Cruising with King Khan

Post Author:

My body is depleted. Despite finding romance aboard the Bruise Cruise, the alcohol low is in full swing. Spikes of anxiety coarse through my head screaming like demons from the depths of this nefarious region of the Atlantic. I have an interview with King Khan in less than an hour and all I want to do is sleep. Her cabin is clean. Mine is filthy, and smells like feet and armpits with a hint of ass. I haven’t slept well the whole trip, and, honestly, all I want to do is lie around. In her cabin. In her bed. We're beet red from the sun and the friction. Away from the music, away from the people. Floating amongst the other chandeliers shimmering under the glow of the moon in the midst of the Bermuda Triangle. She gets up. She comments on the stench emanating from my sneakers strewn beyond the foot of the single-size bed. I stay down.

She slips her navy sweater back over her blonde bangs which returns me as the sole nude in the room. I’m still panting on the bed trying to quell my anxiety and act like I’m inspired or some shit like that. The ship begins to sway back and forth. She claims the tossing “Makes her feel high.” Back and forth. I croak, “It makes me feel sick.” Back and forth. My torso is trying to extend itself beyond its skin. Back and forth. My body wants to throw itself up, but my gut is yearning for a balance. Maybe alcohol, maybe a cigarette. Back and forth. My voice is struggling back to its home in the larynx. I’ve been hoarse all day. Back and forth. The alcohol and fan fare have taken away more than just my energy. Back and forth. Now it’s moved beyond my voice and headed to consume my sanity. Back and forth. This is the last day of the Bruise Cruise. Back and forth. A total fucking nightmare of a day. I can’t wait to get the fuck off this ship.

Hours earlier, perched on a chaise lounge, I see photographer Eric Luc directing King Khan, born Arish Ahmad Khan, in a hot tub full of children. Waiters are everywhere on the deck stalking people with trays full of drinks, hustling the sale. I sit idle and mute with a cigarette dangling from my lips as Khan extends his arm, exposing his cape to the wind. With his feathered headdress pluming into the air and a necklace made of teeth resting between his breasts, he glares into the lens of the camera like a Hollywood version of an Amazonian warlord. The thin, black stretchy cotton of his skimpy briefs are the only thing separating Khan’s balls from the smiles of the children seated in the frothing water below. The shot is quickly assaulted by a flock of cameras. I’m offered a drink, I decline and light up another cigarette.

It’s been five years since the last King Khan and the Shrines studio album What Is?!, off Vice Records, and two years since King Khan and BBQ’s breakup. Right now, he’s in his element, and nothing seems to bother him. He’s not untouchable, but he sure as hell projects that cocksure attitude.

Khan and the nine other members of the Shrines, based out of Berlin, have four albums under their belt dating back to 2000 and have been touring their New Orleans-style psychedelic funk-rock around the world sporadically since. Khan's hyper presence on and off stage has built up a cult of personality so brash it rivals that of his friends and recording buds the Black Lips. Recently, Khan was kicked out of the Vivid LIVE festival at the Sydney Opera House following his second performance with BBQ for behavior “too rambunctious for an opera house”. Needless to say, dude’s a veteran when it comes to life experience… and he reads tarot.

Back in her cabin, I pull myself together, get dressed, and head out to collect Khan from Quintron’s Swamp Stack party. We sit down outside of the Xanadu Lounge – where the majority of the festival performances were held – for our last interviews of the trip. I think maybe this worldly man dressed in an ill-fitting track suit and mustache can shed some light on the madness propagating in my brain. I’m sure he knows a couple of things about the doldrums, the demons, and the alcohol. Fuck it, you only live once. I’ll start off light with a couple of benign softballs to get the conversation rolling…

So what took you so long to get on the Bruise Cruise?

Well, I mean it’s the second one. Last year they asked me to do it with BBQ, but we were having problems. So I’m really excited that we got to be a part of it this year. Especially with Quintron and Miss Pussycat, too, and all their involvement. They’re really close friends. It feels like a big reunion, a big family reunion.

It feels like this festival is perfect for you and the Shrines who have been together since 1999 at least, right?

The Shrines have been around since 1999. Before that I was doing the Spaceshits.

How does it feel to be involved in a festival like this?

I think it’s wonderful. Especially with the caliber of artists that are involved. I think that most of the people that are playing this festival are just really honest musicians. I guess we survived the test. I guess kids nowadays are looking for something more real than pre-processed bullshit. I’m really happy to be able to do this. I feel like a very lucky person to be able to fly around the world and hang out with my friends and get crazy on boats, or trains, or buses, whatever. It doesn’t matter. (laughs)

You’ve got such an aura about you. You’re a beautiful man. You’re confident, you’ve got your family here. Just you interacting with everybody really says something about you. It seems like you’ve adjusted so well on this boat. At one point it felt like the Bermuda Triangle’s demons were yelling at me. They were screaming at me. They were trying to stifle me and I was wondering if you felt any of that?

I’ve felt some pretty strange things in this trip, definitely. I don’t want to be a downer. I mean, this is basically like indentured slavery – this is like a slave ship, you know? I’m happy that we’re a part of the people who don’t take this really seriously… actually, I don’t want to be a bummer.

Spiritually, yeah. There’s some strangeness going on. But I think everyone involved in this part of the boat, in this cruise thing… it’s like the religious enjoy honest music. I guess whenever you’re in a luxurious situation there’s always blood underneath all of [it]– blood and torture and nastiness.

But it’s pretty amazing, too. I was hanging out a lot with Jello Biafra on this thing. And it’s amazing to be on a boat with someone like that. Especially ‘cause I remember when I was 12 years old listening to the Dead Kennedys and it kind of changing my life. And to have him be a fan of all the different bands I’ve been involved with for the past ten years. I guess it was kind of like a well deserved pat on the back to everyone involved… and, yeah. Wait, we were talking about spirituality, right? (laughs)

I just asked you if you felt any of the demons. It was obvious, this anxiety that I was overtaken with. I didn’t feel it too much yesterday, but today – I know that has something to do with self-inflicted shit. I was drinking the whole time. But still, it was this overwhelming power…

I made the mistake of talking to the waiter who had been serving us and asking him exactly what the deal is involving this boat. And he was just telling me how basically all the people that work here are not Americans. They are from Third World countries. They don’t get salaries. They get paid in tips. So all the gratuity on drinks, basically. That’s their shared income. And they work seven months non-stop on this boat which I can’t even imagine. It’s insane. That put a bummer in the whole thing. But at the same time, you know, a lot of those people aren’t working in some fucking diamond mind or something like that. But still, it’s still quite crazy. So I guess, today, the guilt kinda kicked in. I guess that’s what happens when you're, you know, floating in the Bermuda Triangle. There is this swirling madness coupled with like… Neil Hamburger washed away all that guilt.

Let’s talk about the show. I was in a bad place all day and then I saw you. Seeing you interact with people was one of the things that really helped me along. I felt like my libido was gone. I had no energy, I had no drive. The demons were yelling at me and telling me to stop and not to do my job and to just go to sleep. Then I got to your show and was watching you play. I danced with a girl that I met on the boat. It was this big thing for me, it was freedom – I know this sounds weird…

No, no. It’s not weird at all. (laughing)

So…how does it feel to be playing the Bermuda Triangle on a boat that’s swaying all the time?

The boat thing – I’ve played on a boat in Venice or something like that. But a lot of the reason I’ve decided to play this kind of music was, I guess, when I first discovered Sun Ra. I think it’s kind of like alchemy what he would do. He would take people who normally would never play music and then help them find what instrument they were supposed to play, and then they were destined to create this salvation for, like, street people and to give hope and fantasy and everything, and impose it into people’s brains or whatever. So, in a way, I wanted to carry that tradition on and bring that feeling into the live show. Kind of mix it up with the whole essence of Mardi Gras and stuff, too. Just like real celebration – losing yourself in the spirit of love and goodness. I think ultimately this is the thing that will heal the world and always has when it’s done with good intentions. In that way I’m really happy.

Often the best compliments I’ve ever gotten were from people who just told me that, “Oh shit, I just saw your show and I was smiling for like 2 months after!” and stuff like that. When you have a room full of so many people who are all focused, that’s how magic rituals happen. You focus this concentrated energy and you kind of launch into people’s hearts and minds and…crotches. (laughs)

(choking on my hoarse throat, I barely mutter a “ha.”)

Are you crying? (laughs)

No, no. I’m just gathering my thoughts…

I was with a friend of mine on a city bus once in Montreal, and I just kept bombarding him with jokes and he started crying. And I was like, “Are you OK?” And he’s like, “They’re tears of joy!”

When [Eric Luc] and I were in your room you said something about a breakdown. I was wondering if your music has helped you – it seems like it has – helped you through the hard times. I mean, it’s always peaks and troughs with life. You can seem like you’re at the highest of your career and you can be at the lowest point in your soul.

The beginning of the whole breakdown was basically like that. I got invited with BBQ by Lou Reed to play at the Sydney Opera House [for Vivid LIVE]. That was a big deal in my mind and my heart. Lou Reed is one of my biggest heros since I was growing up. So to be accepted in that circle, you know? I guess that really fucked me up in a way because where do you go from that point?

Actually, in that same month I’d also met Jodorowsky who was another hero of mine and I did tarot with him – I’ve been studying tarot for a long time. He invited me to his house because I’ve known his son [Adan] for a long time and his son was always like, “Whenever you want to meet hiyou can go hang out with him.” But I was really nervous and I wanted to wait till I really knew tarot cards well. So I waited for a long time and then I finally felt ready. [When we met, Jodorowsky] was kind of telling me that this was going to be the year of my crucifixion and all this stuff, and that things were really going to get heavy. And he was absolutely right. So, I guess in some way I feel like I’ve finally become a man. Actually, a lot of Native American beliefs [claim] 33 is the year that you truly become a man, you shed the skin of being a youth. In that way I’m kind of relieved to know that things went relatively well and I haven’t lost my my mind – I almost lost my mind… I did, but sometimes when [life] gets so overwhelming I think it’s a good thing for people to seek help because…

Did you actually have to seek help? Medical attention?

Oh yeah. I went fully crazy. I was an outpatient in a mental hospital because I thought I was losing my mind. It was a very dark place. I thought I’d never be able to write music or play music [again], and then I actually got on medication and had weekly checkups and they were giving me different things. But the most important thing was actually just to stop thinking. And it took a few months, but then I came back and I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt because I’ve really dealt with the demons. It is really easy to get lost in this kind of business, you know? I remember friends telling me about how airline stewardesses – they supposedly lose their soul.

I’ve never heard that.

Because it’s like when you’re traveling so much you lose complete sense of time, and then you’re also just serving all the time. I mean, that didn’t happen to me. It’s possible that you do lose your mind when you’re not sleeping and on the road and… anyways. I’m glad that I’m back, and I feel stronger than ever.

Do you feel like you’re going to take anything from this and would you ever do this again?

You know what? I really enjoyed it and I’d definitely do it again. It’s just… this kind of luxury is ultimately [for] the people who pay for this or the people, I guess… well, I don’t know how to say this, I don’t know how to say what I’trying to say… OK! Yes, I would do it again, but it kind of bummed me out when I talked to… and especially the idea that this is international waters, so rules don’t apply.

American labor laws do not exist on this boat.

Yeah. That’s awful. So… I do really want to go back home right now.

Last question. What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get back home?

Literally go to Disney World. (laughing)

Yeah? Have you been to Disney World before?

No, I haven’t! (Doubling over in laughter) I never thought that I would ever say that!

King Khan and the Shrines play The Bowery Ballroom tonight with Brooklyn’s Hector’s Pets.