[INTERVIEW] King Khan Distills the Power of Oakland on His First-Ever Solo Outing

Psyche-soul veteran King Khan returns to the scene with his first-ever solo record, backed by the Oakland band Gris Gris. An eclectic stew of aural delights, the new LP, Murder Burgers, comes out on Khan’s own Khannibalism label, and we recently caught up with the venerable performer to discuss the making of the new album, his varied influences and his approach to the studio and the business side of things.

This is your first outing as a “solo” artist, previously you’ve recorded as The King Khan & BBQ show and King Khan and the Shrines. What spurred the need to go solo?

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A very close friend of mine was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and I needed to find a way to pay for a trip to the US to go see him. So, I asked Greg Ashley and the Gris Gris if they would like to back me up and do some shows to help fund my visit. The shows went well so we decided to lock ourselves into the Creamery and churn out some hits.

Listening to Murder Burgers feels like having a nice and greasy drive-thru burger experience. Was that your motivation behind the album?

Funny you should say that, because the idea was inspired by the Giant Burger drive-thru restaurant which was right in front of the studio on San Pedro Blvd. in Oakland. It was where Big Poppa used to serve some great food and the parking lot was filled with souped-up cars and all sorts of crazies and hydraulics. Sadly, it doesn’t exist any longer.

What’s the meaning behind the name “Murder Burgers”?

It’s my fantasy fast food chain/death peddler, satisfying my deep desire to be the Indian Ronald MacDonald…. Ravi MacDonald…I wanna make a human vindaloo burger with Uncle Tom Indians like Bobby Jindal. My little brother and I have a term for Uncle Tom Indians; we call them “Uncle Tonys.” The art on the cover is an oil refinery on LSD churning out death, made by the amazing Don Fodness and Reed Davaz McGowan.

photo by Tally Tupelo

The album was recorded at Creamery Studios in Oakland over the course of one week. Did you write everything prior to going into the studio?

Most of the album contains songs I had written before and never really recorded, except for “Discrete Disguise” and “Teeth Are Shite” which were spontaneous collaborations.

What was your impression of Oakland while you were there? Did you check out any Bay Area punk bands?

I had a huge love for Oakland and spent lots of time there hanging out with people that inspired me back when I was a teenage spaceshit. People like Darren Raffaele from Supercharger, who is one of my favorite people in the world. He is as hilarious as he is selfless. He’s worked his ass off for Project Open Hand – this organization has prepared thousands of nutritious meals and hundreds of bags of healthy groceries to help sustain their clients who battle serious illnesses, isolation, or the health challenges of aging. I think Oakland has preserved amazing community work ethics that were born out of the legacy of the Black Panthers and it is very inspiring to see something like that thriving in America. I actually organized my first Black Power Tarot exhibition in the US in Oakland during the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party last year at the UFO Gallery. It was there I met Malik Rahim of the Louisiana Panthers who was also one of the founders of Common Ground Initiative, who helped thousands of people after Hurricane Katrina. He is truly an inspirational man and it was a real pleasure to have him come and speak at my art exhibition.

 “Born in 77” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It reminds me a lot of the Stooges’ “Seek and Destroy” and perfectly encapsulates the raw garage punk energy that you bring to your live shows. What’s this song about?

This song was written for the Black Jaspers and is my love letter to the punk rock of the late seventies. It’s the music that still makes me wanna jump up and down and smash things. I tried to approach the lyrics like Iggy, simple and direct. The song is about how my guitar has helped me travel the world and how important it was for me to have found the love of my life, my wife Lil, the person whom I could have never did what I did without.

Another standout track to me is “Run Doggy Run.” I feel that one is a departure from the garage rock you normally do. There’s a more soulful ’50s R&B sound to this and you’re talking about love. What inspired this particular track?

I re-examined the ideas of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges and “Some Kinda Love” by the Velvets and perhaps took both of them a little too literally. So, this is a love song that can be applied to the complex relationship between a canine and his/her owner. The deep feelings of loss and celebration, the moment of breaking free and not looking back, the absurdity of holding warm feces in a plastic bag. There are a lot of conflicting emotions in dog ownership… as Lou said so perfectly, “Like a dirty French novel combines the absurd with the vulgar.”

The new album is being released on your own label called Khannibalism records. When did you start the new record label?

I started my own label a few years back and the first LP I released was the William S. Burroughs record, it was him reading the nastiest parts of Naked Lunch. This album fell into my hands thanks to Lou Reed introducing me to his producer Hal Willner. Hal and I became very good buddies and I was really honored when he asked me to finish this record that he’d been sitting on for almost twenty years. Khannibalism Records has also released a handful of singles from the Invaders documentary film soundtrack and my daughter Saba Lou’s debut album which she recorded when she was just 15 years old.

Punk rock is obviously a huge influence on your songwriting and outlandish stage persona. When you were growing up, were there any specific acts that inspired you to become an entertainer? Can you recall any particular concerts or shows that were groundbreaking moments for you?

Screamin’ Jay was a big influence, I loved his passionate ridiculousness the same as Screaming Lord Sutch, his music was like Sesame Street for my daughters when they were very young. Little Richard is one of my biggest heroes as well, his sexual abandon and freak preaching makes my soul go bumpity bump. The Ramones are a band that I worship as well, the list is endless. The Velvet Underground, Sun Ra, Phil Cohran, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Alice Coltrane, Nina Simone, Capt. Beefheart, so many important people…

When you go on tour these days, what are fans telling you about how they initially heard your music?

I actually love getting old and hearing all these kids tell me that my music was the soundtrack to their lives, some even say their crazy parents got them into my music. I met a girl in NYC at a Shrines show who told me her grandfather told her to come to the show and it turned out her grandfather was the lead guitarist of the Ventures! Some kids tell me they have listened to my songs as early as 12 years old. I think when done properly, playing the music that is inside of you is a form of immortality.

What are your favorite social media outlets for music promotion?

Ugh, I am bad at this stuff. I wish I could stop using Facebook, my daughter Bella explained it best when she told me, “If you walked as much as you scroll, maybe you wouldn’t be so fat!” I never had a cell phone or smart phone and don’t plan on getting one in the future; hopefully I can reduce my social media use and just spend the rest of my days reading books, writing songs, and making art.

You utilize Bandcamp as your main promotional tool. Is maintaining a full website these days as important as it used to be?

I love Bandcamp – it’s really cutting out the middle man and helping artists all over the world take the power back!



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