When Arish Ahmad Khan is performing rock and roll music, it might not be obvious to all, but there is healing going on. On one hand, there’s the driving psychedelic soul music providing salvation for a batshit audience. But you’ve also got the charismatic frontman himself, cleansing his own soul of personal turmoil.
Indeed, just four years ago, the prospect of new King Khan & The Shrines music was in jeopardy, as Khan experienced a “collection of nervous breakdowns” while on an international run with partner Mark “BBQ” Sultan (together they are the King Khan & BBQ Show). Khan’s antics at the Vivid LIVE festival at Sydney Opera House proved too much for the venue, who expelled him, as well as Sultan, which caused the pair to temporarily disband. Compounded with the recent deaths of three close friends, including Jay Reatard, it was all enough anxiety to land Khan in a female-run monastery in Korea, penning letters about giving up music forever.
But Khan’s family came to the rescue and intervened. Soon, the rejuvenated maestro went back to recording, releasing The King Khan Experience compilation before putting together another masterpiece with his nine-piece garage punk powerhouse, The Shrines. Idle No More presents the band in top form, with belting horns, punchy guitars, introspective lyrics, maybe a string section or two. We caught up with Khan recently in preparation for their show tomorrow night at LPR.
The title Idle No More comes from a First Nations movement in Canada. What’s your relationship with the group, and what about it would inspired the title?
When I was a teenager my father would sometimes kick me out of the house and I would stay with one of my Mohawk buddies on the Kahnawake Indian reservation. Two of my best friends were Mohawk Indians and I owe a lot of my fierce punk training to the two of them. I was following what was happening with the Idle No More movement and it made me very happy to see that indigenous people were rising above and fighting the powers that be. I asked them permission to use the name in hopes to spread the word and they were very happy I did it.
I might be wrong, but as far as I understand it, all nine current members of your band have been with you for thirteen years. How on earth do you keep such a huge crew together for so long with all that personality flying around? Any tips?
Well I keep a lock of their hair in a Gris Gris bag and once in a while I put it over a candle and make them sweat profusely. I have promised them eternal happiness if they choose to walk the bridge to the cosmic gate with me. We are a happy freak family.
You’ve talked about how this album marks a return to music after a breakdown or “overload” brought on by personal traumas. I’m curious to how you related to music in this time, if you had any specific appetites or used any genre/artist to cope. What eventually brought you back to the classic Shrines sound?
Well I had to shut myself off completely from music and wait till it naturally came back to me. I had very troubling vulnerable times when I thought I would never come back or be the same. I think this is a very common hurdle when you are trying to get help; I survived and am a testament that your life can be saved if you devote some time to getting help. After a few years of living in oblivion the song “Darkness” came creeping in and I knew I had arrived and come back to life.
You’ve long been collaging images and references to multiple religions and spiritualities in your lyrics – everything from Tarot to Egyptian religion to Voodoo. Given that your world can get pretty rambunctious, do you have certain rules or policies with how to approach these symbols?
I am a spiritual person and I am always on an eternal quest finding out about mysticism all over the world. In the Tarot de Marseilles I found a lot of enlightenment and magic, mostly from the teachings of Alejandro Jodorowsky and with my own mastering of the cards. I approach all these things with a lot of humor as well, I think ultimately laughter is the best medicine.
If you had to recommend one spiritual experience – a visit to a site, a ritual, a talisman etc – for our readers, what would that be?
Thank you so much, King Khan! Get tickets to tomorrow night’s (6/6/2014) show at Le Poisson Rouge with Red Mass here!