Posted: March 18th, 2009
King Kahn & The Shrines
"Cops, for me, are just underneath our level of evolution as humans."
Photos & Interview: Wez Lundry
King Kahn just rolled through the USA for the first time, and good goddam if the other shows were half as good as the one I caught— some Americans must still be reeling. Learning from the best of a brief period when American soul, R&B, and rock ’n’ roll came together to make a hard driving spectacle, the band has a great and loud horn section and two drummers to compliment the guitars (Although they didn’t bring the go-go dancer). It’s all fronted by King Khan, who’s more known in the States for his earlier stuff with the Spaceshits, and more recently his two-man band with BBQ. King Khan holds it down, and with the rest of the band, puts on a show. Oh, you missed ’em? Man, you fucked up, bro.
There are a lot of great bands from Montreal. What’s the deal?
The tradition has been going on since the ’60s; you know, teenage rebellion. I do think there might be something in the water. They named the Saint Lawrence River, where Montreal is an island, after Saint Lawrence. He was named a saint because when he was asked to renounce Jesus or whatever and he said no way, they burned him at the stake. And while they were burning him at the stake, he actually had the balls to say to the king, “I am crisp on this side. It is time to turn me over.” He was a martyr; they made him a saint, which is pretty crazy because you never think that Christianity can be so punk, in a way.
I found people there not to be very chauvinist about speaking French.
Well, it’s not anymore, but it was when we were growing up. There is something in the French blood there. It’s different. It’s one of those places where if the Exploited cancels a show, punks will turn over police cars, throw toilet bowls at police cars. I remember seeing it, and being a part of it. I was proud to be from Montreal. I used to write for an anarchist newspaper called De Monarchie from Quebec City, and I knew some crusty punks who did that and they were fans of the Spaceshits—at least the writers were—but whenever crusty punks would see the Spaceshits they would be like, “Stop your country music!” They’d all be on PCP, throwing up on one another. They wanted to hear something fast, but we played really fast. I guess they wanted grindcore or something. Anyway, the guy who ran the paper got busted because he wrote an article called “How to start a riot in Quebec City,” and he gave very detailed information: everyone meet here; we’re going to do this and this and this. And exactly that happened. The police busted him at his house, seized everything he had, put him in jail. It was rough. A lot of anarchist thought started in France. I’m no history buff, but in the ’60s there were these teenage bands like The Sinners, and they were 16 and would go to church with signs that said “I love sin.” Imagine being 16 and going to a church on Sunday dressed in beetle boots and a suit.
Where’s the band from? You’re from Montreal, and they’re all from Germany?
We’re 11 in total. There are two French dudes, organ and baritone sax, both are named Fred, both are from France, “Freedom Country.” My percussionist was born in Chicago but moved to Germany 30 years ago, and was doing percussion as a touring musician for people like Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. And then he had a stroke. I found him about five years after the stroke and he had just started playing again. He’s 62 and is probably about the most healthy person I know. He wanted to leave America because as a black person, he really hated the way he was treated; that’s why he moved to Germany. He wanted to raise his kid in Germany. Now he’s so happy playing music. You can see it in his face, how young he really looks.
How did you meet him?
I had no money after the Spaceshits thing, so I stayed in Germany and I was a gigolo a little bit—just meeting girls. It’s easy when you’re like 22 and a Canadian Indian guy, and these German girls are all, “Ohhh… Vas is das?”
We’re not talking about how you got laid. We’re talking about the band.
I met Ron at a bar…actually, I met most of the band in a bar. Fred was in a really cool band from Bordeaux, France. He was wearing a go-go dress with sequins and a matching cowboy hat, and a full beard. And he was playing organ like Jackie Mittoo. He’s this really cool organ player from Jamaica from the old days, and he plays this really percussive organ like “Chigga-Chigga-Tak!” Like really an attack. He plays with so much soul. And that was the criteria for getting people in the band: To have actual characters and people who really have soul and are fun to hang out with. I didn’t want to get a studio band or a band of young, inexperienced kids or something. I wanted to get people I wanted to grow old with. We’re a huge posse, and we are always the last people in the bar, getting wasted. So, it’s funny, but when you have so many people in the band, you obviously don’t make any money. Ten people can’t live off of this band. They all do it for the love of it. Everyone lives in different cities. We don’t jam ever.
Did you send each other CDs or tapes?
We just get together a week before a tour. The thing with this music, and soul music in general, is that it’s really easy. Just keep it simple. I can’t read music, so back when I started the band I’d say, “Can you play something like this on the horns?” and they’d do it. That’s all you need.
Ever been mistaken for a terrorist?
My last name’s Khan, and, cops, for me, are just underneath our level of evolution as humans. You have to know how to win them over. When I cross the border I’ve been asked, “Where does that name come from?” I’ll just say, “Mongolian. You don’t know Ghengis Khan?” That’ll throw them off so much. It’s like we took a football out and spiked it when he asked me that question.