter El Khatib has barely gotten started.
Until quite recently, El Khatib was working as a creative/art director at skateboarder Keith Hufnagel’s fashion/accessory line, HUF. Serendipity brought his one-time musical hobby to the forefront, and now he’s Los Angeles’ main purveyor of gritty, garage rock/blues. He dropped a pair of singles in 2010 and released his debut, Will the Guns Come Out, in September of last year. His unique take on Parliament’s “I Got a Thing...” was picked up by Nike, and his songs have been used by HBO and Nissan.
Auerbach is set to produce El Khatib’s follow-up later this year, and it seems likely that Auerbach will once again synthesize El Khatib's DIY amalgam of punk, garage rock, blues and nostalgic pop.
To that point, El Khatib’s party-line quote has been, “These songs were written for anyone who’s ever been shot or hit by a train. It’s knife-fight music.” I’m not sure that anyone but El Khatib knows exactly what that means, but it sure sounds cool. And fittingly, that’s a perfect way to describe the ascending star’s music -- it sure sounds cool.
Scott McDonald: How’s it going?
Hanni El Khatib: Good, man. Traveling from Houston to Austin.
SM: Nice. How’s the tour going?
HEK: Very well.
SM: Are you still a two-piece?
HEK: We’re actually three this time around.
SM: Did you add a bass player?
HEK: We didn’t. He plays keys and plays guitar. He pretty much bounces between those two.
SM: Gotcha. Does it make for a better dynamic?
HEK: Definitely. We can do more musical things now that we weren’t able to do before. And we can definitely get a little more true to the record on certain songs.
SM: How does one make the jump from being a creative director to a touring musician?
HEK: Well, I was the creative director of a skate company -- it wasn’t like I was working in a bank or something. You know? I was traveling around a s--- load for that already. That is actually very much like being a musician, I guess. But now I’m just making art and traveling most of the year. But most importantly, it’s the thing I really like to do. And I was doing it as a hobby, anyway. Before I had to reserve time after work or on the weekend to do it. And now I can just do it all the time.
SM: You toured with Florence & the Machine. Were the audiences diggin’ it?
HEK: Weirdly, yes. But her fans are so into her that they’re into anything that she’s into. She’s got that thing going for her where if she puts her approval on something, then those people are going to gravitate toward it.
SM: Tell me a little about hooking up with Dan [Auerbach]. He’s going to produce your second record?
HEK: Yes. And I actually met him in a bar in Paris. It was through a mutual friend. I was DJing an after-hours kind of thing after one of my shows, he happened to be there, and he knew some people who I knew. We just started talking and became friends through talking about music. And that turned into talking about me coming out to the studio to do some recording. That led into talking about working together.
SM: He seems like a great person to have on the team.
HEK: Definitely. He and I hit it off because we’re into the same kind of music. Our reference points are all kind of in the same realm. Along with that, I think he really understands what I’m going for. I make music for myself, and that’s all good and fine, but I want as many people as possible to hear it.
SM: How did you end up working with the folks from Stones Throw?
HEK: Well, I’m on the Innovative Leisure label, and the partners I’m working with used to work at Stones Throw as well. But that was a total random thing, too. One of the shops I was working for when I was a designer had their offices next door. And a friend of mine came to me one day and told me that he had been telling someone at Stones Throw about my music, he was there, and that I should give him a CD. And that just wasn’t my style. It was cool, but I didn’t want to just give him a CD. Those guys hear demos all the time. But I went out of the office, he was still there, and I realized I knew the guy. I had met him through another friend. So we just started talking, and at that point, I thought I might as well give him a disc. So I did. And I didn’t hear back from him for awhile. Later, he hit me up out of the blue, told me he realized he never got back to me, said he liked what I was doing and asked me if I was interested in doing a record. And that’s how it happened. But since then, I’ve become a partner in the label and am the art director for it. And the guy who signed me is now my manager.
SM: The universe was trying to tell you something.
HEK: Yeah, it’s weird. I was working full time, and then Florence hit me up about touring. I didn’t know if it was something I could do, but it was one of those moments where you have to be, "Oh, f--- it. Let me just try this."
SM: I read you’re also working with Aesop Rock. Seems like it’s all coming together.
HEK: We were friends for a long time and never talked music. We mostly got coffee and stuff. But then he heard “You Rascal You” and told me he wanted to rap on it. So I traded him a sample for a remix. And we also worked on some other things together as well.
SM: New music on the horizon?
HEK: I’m still in writing mode. We’re just on the road so much lately, it’s kind of hard to get anything down. But I have some things I’ve been working on and I plan on getting back to it when we get home. I’d like to head into the studio pretty soon.