King Khan and The Shrines

Idle No More and Back To Serve Up Spiritual Soul Mayhem
by Sal Serio
September 2013

King Khan - photo by Matias Corral

King Khan
photo by Matias Corral

Mark it on your calendars, if you haven’t already! King Khan & The Shrines return to Wisconsin on Tuesday, October 22, for a crazed high-octane psychedelic-soul garage-pop rock revival at the High Noon Saloon in Madison. Maximum Ink recently had the enjoyable opportunity to speak with band leader Arish Ahmad Khan (the “King” himself!) via phone from his home in Berlin, Germany, where he’s resided for the past nine years.

Having been indoctrinated to the intoxicating King Khan experience with its bountiful ensemble of musicians, goofy fun costumes, and crowd-interactive stage show, I wondered if Arish fancied himself as more Peter Zaremba (of The Fleshtones), James Brown, or Joe Cocker. “I guess James Brown has probably been one of [my] biggest influences. Otis Redding, too. I remember being a kid and seeing James Brown on TV and being amazed by that whole thing.”

One would think that keeping a large combo together and content on tour would present some challenges, but Arish considers himself lucky in that respect. “It makes it an interesting experience, but we’ve been together as this group pretty much since the beginning. For me, it’s kind of like this weird magic family that I put together. I’m actually quite amazed at how smoothly it functions on the road. Even when things get really crazy, it’s like The Shrines are usually the last people at the bar, drinking. When I put together the band, I was 22, and one of the main things I really wanted [was] to have brothers in the band, rather than trying to get studio musicians. I started the group in this smaller town called Kassel, Germany, and there was never this false dream of being a superstar. It was about making great music. A lot of the stuff that inspires me the most is really rare soul and rock and roll music made in small towns all over America, bands that had like one single or something like that. I think that, in a way, that kind of anonymity is important to the way we approach the music, because, you know, we just want to make music, and that’s pretty much it.”

Being a diehard thrift store purveyor, I asked where he gets those funky outfits and headgear. “My wife makes all that stuff. She comes up with ideas but it’s obviously a collaborative effort. She is definitely the mastermind behind most of it.”

King Khan & The Shrines’ new record is ‘Idle No More’ on Merge Records, featuring the singles “Born To Die” and “Bite My Tongue”, which both have some pretty hilarious videos. I asked how much input Arish had in those projects. “On “Bite My Tongue” I wrote the whole concept. I had this kind of weird hallucinatory dream. Actually, that’s one of the great things about working with the Hylas Film Group, I mean, I gave them such a ridiculous script, with Jesus, and wine squirting out his eyes, and bread coming out of his hands, so, I really expected there to be some sort of resistance, but no, they loved the challenge! I’m really happy that I’ve found people really willing to go the distance. Did you see the “Sleepwalker” video that we did for this band Moon Duo? You should check it out. It is really funny, I play this cult leader aerobic instructor.”

The other thing that struck me about the “Bite My Tongue” video was King Khan flying like Superman through the air. When I was a little kid, I would have vivid “flying” dreams, and I wondered if Arish did as well. “Yeah, I’ve had a couple of those! They’re incredible. That was probably subconscious. I remember I had one recently. I was basically just jumping on top of buildings and like soaring through the air. Yeah, you just don’t want those [dreams] to end.”

In a way, I had a vision of Quentin Tarantino making a full length feature based on the character of King Khan. I teased Arish about this, but it only made him more excitable. “Oh yeah! I’m definitely a big fan of his. I loved Django [Unchained]!”

Just like Tarantino, some of King Khan’s material might put one off a bit if they were to take them at face value and not realize that he’s just having fun and being a goof (examples: “I Wanna Be A Girl” and “Took My Lady To Dinner”). I asked Arish if he ever has to take any heat for the lyrics. “I think that people kind of enjoy the fact that I address things that are more fun, and stuff. I find that a lot of people forget about putting humor in to their music, or at least having more multi-dimensional, many different faces, in the songs. So far, I think people really dig [my songs].”

For the King-Khan-virgins, what should they look forward to on this latest tour? “I’m really excited to do it all over again. I think at this point it really feels like some kind of spiritual service, in a way. Like, people really need our music to get crazy, and lose their minds for a little bit, and feel good. It’s definitely a responsibility that I enjoy having.”

If you’re curious, and want to explore some more, by all means go to YouTube and do a search on King Khan & The Shrines! Check out the videos we had discussed and the live clips and get in to the whole zany mania of it all… the High Noon is going to be hopping like a madhouse that Tuesday night!

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CD: Idle No More Record Label: Merge Records
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