Music Features

Reunited King Khan & BBQ on a Mission to Keep Music Nasty

Having smoothed over their explosive 2010 breakup, the duo of King Khan and BBQ locked themselves in a basement early this year and let the spirits get to work.

“When we started recording again, in a way it was more fun than we’d ever had,” says Khan. “We were drinking a bunch of absinthe and smoking weed and giggling like 12-year-old kids again. A lot of the magic that’s between us is in the fact we’ve been playing together since we were 17 years old. It gives us a sense of total freedom, and that’s the best. The fact that it’s the two of us makes the growth exponential. Your ideas bounce off each other and boom, suddenly you’re in the higher plane, and that’s the most important thing.”

The duo’s fourth album, Bad News Boys, blends the infectious melodies of doo-wop with the raw and gritty edge of garage rock, with songs like the lovelorn “Alone Again” sharing space with the wildly juvenile “D.F.O.” (which stands, of course, for the shouted chorus of “diarrhea fuck off.”)

“It’s such an important part of life to discover the savage part of your soul and we definitely help young people achieve a certain level of crazy,” Khan says. “I think it’s really a social responsibility for us to bring this noise to the masses and keep things nasty and keep things primitive.”

The record takes its title from the duo’s original band name, which Khan says was so terrible the CD they submitted to their record label got cast aside. Bad News Boys took three days, recorded in the BBQ’s (Mark Sultan) Berlin basement.

“I always say that when we get together and we get into this zone, I feel like we actually conjure something. I feel like spirits are swirling around us,” Khan says. “I compare it to the Velvet Underground or 13th Floor Elevators. I really think it was the same thing. These magic people got together and the chemistry that was created was beyond chemistry. It’s something that’s metaphysical. They reached another plane. Real rock ‘n’ roll can bring you to that other level. It’s about enlightenment at that point, and people don’t understand that.”

The duo’s hard-won independence — free of “snotty A&R people” — isn’t just part of the process for The King Khan & BBQ Show, but crucial to their musical output.

“We do everything ourselves, and I think that honesty is what’s really lacking in music today,” he says. “There’s all these fast-talking idiots who are trying to persuade you to do this or that, and it’s jut a bunch of bullshit. We’ve always chosen to do things our own way, and that’s why we’ve gotten admiration from our heroes. The Cramps and Lou Reed loved us, and when we met them and hung out, they treated us like their peers. When you get that kind of respect from someone who essentially created you, it’s amazing.”

Working in the footsteps of those heroes still matters because the modern world, Khan says, has become far too sanitized. The mission for The King Khan & BBQ Show has been to scrape, screech, and scream to counteract that.

“It’s our responsibility to bring people down to a level where pleasure and pain become the same thing and that’s ultimately what empowers people,” he says. “For people who empower themselves with music and melody and harmony and spread it like a fungus, that chemical reaction is definitely something that needs to be preserved.

“To those who understand and know, you can reach a very beautiful plane with rock ‘n’ roll. It’s life saving,” Khan says. “I don’t really see very many bands doing it properly. We’ve always been true to the sound that inspires us and sets us on fire. We don’t believe in smoke and mirrors, but we do believe in leather and lace.”

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Eric is a freelance writer covering music, travel, science, and food and drink.
Contact: Eric Swedlund