King Khan's Black Magic

King Khan & the Shrines bring a little sorcery to Soda Bar on June 30

There are few real "rock stars" in music these days. For the most part, they're a dying breed. Due mostly to the immediate access and incessant buzz of the internet, the intrigue that used to accompany musical obsession is long gone; the fascination has dwindled; curiosity has been replaced by impatience -- and thus -- compelling musicians cease to be mysterious. The magic which previous generations enjoyed with artists like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Michael Jackson (all the true greats, really) has dissipated into thin air. 

Fret not, music fans, for a bona fide rock star visits Soda Bar on Monday, June 30: Arish Ahmad Khan, aka King Khan, the enigmatic frontman of the pysch-soul group King Khan & the Shrines, is a throwback to true showmen like James Brown and Otis Redding. He bounces around stages, sometimes wearing strange alien garb -- sometimes not much at all -- singing spiritedly and busting moves as if his life depends on it. Audiences fall in love. Witnesses lose their minds. Whatever King Khan's selling, people want.
The group released their latest album, "Idle No More," in 2013 after a five year hiatus -- and it's a slight departure for the frenetic soul band, which became known for pumping through up-tempo, energetic tunes like Richard Simmons on Red Bull. "Idle No More" finds Khan getting introspective and re-invigorating the "soul" aspect of the band's sound -- even penning a touching ode to his friend Jay Reatard in "So Wild."
Truth be told, the man's gone to the edge and come back -- and he's got enough stories to fill more than a few novels. Luckily for us, Khan took a few minutes out while the band was en route to Minnesota to talk about voodoo cults, inventing sex acts and Kanye West.
Dustin Lothspeich: How’s the tour been going?
King Khan: The tour's been wonderful! We've had wild and amazing reactions in all the big cities. There've been so many more girls at the shows and also lots of different sexualities and stuff. I'm glad people are still celebrating life with us. I actually invented a sexual act on this tour. It's for liberating homophobic people, you know, like sports guys and stuff. It's called "the Liberty Bell." It's where you're peeing in a urinal, and you ask the guy next to you if you can shake the end of his penis after he's finished peeing. Give 'em a little tingle. [laughs]
DL: Any luck with that?
KK: So far, I haven't practiced what I preach. I've just been talking about it. But I figured it out while we were in Philadelphia. It was divine intervention. My bell was rung. [laughs]
DL: Do you think people are finally starting to come around on your sound, with the whole psych-rock/soul revival happening now?
KK: Well, I've been doing this so early, you know? The Shrines started in 1999. I had this vision of doing soul, but I didn't want it to be purist. The Daptones family takes soul, and it's very much a tribute. I started playing punk rock as a teenager and then I discovered how to write songs through punk and rock & roll and develop my own character onstage -- it's as inspired by Jello Biafra as it is James Brown and Otis Redding. What I do is carrying on a tradition, but using our own voice and our own style. And music is much more than just a style -- it's religion. When I do a show, I want it to be a spiritual seance. One that isn't scary -- but very uplifting; one that's funny as possible, and as fun as possible because that's ultimately how you change people's minds.
DL: "Idle No More" seems more introspective. Was that a reaction to something you were going through?
KK: It's funny because Pitchfork reduces that album to "Oh, looks like King Khan is having a hangover after a huge party." Pitchfork has a way of dehumanizing anything with heart. This new album -- it was a big transformation that I had to go through -- that I was forced to go through. For two or three years after a serious break from the whole world, I luckily found my bearing again. I've seen friends of mine go down that tunnel and not come back ever, like Jay Reatard for example. They didn't take the time to get help.
DL: I was going to ask you about him. Was there any trepidation with releasing that song, “So Wild”?
KK: No, not at all -- that was all part of the healing process. You have to immortalize these memories in music and then you're leaving something that people can also take in and make their own healing through it. Like, for example, people are self-conscious about their bodies. I've gained some weight ... but when I bounce around stage, scantily clad, I'm very confident about being who I am. I've had a lot of people come up to me, who were shy and embarrassed about the way they look – and they can look up to me to see that beauty is not what people see in these stupid, anorexic magazines and stuff.
DL: Well, that's our consumer society at work.
KK: The sickest example is Kanye West. I want to vomit on this guy. We just played this festival in Bonnaroo, and he was headlining one of the nights. A friend of mine was doing the catering, and Kanye demanded that all of his crew eat from Versace plates for dinner. At a f---ing festival where people are s---ing in plastic boxes! And then the employees were walking around going, "This dishware is worth more than me." Everything is so wrong about this guy and people just eat it up. There's gotta be a huge shift in the world. And it's coming. Mother Nature is becoming meaner and meaner -- I mean, we're basically a virus. The earth will sneeze us out like a common cold in a million years or whenever; probably a lot sooner. But if you follow the path of enlightenment, then you'll start to live a life where you can say, "Hey, if I die tomorrow, I don't mind because I love life and I had a great time." You have to be able to say that every day. There is a revolution happening but you've gotta seek it out.
DL: Is there a big transformation from your normal persona and the one we see on stage?
KK: Well, I'm not a Liberace. [laughs] I think I have a lot of different messages that I'd like to convey to the world ... and I've been following my dream. Everyone should be given the chance to do that. But because the way that society is structured, they want you to take the most Prozac or the most mind-numbing s--- possible, so you can become this average automaton; so you can fill up the police quota; so you can busted for selling weed -- and then ruin your whole life. The whole government is made to put the sheep in their place. And it's our responsibility to create emperors out of nothing.
DL: How exactly do you do that?
KK: If you want something bad enough, you can attain it. The question is, do you really want that thing? That's the simple principles of magic. It's about taking your intention and crystalizing your intention into reality. Voodoo is about taking pain and turning it into pleasure. It’s funny ‘cause there's this voodoo cult in New Orleans, and one of my best buddies that I've known for 20 years asked me if I wanted to meet the main “brujo” involved with this thing. They brought me to this classic scenario – it was this tin shack under a highway, they've got these four, giant iron cauldrons full of human remains and animal bones -- and this was just the introduction. [laughs] They were like, "Hey if you wanna join, we can do more." It was awesome. They were telling me about the rituals, and how to get involved, secret scars, all this stuff -- and next time I go, I'm supposed to go through the whole thing. The funny thing is: Six months later, that buddy of mine messaged me online and I was at home and my 11 year old daughter was watching German's children's television. All of a sudden when his message popped up on my computer, this image came on the TV of this South African food called "walkie talkies" -- and it was like 30 chicken heads and 30 chicken feet just frying in a big pan. I was like, "Ahhhh!" Voodoo really works online. [laughs].
DL: Are you planning on going back?
KK: I'd like to – I’m supposed to go back in September.
DL: So, if no one hears from you after September, we’ll know what happened.
KK: [laughs] Yea, I'll be in South Africa eating chicken heads … with Dave Chappelle.

King Khan & the Shrines play Soda Bar, June 30 with Red Mass. Tickets are $15 and available here. The show is 21+ and starts at 8:30 p.m.

Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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