Music Interview: The King Khan & Bbq Show

Bring The Doo, The Wop And The Weird To Burque

Geoffrey Plant
18 min read
The King Khan & BBQ Show
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The King Khan & BBQ Show is a raw, doo-wop garage punk band made up of Mark Sultan—who performs solo as the one man band “BBQ”—and King Khan of King Khan and The Shrines. Sultan sings and plays guitar and drums in the typical one man band configuration. Khan is a consummate front-man whose guitar and vocals, combined with his wild stage presence, bring The King Khan & BBQ Show to a seldom-accomplished level of trash rock weirdness. Weekly Alibi spoke with Khan from his home in Berlin where he was preparing for the “Nipples and Bits” Tour supporting their new album Bad News Boys . The King Khan & BBQ Show bring it all to Sister (407 Central NW) on Sunday, Nov 1.

Alibi : What are you and BBQ up to in Berlin? Are you looking forward to the “Nipples and Bits” Tour?

King Khan: We both live here. Tour is starting in a few days. I’m gonna fly from here to Seattle. We start in Seattle and then do a whole month in the States. I love playing and Mark and I have a good time. I think that Mark and I, we do something that is necessary in modern times, to have a modicum of kinda disgusting rock ‘n’ roll. Because everything’s so hygienic and purified and sanitized these days, it’s nice we make people run to their Purell bottle. It’s our social responsibility (laughs).

Tell us about the latest King Khan and BBQ Show costumes.

Well first, I prefer to call them uniforms. But my wife is the one who makes all the stuff and it comes from us being depraved people that are inspired by strange things. This newest incarnation of our costume celebrates the nipple. Celebrates the crotch. It celebrates the better things in life.

I love the way those nipples jiggle when BBQ is playing (laughter).

It’s amazing because it’s all rehearsed nipple moves. Rare tai chi moves.

Describe some of your influences.

John Waters introduced the King Khan & BBQ Show at the last Burgerama and he dug our set and told us after that we were a perfect mix of Bunker Hill and Liberace—so that’s the biggest compliment you could ever get from someone. It’s amazing that even after 15 years we could play a show and have magical stuff that really inspires us to keep going and to keep doing what we do.

Would you say that John Water’s movies were influential?

Hell yeah, I remember taking psychedelics as a teenager and watching Pink Flamingos and there’s a lot of brain damage from that, so yeah, I would definitely say he was a big influence.

What’s your take on Halloween and performing around Halloween?

I love Halloween and it’s always been more important than any other celebration when I was a kid, so the more costumes and the weirder the people are the more we have fun. But having said that, I have played Halloween in some big cities and it was just an utter disappointment. So I’m kinda open to either way. I mean the costumes sometimes can just get so ridiculous, it’s just really fabulous. I think our crowd is probably a crowd that will dress up so I hope that people get inspired.

How would you describe your fan base?

Wow, we have all sorts. Bikers love us. Teenagers love us. Lately we have all these kids who have just turned 18 or 21 and have told us they’ve been waiting to see us since they were 12 years old (laughter). It’s a real mixed bag of people that love our music and, I mean, I think what we do is really important; we’re carrying on the flame of real, revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll. It just seems that there’s not that many people that do that to this caliber. I mean we have our family of people like the Black Lips but there’s not that many bands that can bring out the true, savage spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. And I say that ’cause I think that the way me and Mark do it, sometimes I really feel that there’s spirits swirling around us from other places, really charging the room—and people lose their minds. That’s the most important thing. People nowadays, they stare at their shoes and don’t realize you can make a performance into a magic ritual, you just have to have the right chemical elements.


Yeah, (laughs) well.

I mean ecstatic, an ecstatic experience.

Yeah, you have to have the right catalysts to make that happen and that’s ultimately the greatest reaction we get. Yeah, people are like, ‘man we were like smiling for a whole month after you guys came last night.’ I think we’re essentially here to make the destruction of the universe as pleasurable as possible. The faster things get eroded and get destroyed, the more pleasure we have to try to bring to our shows. It’s kinda like a race. A race to the apocalypse (laughs).

And you got the pedal to the metal.

Yes! And this time we’re really spinning around America in 30 days. We don’t have many breaks. But it turns into a really beautiful thing. Just driving around America is really incredible, all the deserts and everything. So I’m very happy to keep chugging along.

There’s absolutely a sexiness to the King Khan & BBQ Show. Do you guys get mobbed by girls?

We’re both married. But, yeah, the girls. I mean, Mark has this velvety voice, you know. He’s got the Sam Cooke in him and, it’s funny, back in the day one of the reasons I started dressing up like a woman is because we had a lot of rockabillies come to the shows. The girlfriends would be in the front totally dancing and going crazy and their boyfriends would usually be in the back with their arms crossed looking at us weird and when I started dressing up like a woman,—my Tina Turner days—then I would be able to actually go out and kind of assault these kinda square people that were just not into having a good time. And they have this face that just looks like they’re in pain—but not from me assaulting them or something like that, it wasn’t serious fighting—it was just playing with people in the audience who weren’t doing anything. Just trying to get ’em to do stuff.

Give em a kick in the pants.

Exactly. And because I was dressed up as a woman then all these guys would be really afraid to even touch me because they were fearful that, I don’t know, I might be homosexual. So we were pushing the gender bending 10 yrs ago. I think now we’ve evolved to another level. Now it’s a different kind of disturbing.

I love the masks too. Not to go on and on about the uniforms but …

Me too. I mean this is my favorite uniform we’ve had so far. Honestly when we put the masks on we feel like we can do anything. That’s what they’re for. In fact, I lost my mask in a hotel in Brighton, England and I tried to call back the next day and ask them if they’d found my leather mask. (laughter) Oh my god, the dudes were just so disturbed. Just “No. No, no, no. No—definitely not. I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir.” Meanwhile, he was probably sitting there eating fish and chips while wearing a leather studded mask.

Cover artist Johnny Sampson, where’d you hook up with him?

Yes! He actually hooked up with us. He did some posters for us a while back in Chicago and then we started working together and it was great. He would just ask him to do something for us and he would be like ‘what should we do’? Then we would fill him up with our dream, ya know? And that’s always a beautiful thing I think. That’s one of the greatest parts of our job in a way is to inspire artists to go out of their way and in their imaginations make something really uplifting. He’s a big fan of our music and he did the invisible girl cover, which was really surreal. We wanted an underwater thing and we gave him hints of what we wanted and then: boom. This time with the Bad News Boys we wanted to show what we imagine ourselves to look like (laughs) and he captured it to a tee! And he paints that stuff and they’re big! He’s an amazing person to be able to work with. We’re really glad to work with him.

What do you think of DMCA and digital music in general?

I use both technologies. Analog and digital. Certain things are just made a lot easier and I think that’s one amazing thing. Literally anyone can make music. If you have a little computer, wherever you are in the world, you can download some free studio thing to work with and boom. I think it’s amazing how much music is now being thrown out there, ya know? Now, whether its good or not is of course a taste thing but every now and then I come across the Bandcamp of some amazing group and I’ll write to them and see if they wanna work together or something. The dream is there. It’s possible. And now especially, you can get in touch with artists so easily. I guess in some ways the playing field is leveled out. People aren’t weird deities that are far away. I think as long as rock ‘n’ roll is at that level that’s beautiful. And contacts. Mark and I played a tour of South Asia, played places like the Kuala Lumpur and people knew our shit. Like all these little kids were rocking and rolling and knew the lyrics. Its definitely made the world a much smaller, more accessible place for everyone and I think that’s wonderful.

That’s cool. So you’re down with the YouTube, your music being available on YouTube?

I wish people had more quality control. Like what people put up from their cell phones sometimes, come on, the sound is so bad, or the angle … there’s no reason to put so much garbage on there –but I guess that’s the whole thing, you have to sift through the garbage a lot harder. It’s something you’ve got to do now.

Do you guys make a living off this now? This must be your full time job.

Oh yeah, yeah. I sometimes wonder if we’re maybe the last of the people who are able to do that. I mean I like to think that that’s not true but hell yeah. I’ve raised two children, ya know. We have a happy family here in Berlin and I’m very proud that rock ‘n’ roll has paid their bills and fed them. And they’re really proud to know that that’s what put food on the table.

Is that income mostly from touring?

Yeah, touring. But here and there you get lucky sometimes and you’ll get some weird movie, or different—its amazing where your music winds up these days. I’ve been happy. It’s hard work but its my complete and total passion so I can’t imagine either one of us doing something different. And Mark’s got a great solo thing going too. Mark Sultan put out a new record and I’ve been doing lots of movie soundtracks, actually. I started my own label, too. If you keep yourself busy and immersed in this thing it’s one thing that will help you not go insane.

Tell me about your label and the soundtracks.

I did a soundtrack for a movie about a black power group (from ’60s Memphis) called The Invaders and tried to do real Memphis kinda soul stuff, instrumental stuff. And also a couple songs. Look up my label Khannibalism and there you can find the new single I just put out with Ian Svenonius from Chain and the Gang doing some guest vocals.

He’s a hell of a performer too, actually.

Yes, yes. Totally. I got him to help with that soundtrack, well, with that song. This other movie I did is for a German film that’s going to come out … uh, I don’t know when its gonna come out just yet. You can find the trailer for it online. Its called Back to Nothing. By Miron Zownir. That guy is amazing. Actually that guy took pictures of me and Mark on the last record. The black and white stuff. And actually if you see that guy’s photos apart from the stuff that he did for our album, from his real collections –that guy is a trip. He loves us and his photos are some of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. He was basically living in New York City—he has a new book called NYC RIP—and it’s all about New York City from 1980 to, I don’t know, ’84 or something. He was living in Alphabet City and I have no idea how he was able to take the pictures he did of the decay and chaos that was going on there. Like, if you look at his pictures, not only drug use but sexual abandon and it’s just no holds barred. His pictures are by far some of the most revolting pictures I’ve ever seen but also some of the most beautiful black and white photography that exists in the world . If you love Taxi Driver , the movie, as much as I do and you look at his books, it’s like you’re actually seeing what was happening in the streets at that exact time. It’s like an erased world that he captured. And he kinda did that here in Berlin too. The last movie he shot, I played a small role in it and we shot in some abandoned children’s hospitals, an old ice factory. Just a lot of weird places in Berlin that unfortunately—well, they were run by like homeless people and gypsies and drug dealers—and now those buildings have been condemned, shut down in the past year. This gentrification thing that is happening is strange and it’s effecting everyone.

Its interesting you bring that up. Do you know Danielle de Picciotto? She lives in Berlin and she’s documented sort of the transition from underground East Berlin and then the Berlin underground scene after the wall came down and the gentrification of it.

Are you friends with this person?

She answered some questions because she has a book that Weekly Alibi ran a little review on and she was nice enough to talk to me about herself and her book a little bit. But yeah, Danielle de Picciotto is married to Alexander Hacke, the Einstürzende Neubaten bass player.

Oh yeah! I know that guy.

So, that’s his wife that I’m talking about. And she’s got some movies and other work documenting the same gentrification thing you’re talking about in Berlin.

What’s amazing about Berlin—I’ve got to say—is despite all the obvious gentrification taking place on the streets, the real underground celebration style of Berlin that’s always been kinda rumored, these clubs that have the dark room in the basement, where the real twisted stuff happens, that stuff is totally real and beyond your imagination. It’s crazy how it gets really hardcore in these kinds of places. I mean, actually, a lot of that I learned from being friends with Miron, the photographer. He gets access to these places no problem. I mean I’ve filmed with him in some weird places but also me and Mark actually, we were in a movie and part of it was in this place called the Kit Kat Club which is this legendary swinger club. And we actually played a show there. This place is so rough they have fisting competitions there. I mean, I haven’t seen that but when we played there the funniest thing was like the owner of the bar was staring at us and he was like in the front row and—this dude’s face! Either he was in pain or he really did not like what we were doing (laughs). And I’m wearing a Tina Turner outfit, Mark’s got a turban on and he’s barefoot sitting down playing drums and guitar and here I am doing my thing and every time I looked at this guy’s face it’s like contorting in a really weird way. And then when I went offstage he came up to me and he was like (deep gruff voice) “I really loved your show”(laughs). And his face was in exactly the same contorted way, so it’s just the way his face was. And it was funny because you know this guy probably spends a lot of time making the pornos that you’d never wanna see (laughter). You know, pornos that’ll change your life.

So everything you hear about Berlin is actually true?

Oh yeah, and worse than you would imagine. Like there’s factories and piss slides in places. All the urine from a building techno place gets like filtered into a fucking slide underneath the bar.

That’s actually beyond my imagination.

I know! It’s like it’s pretty intense. I can tell you one story and I don’t think you can probably write it in your article but there was, a friend of mine owns this bar and he was talking to another bar owner who owns one of the notorious swinger clubs, ya know, hard, gay, hard clubs. This guy, well my friend has this normal ’60’s rock ‘n’ roll bar and he’s like ‘tell me, what’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in your bar’? And he goes ‘oh last week’—it was so disgusting—’like, we have our “dark room” and in the dark room there’s a gynecology table with stirrups, right? And they found a naked, 65 year-old man in the gynecology stirrups and then they had to call the doctors.

Oh man.

It was the morning after the party. They found him because he obviously went to hell or heaven. But then when the doctors came they found he’d been dead for 10 hours. So people were fucking this guy all night.

Oh man.

Just the idea! That a 65 year-old man—you know? It’s kinda beautiful in a way. He got his big leather batwings and floated to hell. Or heaven, wherever he’s going.

More than he probably hoped for.

(laughing) Imagine him reading a bedtime story to his kids: (little old German man voice) ‘guten Nacht mein Kinder’. The great thing is that the bar owner who this happened to is blabbing about it! Like, he’ll get better Yelp reviews or something.

So, when you tour America do you find it a lot straighter?

It’s a lot straighter. But actually, to be honest, at our shows we get a lot of deviant behavior. Obviously not as hardcore as, you know.

Yeah, your shows, you get the weirdos.

We do get the weirdos, yeah. We had to stop playing “Tea Bag Party”. It would get disturbingly weird. I mean a lot of jock shit, basically latent homosexuality. Kinda like, ‘hey its “Tea Bag Party”, let’s tea bag someone during the song’.

And its all aggressive.

Yeah, and we’re like, what the fuck are you doing? (laughter) And then, eventually, we’re like ‘no we don’t play that song anymore’. (laughter) But see if we played that song in Europe people might be tea-bagging later, to the 45. There’s a time and place for disgusting.

Yes, America can be extreme in a different way.

Yeah, America is a very amazing science experiment. I mean, all these crazy things have and still do exist in America. Me and Cole (Cole Alexander of The Almighty Defenders and Black Lips) got banned from San Francisco for a whole year because of our getting naked and doing really weird shit on stage. In San Francisco of all places. The police were called and all this stuff . I mean, even us, we can’t always get what we want. Also, to be honest, I would rather play all-ages shows and with our sexually provocative costumes, the kids get an idea of some kind of depravity they can go home with. You don’t have to pull it out on stage, unless you’re Lenny Kravitz looking for yet another shameless self-promotion.

So you think that was planned, huh?

I think that wasn’t only planned by one person but by 15 people sitting around a huge, golden table.

Read Geoffrey’s full interview with King Khan & BBQ Show at

The King Khan & BBQ Show

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