Once upon a time, a cynical, sarcastic group of young Montreal-based layabouts received welfare checks from the Canadian government and decided to found a magazine. Said layabouts dubbed their publication Vice, which was fitting, since their pages explored topics ranging from—but certainly not limited to—Japanese porn, prescription drugs and crime .
Vice offered $50 an article to any deviant willing to crank out some copy. Two high-profile deviants who became regular contributors—Blacksnake and BBQ, aka King Khan and Mark Sultan, founding members of The King Khan & BBQ Show and former members of garage punk anti-heroes The Spaceshits.
You remember The King Khan & BBQ Show, don’t you, dear reader? Mark Sultan and King Khan played in Salt Lake City this post November. If you didn’t attend the show, imagine a dude in purple wig and white fringe-trimmed dress decked out like Tina Turner and you’re one step closer to understanding Khan.
“One of the guys in The Spaceshits designed Vice’s logo, so we would never let then interview us because we thought it was a conflict of interest,” Khan says, via an unruly, obscene, largely unprintable cell phone chat. “So, one of the Vice people called me at my house one night and tape recorded our conversation. They ran it as, ‘The Stolen Interview.’ We were always doing things to bother each other.”
Vice—which now boasts international distribution, an online TV station and a record label—has come a long way since the days of “The Stolen Interview,” as has King Khan. In the interim, Khan relocated to Berlin, Germany; launched countless music and art projects, including soul band King Khan & The Shrines; toured Israel, Brazil, and virtually every place in between; and even managed to find the time to get hitched and have two daughters.
Khan’s eldest daughter—7-year-old Saba Lou—has provided vocals for numerous tracks on Khan’s Berlin-based in-home recording studio, Moon Studios, which highlights an ever-rotating cast of illustrious guest artists, including fellow Montreal natives The Demons’ Claws. Recently, Saba sang a striking, melancholy song entitled “Passed and Gone,” which Khan unabashedly considers to be the best song he has ever written.
Perhaps Saba Lou’s pathos is the result of an accidental trip to a Joe Coleman exhibit—an artist famous for his renderings of bleeding saints serial killers and circus freaks—intended for those 18 and older. Khan says he and his wife didn’t see the sign on the wall excluding minors, but Saba Lou seemed to brave the rows of garish wax figures with a moderate amount of shock and horror.
“Saba really appreciates darkness, just like me. Kids are so sensitive at her age. I started recording my daughter at six months,” Khan says. “She loves being in the studio. She just joined in when was I recording ‘Passed and Gone.’ Recording music is more fun for us than taking a bunch of family pictures.”
Khan recently teamed up with Vice Records to release The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines—a “best of” disc chronicling The Shrines’ progression, primarily for the benefit of those poor, unfortunate U.S. listeners who may be unfamiliar with their work. Every track—with the exception of “Torture”—is culled from previously released albums.
King Khan & The Shrines have dominated Europe for some time now. Khan’s 10-piece band of outrageously talented “pirates” has become a fixture on the festival circuit. Mention The Shrines in a crowded beer garden on your next trip Hamburg, and you’re bound to get an enthusiastic response.
Prior to Supreme Genius, Khan’s 2007 release What Is?! won over hordes of U.S. fans. The album’s sultry horn section, vintage pop hooks, and psychedelic flair captivated and mesmerized listeners on a grand scale. The supreme genius of What Is?! certainly lies in the seamless fusion of the familiar and totally off the wall. James Brown meets John Waters, if you will.
The Shrines’ first U.S. tour is sure to inspire a cult of rabid King Khan devotees hungry for that blend of vintage, revivalist rock, R&B, and soul.
And the live show? Well! Picture a group of wildly capable musicians—flanked by a go-go dancer and fronted by an emergent underground icon once described as a “garage rock powderkeg personified”—playing a diverse assortment of instruments. Pure magic.
“We’re very excited about this U.S. tour, because The Shrines are really influenced by American music, especially Southern soul. We’re playing a show in Alabama, which is where Sun Ra is originally from,” Kahn says.
“I always feel like a missionary when I play small, backwater towns, especially in the South. And when I say missionary, I’m not talking about the sexual position. If I was referring to a sexual position, I would say ‘doggie style.’”
KING KHAN & THE SHRINES @ The Urban Lounge, 241 S. 500 East, Wednesday July 16, 10 p.m. 24Tix.com