Interview: King Khan and BBQ
"I actually smoked pot with [Jay Reatard's] mom."
If you know King Khan, you probably know him from his psych-funk extravaganza, King Khan and the Shrines, or from the fact that he mooned McCarren Park Pool this past summer. After nearly a decade toiling in Germany, Khan's manic, James Brown-meets-Andy Kaufman antics have finally managed to turn heads Stateside with his 10-piece band's greatest hit collection, The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines (that it came out on Vice certainly helped). But for nearly as long, the Berlin-based Khan and his blood brother BBQ (born Mark Sultan)--both formerly of the notorious Spaceshits--have traipsed around the globe as the King Khan and BBQ Show with just as much success and certainly no less silliness, whittling down rock to its primal essentials: Chuck Berry guitar, a bass drum, a libido, and (if you're Khan) a purple wig.
We caught up with Khan and BBQ at Bushwick's Crypt Records--the same little label responsible for a number of the pair's releases--a day after their show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg with Jay Reatard and Mission of Burma. While Khan stuffed vinyl copies of the band's Teabag Party EP into empty sleeves, we chatted about the Black Lips, Jay Reatard's infamous oven-cleaner incident, and public urination. -- John S.W. MacDonald
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So I saw your show last night with Jay Reatard at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
KK: We've known Jay Reatard for 13 years and we used to play with him. We played with him in Memphis a whole bunch back in the day when we were in the Spaceshits. I actually smoked pot with his mom.
What was his mom like?
KK: His mom was very kind and very poor and they lived in this trailer-style thing in Memphis. He came from a very, very poor family, that's why both of us are very proud of him... To be honest, out of all the people I know, Jay Reatard is probably the punkest guy I've ever met. We're talking about a guy who, at 17, would jump into a cesspool.
KK: Or here's the best Jay story. When he was 17, he played at a mechanic's garage. This guy that was a fan of the Reatards [Jay's former band] set up a show in some garage. So while the show was going on, Jay was getting really crazy. While he was playing, he got naked and he opened up a can of motor oil and dumped it all over his head and was slipping and sliding everywhere. And then some smart-ass in the audience just rolled up a can of something on stage--it was all dirty, so he didn't know what it was. Jay grabbed it and opened it up and sprayed it on his dick. Within 10 seconds he started screaming in agony on the floor in the fetal position--"Ahhhhh!"--while covered in oil. Then he grabbed the can and scrapped the dirt off from it--it was EASY-OFF oven cleaner.
KK: He got taken to the hospital. Imagine the doctor's face when a 17-year-old Jay Reatard shows up covered in motor oil with two layers of the skin on his penis burnt off. That's how punk his love is.
Do you guys find that people are responding to you more since the Shrines have gotten some notoriety?
KK: Not really. We've been living off of music for the past few years. I raise a family from it. Mark raises a pack of wolves that follow him in his sleep. [chuckles] We're really excited that people buy our shit.
[To BBQ:] So you mentioned during the show last night, that Khan declined to wear a more "extravagant outfit" than the one he came onstage with [a sequined V-neck shirt, silver panties, a seashell necklace, and a kinky black wig.] What was the more extravagant outfit?
BBQ: He had this Speedo type-thing, but it's designed so your penis just fits into the thing and that's your bathing suit.
KK: It's basically like a condom with wire around it.
[laughs] So you were going to wear that along with the V-neck shirt?
KK: Yeah, and angel wings and I'd have ropes and pulleys that would propel me into the air and have me actually playing above the audience.
So you could teabag people?
[laughter all around]
Your band's back-story is pretty long and confusing. So what's the short history?
KK: The short history is that Mark played in this amazing prog-rock band called Protoplasm. [laughs]. And I played in this funk band called Skele-funk, and we decided to reunite forces. [Starts cracking up again] No, our back-story is we're from Montreal... Mark was a librarian. I was a professor.
BBQ: He was looking for a rare book. [cracks up]
KK: I was looking for a book and the next thing you know we're having wine and cheese at my house, and I'm like, "You play guitar? La la la."
BBQ: And at the time, I only played the lute, which was not working very well.
KK: [giggling] Everything was in one key. In the key of love... [more laughter]
So you both had independently operating solo projects and they came together.
KK: Yeah, he would visit me [in Berlin or Hamburg] and I'd say, "Why don't we just book some shows together?" At that point, I would do two songs and Mark would do two songs and we'd alternate. At the end, we'd be drunk and just start jamming together. We're a jam band.
So this was 2002?
KK: Yeah, it was when my second daughter, Bella, was born. Actually, it was amazing. One of our first shows was in Berlin, and the crowd that showed up at the show was so insane. There were dudes from Peru, like Mad Max punks--guys with crazy tattoos. They looked like someone just dipped them in a vat of grease. They were walking around in leather jackets. And they were fans--they knew the Spaceshits and Sexareenos. They knew our back history. People kept showing up. We had people from France, a bunch of German people. We did this improvised song at the end. It was called "Fuck Off and Die." It was this punk jam and we would just make it up. Every show we had a different version of it. If you can imagine being in Germany and having a room full of freaks--Germans, French people, all these crazy punks--all chanting, "Fuck off and die! Fuck off and die! Fuck off and die!" All jumping up and down in unison.
We had a guy on stage with us called Mark Fuck who was our first pseudo-manager [starts giggling] only because he put my penis in his mouth. [Everybody laughs]
That's quite a job interview.
KK: We dared him to.
BBQ: [To Khan] Your face that was priceless. The guy's got Khan's cock in his mouth.
KK: It was during the show.
BBQ: And he's trying to play guitar and he's making this face. It was like the worst moment of his life. You couldn't pop a boner either.
KK: Yeah, for two weeks I thought my penis was inside of me. [laughing all around] It was like putting my dick on a frozen ice canal.
Do you guys find it difficult to rehearse living in different continents?
KK: We don't rehearse. [laughing] We've been playing the same set-list for five years... We have a lot of old friends who have seen us a bunch of times. I was at our friend Lisa's birthday the other day, and she was like, "Seriously, I love you guys, but it's been five years and you've been playing the same songs." And the thing is we have new songs, we just don't have the time to practice them.... We have a new single coming which is actually a coloring book. For kids. It's "Animal Party."
So what's so fundamentally attractive about the '50s rock and doo-wop sound.
KK: For me, I think that in the past few years, there's been a lot of gospel music that I've discovered that's really raunchy and completely punk to me. I mean, doo-wop--we've always loved doo-wop. It's the purist; it's just complete love music. You can't get sweeter than that.
BBQ: That being said, there is some cheese-ass doo-wop I can't get with. I like the stuff that comes from the church. People just getting together and fucking.
KK: "People getting together and fucking." Is that what you just said?! [laughing]
BBQ: Nah, people basically tearing their souls apart in front of each other. [People] just singing from the heart, [through they'll] ultimately get some wicked poon.
Which is important.
KK: Yeah, which is our prize.
So besides the new single with the coloring book, are you guys coming out with anything in the near future?
KK: [We have a new] soul single coming out on--
BBQ: It's coming out on Sub Pop, and I got an album I just recorded. As far as the band too, we have enough songs for an album. We were supposed to record a couple months ago, but it just fell apart, and now we're supposed to record in India.
KK: Yeah, we got invited to go to India with the Black Lips. That's gonna be awesome 'cause we started out touring with the Black Lips in the States.
I have a question, actually, about the Black Lips. I found this testimonial online by one of the Lips about how first meeting you. Maybe you can corroborate some of this: He said that you stormed into their show, you wouldn't shut up, and then you went to their merch table and you pissed on their t-shirts. Maybe I'm getting this completely wrong...
KK: I bumped into them in Germany and I was really, really excited to see them. I went to their show... and I peed in a bottle and I put it on their merch table 'cause I thought it would be funny to watch someone take a sip, right. And then somehow it got spilled on the merch.
So you didn't pee directly on their merch?
KK: No, no, of course not. But I did pee directly on Texas Terry's merch [breaks up in a fit of giggles] on purpose. I was doing this thing, trying to pee in a circle. I was at a bar, so I was trying to do a fountain pee. I don't know; it was an experiment. And I wound up peeing all over their merch and their t-shirts. [another fit of laughter]
BBQ: [very soberly] He's curbed his urine obsession.
KK: Well, you know what, it's a big difference when you're in your twenties... It looks sexy a little bit when there's someone peeing in a drunk way. But when you're 31, it just looks fucking nasty. It's like, "Oh no, Dad's drunk again!" [fit of laughter]
BBQ: We were touring in Brazil and this interview was so boring and shit...
KK: Yeah, I think it was about sports...
BBQ: We were both just like, "Oh god." And then suddenly [Khan] just stops talking and I'm like, "Well, that's weird. He stopped talking. What the fuck's going on?" And I noticed he's got a pint glass and he's just pissing in a pint glass.
BBQ: He's just looking at the guy and the guy's getting nervous.
KK: It was being videotaped...
BBQ: They're all looking at each other and then Kahn says, "Cheers," and he just chugs it.
[laughter all around]
KK: That was our last show [of the tour] and we met a friend of ours... And she had a tampon in her car and we put fruit juice on it and she put it in her underwear. She came on-stage and pretended to take it out, and then I grabbed it and I started sucking on it.
BBQ: And then you puked.
KK: And then I puked. No! She spit in my mouth and then I puked, and it was so gross. We were vomiting and it was so disgusting... There were maybe 20 people at the show, and by the time we finished, there was three.
BBQ: Including a pregnant woman.
KK: Including a pregnant woman. And she just looked at me and she was one of those people who had to clean up and she's like, "Please don't make me do this." I was like, "No problem."
There I am in a go-go dress with a red wig cleaning my own puke from the floor. Oh god, it was so ridiculous.
So less of that these days?
KK: Well yeah, you gotta grow out of that. That's another reason why it was great to meet the Black Lips. It's funny to meet people who are as disgusting as you are--who like to shock. You know, that's what it's all about. That's the whole family--Jay Reatard too--we all went through the phase of degrading [pause] human [pause] stupidity. [adopts faux-serious voice] But now it's all about the songs, man.
But back to the Black Lips story: Following the piss incident you were supposed to have thrown lettuce everywhere.
KK: Yeah, first of all, it was my friend's 40th birthday who owns that place [a club in Muenster]. This was a really good friend of mine.... He loved the Black Lips so when I showed up, I went crazy. I grabbed a birthday cake during the first song--[laughing] his birthday cake, the cake one of his friends made for him with all their love--and I just grabbed it and I fucking lost it. I smashed it on the Black Lips and they were covered in cake. They looked like that album cover for The Damned. They were all covered in cake and Cole [from the Black Lips] starts puking. When they played "Stone Cold," I smashed 40 bottles of beer. There was glass everywhere. This girl came up to me, just looked at me, and slapped me. I was out of control. I was possessed or something.
And then to top it off, I ran into the kitchen and grabbed this bowl of salad. The band was leaving, they weren't even playing, and I just pelted them with lettuce... [laughter all around] Anyway, I was really outta hand. It was a rough time for me at that point, for my life. Things got much better.
What do you guys do to keep yourselves amused on tour?
KK: Puppet shows, Indian raga, gas station poetry. We'll do slam poetry at any station.
You just roll up and slam?
KK: [laughing] Any city we're in, we just set up a little slam tent... We had this idea for a modern R&B band we were gonna do called Booty Beats, but that's still in the production stage.
Any favorite drugs to keep yourself occupied?
KK: Drugs? Dramamine, hangover helper, kava kava, nitrous oxide. There's a lot of nitrous in this band. Sometimes we'll just fill up the car with nitrous before making our way through America. [laughing] Ether.
Final question: Khan, I saw an interview with you on pitchfork.tv where you said that you'd ideally like to die by getting shot full of morphine and eaten by 13 women. So BBQ, do you have a death fantasy?
BBQ: I have nothing fancy, nothing poetic.
KK: Slam, man! Come on, Slam!
BBQ: I don't know, I just want to die happy. I don't really give a fuck.
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