There’s a fuck-all attitude to Hanni El Khatib’s music that makes his relatively straightforward garage rock so enjoyable. Maybe it’s that his songs are really catchy, pairing rock ‘n’ roll swagger with actual hooks. Or that he actually seems like a really cool guy, which I learned he is after interviewing him. Check out his second album, Head in the Dirt, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, which is out now on Innovative Leisure. He’s at S.F.’s Fillmore May 17 and L.A.’s Mayan Theater May 21, both with The Black Angels and Wall of Death.
PST: There’s a hint of desperation to the lyrics to some of these songs. I’m thinking of how “Family” starts with the lyric “I wanna be somebody else today” or the lyrics of songs like “Nobody Move” and “Pay No Mind.” Where do you get your lyrical inspiration?
El Khatib: Most of my lyrics are written in a very spontaneous way. Total stream of consciousness that I try to loosely connect to an underlying mood or theme. They usually reflect the mood I’m in at the moment, and since the record was written and recorded in such a short time-frame, I guess that’s just the place I was at.
PST: What did Dan Auerbach bring to the recording process that was different than the methods employed on the first album?
El Khatib: The main thing that was different was the fact that I recorded this new record with multiple players at once and mostly recorded live, whereas my first album was recorded by myself, where I would overdub tracks over and over again until the song was done. We did a lot of the tracking all together in the live room, where myself, Dan, Patrick Keeler (drums) and Bobby Emmett (keys) would record live takes without much separation and no headphones. I think the choice to record that way really shaped the sound of this album and gave it a sort of energy that really added to the vibe of each song.
PST: There’s been a flirtation with electronic instrumentation, on the beginning of “Head in the Dirt” and with the Classixx remix of “Penny.” Do you think you’ll stick with a rock template with electronics as dressing, or is that something you’d like to pursue further?
El Khatib: I'm just try not to put any constraints or guidelines to my music. I have such a wide and varied taste in music that I think it’d be stupid for me to limit myself just because I tend to make traditional guitar based music. My favorite musicians and producers are continually experimenting and pushing things forward in their genre. I mean, I’m not saying I’m gonna start putting out auto-tuned R&B records (right now that is), but I’m definitely gonna continue to experiment with sound and grow as a musician. I'm open to just about any style of music as long as it’s good.
PST: “Penny” is perhaps the most striking song on the album because it’s so pop-oriented in a classic way. Can you talk a bit about that song, what you wanted to accomplish with it? Did it just come out that way?
El Khatib: This was a bassline I wrote a long time ago and have been playing with forever. I really envisioned it as a straight doo-wop type of thing. It felt like a familiar groove but new at the same time. I think once we started adding all the instruments on top of that, it started to take its own form. I definitely felt it being very pop-driven, so we tried to off set that with some fuzz guitars and some other interested sounds. My fear was that it was too happy for me, but then again, who cares? I was stoked on how it came out.
PST: Your music is pretty raw, yet you have a savvy way of getting it out there. You’ve already had several songs in ads and lots of great videos. Did your time working as an art director and designer help you to realize how important it is to have things be interesting visually as well, and to use different avenues to get your music out?
El Khatib: I’m just a very visual person naturally. I always have been. The visual component of my music is just as important to me as the songs. I really feel the need to place my songs in some sort of context that makes sense. I’m constantly looking for ways to do this, whether it’s packaging, zines, music videos, apparel, art or whatever. It’s important for me to create a common link so that my overall vision makes sense to people.
PST: You’re also a skateboarder. How do you think that affected your musical development?
El Khatib: Skateboarding introduced me to art and music at a very early age. It exposed me to a wide spectrum as well. I grew up on skate graphics and skate videos. Punk, jazz, hip-hop, rock etc. Nothing was off limits in skateboarding. Thats what I love about it.
PST: You’d been playing live with just a drummer, but there’s bass, piano and a lot of other stuff happening on the album. What’s the live setup going to be like?
El Khatib: Actually last summer I added a 3rd member to the group for the live shows, he’d been playing a bunch of things depending on the song. But yeah ... it’s true, for this album we added a lot more instrumentation than I’ve had in the past. So this time around I had to put together a four-piece band minimum. Most of these songs can’t be played with any less. It’s great. I’m really enjoying the new line-up, it opens up the music to so much more than the past.
PST: Can you give me a list of five garage rock or rock ’n’ roll records you’re fond of or that have influenced you?
El Khatib: Painted Ship – “Frustration”
Hanni El Khatib - What's In My Bag?
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