Sultan, who performs under various aliases, is best known as the velvet voiced, one-man band BBQ, who in collusion with his friend King Khan, formerly of The Shrines, form The King Khan & BBQ Show. He recently renamed his longtime record label, formerly known as Sultan Records, and has been busy equipping a studio in his bucolic German digs to compliment what is now called Chompazoid Records. Weekly Alibi chatted with Sultan ahead of his upcoming appearance in Albuquerque as part of the latest intensive incidence of The King Khan & BBQ Show.
“It made sense because I'm a good drummer but not a great guitar player or singer and as time passed Khan got more extroverted and his stage persona got more and more ridiculous and I focused on being a good rhythm section and he could go bananas. I'm the heel and he's the hero which makes sense in the context of having polar opposites. Thank God that he's not as coo-coo as he used to be.”
Alibi: Like King Khan you've pretty much taken up residence in Berlin, what's that like?
BBQ: I've lived just outside the city for a few years now. I lived in Berlin 13 years ago and at that point in my life I think I liked it better because I was partying and stuff like that and the city lends itself to a freewheeling existence. That's not my lifestyle so much anymore and I don't go out that often and the city has changed—just like anywhere, cities are changing everywhere—I like it fine, it's cool. I have a house, a wife and a kid out there, and I don't live in the city just because I can't afford a house in the city ... I have everything I want at home now. And I'm an old man now.
There's a Berlin-of-yore fantasy that seems akin to the loss some people feel for the seedy, grindhouse-and-crime Times Square that has been so completely Disneyfied.
Berlin parallels New York City in a lot of ways. It used to be a city much like New York, a bizarro world alternate universe but New York is far more gentrified than Berlin, but again, things change everywhere.
Is your studio called Chompazoid, same as your record label?
Yeah, mostly so people can identify with it. I don't really call it anything when I'm at home. I haven't recorded anyone else yet. Recording is something I used to do with a rudimentary, four track cassette format but more recently I've started delving into using all this analog stuff. Tapes. Mostly ‘60s vintage mics, compressors, all this stuff—I'm learning it.
How is your studio set up?
Germany's pretty good for vintage equipment, that sort of stuff. It has a history with recording and audio and because it's Germany everything is precise and stuff. For example—I like stuff that sounds ‘60s—if you like microphones that make things sound like the ‘60s, they're everywhere—or little mixing boards, just things that have that sound are easy to find.
Is Mark Sultan playing a solo set on this tour?
I was in the states a couple months ago but this tour is reserved for King Khan and BBQ. It's so dumb because I recorded my album, my latest solo record, in 2014 and it's only coming out now so everything is all screwed up. My album comes out while I'm on tour with my other band. It's ridiculous. I won't be doing any sets but I'll probably have that stuff for sale. I don't think I've played solo in Albuquerque ever but maybe next year. If I can get another visa.
Ok …. Cool! (laughter)
Yeah, it's great. Things have changed a lot in the last couple of years though. Records took longer to press because of the demand for vinyl and because there was a limited number of factories. Now they're popping because of the demand. But there was a little purgatory of a couple years where things wouldn't come out on time.
The whole vinyl thing has been a boon to bands because there's an actual product to sell, you know?
Yeah yeah, luckily whatever bands I was playing in, they always had fans that were into records so it's always been good, but I had friends in bands when CDs were big … people never buy our CDs! We'd press a bunch, me and Khan, bring 'em on tour and they'd never sell! Ever! It's not because of this new thing, it's just our fans are into vinyl … they always bought vinyl.
The resurgence of vinyl mystified me for a while. I don't know; maybe people are looking for quality?
Yeah, I don't know. I grew up with vinyl and though I'm not a nerdy collector I always bought records, since I was five or something. I have friends that own record stores with horror stories though. One of my friends tells this story where this dude comes into his record shop and says, “I want to buy these records.” And my friend says “OK, which ones?” And the guy says “There,” without even looking, and he just wanted 100 records, without even looking, and said he was going to put them on his shelf so people could see them.
When I was younger, I thought that the obscurity of albums and music was the point ... something like that Joe Meek album I Hear a New World, which you covered a song from. What a weird record!
Totally. For me, something like that is the meaning of a “record.” I identify vinyl with all kinds of obscurities that came out, that make sense when you put the vinyl down and put the needle on and it all comes together. The recording should be connected to the final product and the artwork and it sounds a certain way, all tied together. A lot of those earlier producers had purpose behind them and it was all connected to sounding a certain way on vinyl and seeing the artwork and reading the liners as you trip out.
Tell me how King Khan & BBQ came about.
We actually started as two separate one-man bands and only really played in Berlin and Hamburg. We'd set up on stage and I'd play a song then he'd play and at the end we'd play some stuff together. And then, he abandoned his one-man band. It made sense because I'm a good drummer but not a great guitar player or singer and as time passed Khan got more extroverted and his stage persona got more and more ridiculous and I focused on being a good rhythm section and he could go bananas. I'm the heel and he's the hero which makes sense in the context of having polar opposites. Thank God that he's not as coo-coo as he used to be. When we were younger there was so much urine involved in this band it was unbelievable.
The usual stuff was extreme too but there was all this piss-drinking and it got really ridiculous. Now that I'm older I can't get into that thing and though it was good for the time, now it would be absurd as old men to do some of the stuff we were doing back in the day.
Does the music drive that kind of behavior?
The two of us are into the nonsensical, we're surrealists so the less structured things are, the more we like it. So when it came to Khan's outrageous stage act, if it made me laugh he would do it more, and if it added fun to the show he'd do more. The music is basic, primitive and animalistic rock and roll. In 2005 we were in Brazil playing and got our friend to come onstage where his girlfriend gave him a blow job. There was cocaine everywhere because it seemed Brazilians just do lots of drugs and people in the audience were coming onstage and putting drugs on our equipment—there're all these blips of memory. The shows used to be really chaotic. On the one hand I like it better now because we play better and we invoke more spirits without having to go to those extremes.
Sounds like the old Butthole Surfers shows. Maybe it's more inclusive of a wider audience now?
That's a perfect example, not that we're like the Butthole Surfers, but I used to be into them and saw them in the '80s and it's interesting to see their progression especially once they got signed to a major label. You can't live that lifestyle forever and their fans had to have grown up at some point. Their new college student fans didn't even know how crazy those shows used to be.
You guys had a “crazy” response here in Albuquerque last year, right?
I remember that, too, and it was great because when we came last year we hit a few places we either hadn't played or hadn't played in years, Albuquerque being one and it was great! We're excited to be coming back.