He’s a soul man, a Lothario, a family man, an exhibitionist, a lover, a joker, a destroyer, a punk rocker, a mustachioed cartoon, a socially conscious lyricist, a gross out humorist…King Khan exists on so many planes, he’s virtually in another dimension.
The known facts: He was born Arish Khan to Indian parents in Montreal, Canada. At 17, Khan left home for Montreal’s grimy underground music scene. There he formed a tight-knit “death cult” of Montreal punk musicians, the Kukamongas, and eventually joined the Spacesh*!s, a punk band with a ferocious sound and subversively childish lyrics lead by Mark Sultan. Thanks to Khan, who replaced the band’s drummer and then stepped up to become its singer, they gained a reputation for memorable live shows (which included firecrackers shot off during indoor sets and raw chicken parts thrown off stage), and got the band blacklisted from most of Montreal’s clubs. Banned in Canada, the Spacesh*!ts happily toured Europe (for all their misbehavin’ they’d still snagged a record deal). But Berlin would prove to be their downfall — King Khan fell in love with a girl there. The Spacesh*!s broke up, Khan married the girl, and within a week he had a new band — composed of a whopping nine members, including the legendary soul drummer Ron Streeter (who played for Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, etc.) and Ben Ra (Germany’s John Coltrane).
And so was born King Khan and the Shrines, a party-starting soul outfit with scorching riffs and an analog rock ‘n’ roll sensibility. King Khan comes in many flavors and now he’d traded the taste of punk for some raw and dirty funk. But like the Spacesh*!s, the Shrines are nostalgic for a past when music was just fun and nobody gave a damn. 2001′s full-length album, Three Hairs and Your Mine, ranged from voodoo funk to delighted swing, with titles as playful as “The Mashed Potato Itch” and “Kukamonga Bugaloo.” 2004′s Mr. Supernatural was even funkier. By 2007′s What Is?!, the band’s merry slap-dash soul had found a large and appreciative audience. “69 Faces of Love” is a sophisticated, Stones-y jam with slurry, jaded vocals over quickly-picked guitars. “Welfare Bread” is an old-fashioned swing romp that sprints off with horns then steps into an almost gentle love song: “You don’t have to pay your bills any more now,” sings Khan, as romantic as he gets — “You just gotta eat my budget bread!” King Khan and the Shrines dip into genres and come out with hits.
Meanwhile, former Spacesh*!s member Mark Sultan had created his own solo project as “BBQ” and, in 2002, came to Berlin to play with The Shrines. In their downtime, Sultan and Khan would record joke-y little songs. Those evolved into King Khan & the BBQ Show — a two-piece outfit with the raging blues-rock ferocity of the White Stripes and Khan’s trademark wordplay. It’s an outlet for Khan’s punk side — grungier, looser, faster, and with definitely more gross-out-yet-strangely-sexual humor (check out the lyrics to “Tastebuds” — we can’t print them here). This is raw, catchy stuff. In ’04 they released a debut self-titled LP and in ’06 released What’s for Dinner? As the kick-drum fueled “Truth or Dare” on 09′s Invisible Girl makes clear, Khan and Sultan are having a blast riffing off each other, just as they did in their Spacesh*ts days.
With two full-time bands to his name, King Khan’s sprawling universe expanded in 2009 when he and Sultan joined forces with Atlanta’s The Black Lips to form the Almighty Defenders — a post-modern psychedelic gospel supergroup with songs that are anything but church-appropriate. Khan’s also at work on the Wu-Tang’s GZA’s next album, as well as another side project called Tandoori Knights with Canadian rockabilly one-man band Bloodshot Bill. By the time you’ve finished reading this, he will have released another stack of records, peed on an audience somewhere, found more musician collaborators, burned a van…and then, as we found out when we interviewed him, probably tucked his kids into bed and kissed that girl from Germany, still by his side. Because he is King Khan, and the rules of the known universe can’t contain him.