After talking to Arish “King” Khan over the phone last Friday, I got a sense of a more spiritual and sympathetic side as opposed to the notorious showman he’s become over the years. Along with his band — the Shrines, he’ll bring his traveling stage show to the Great American Music Hall on Tuesday. He spoke to me from Berlin, his residence for more than a decade, where he raises his family (yes, the man we’ve seen prance around on stage in sequined undies and flashy, feathery costume is also a father) in what continues to become a rapidly “hipster-fied” artists’ mecca.
Khan touched on his musical roots in Montréal where he was a 17-year-old-punk doing interviews with the likes of Napalm Death and the equally teenaged and “obnoxious” Jay Reatard for a magazine known in the late 1990s as “Voice of Montréal.” It would later be renamed Vice. In fact one of his earlier bands, the Spaceshits (featuring Mark Sultan, a.k.a. BBQ) had a guitarist who designed the magazine’s current logo.
But it was this environment that would also serve as his training ground, where he’d learn his craft; absorb his antics and prepare to launch his own ritualistic rock and soul experience.
“When I was a kid, I’d be like 10 and watching infomercials for oldies music collections and saw Otis Redding, James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. That’s really something essential to rock and roll — people who are characters.”
Character is one thing the ostentatious one isn’t short on, but his backing musicians in the Shrines are nothing to scoff at either. One of them, Ron Streeter, is a veteran percussionist who previously worked for Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder.
Khan told some of Streeter’s story, how he became somewhat estranged from his family; not having seen his brother, a Vietnam vet, for over 25 years. He mentions Streeter had a stroke a few years before joining the band and lost power in half of his body. Khan said he’s always upbeat and that in the beginning, when they were touring, sleeping on floors, doing it “punk style,” that the elder was always fine with it.
“It was like he was reliving his past. Ron has been with us for 12 years. He’s like the grandpa of the band,” Khan said. “I found him when he started playing with people [because he wasn’t doing much anymore] and so I invited him to join. I think the Shrines thing is a big family.”
And for Streeter it would be a family reunion when lo and behold his family finally saw him in Texas on Current TV performing with the Shrines. Khan called it a miracle.
He said while every religion has something to offer, music is his salvation.
“It’s a pretty simple formula. You’re giving off a ritual. A lot of bands forget to do that.” He said some concertgoers revel in what he called an orgiastic, orgasmic experience of uncontainable energy. And he loves that younger people come out to his shows. “It’s great that kids aren’t hypnotized by bullshit,” he said.
While it’s not exactly hypnotism, Khan does partake in reading tarot cards. He learned about this after meeting surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky in Paris a few years back. The maker of Holy Mountain, a film Khan considers one of the most psychedelic ever made, gave him a pack of cards and he considers it an honor (he took it to heart and wrote a tarot column for a French fashion magazine).
Are you a big fan of King Khan & The Shrines and tarot cards? Want King Khan to read your tarot? If so, please email firstname.lastname@example.org describing why you want King Khan to do your personal reading. It’ll take place on Tuesday, Sept. 4 before their Great American Music Hall show in SF. All entries must be received by noon this Friday, Aug. 31.