If anyone in the lo-fi garage-rock world can claim legitimate hero status, it's Montreal natives Arish "King" Khan and Mark "BBQ" Sultan. Their wildly diverse work together, as solo artists and with other like-minded contemporaries such as Bloodshot Bill and the Black Lips, has covered everything from trippy psychedelia to primitive country blues, drugged-out doo-wop to raw R&B, and sexed-up soul to angelic gospel.
No matter how far afield their music roams, however, both men inject tracks with infectious melodies, nuggets of songwriting gold and a scrappy punk-rock attitude. And when they team up, as they have for the first time in six years on new album Bad News Boys (In the Red Records), the resulting blend of Khan's ragged exuberance and Sultan's honey-dipped croon goes down easy.
But no matter how good the lead Bad News Boys' singles "Alone Again" and "Illuminations" sound, the King Khan & BBQ Show still swears by its lo-fi roots. "I think we just used two mics to record [the album]," Sultan tells Orlando Weekly in a joint email interview with Khan. "It was even more budget than usual, but the feeling should transcend the 'quality.' We need to feel something for the listeners to feel something."
Khan's answer to a similar question veers into the kind of hilariously insane territory he's famous for. "We have a great time when we write together," Khan says. "We channel goblins and wind up giggling like 12-year-old kids high on markers. Some songs were written alone and brought to the altar by a goat-headed she-beast that we summon at will. And I think we added some absinthe and other greenery into the [recording] mix this time. I don't remember [ever] having as much fun as we did this session."
Detractors of the band may snicker at such hijinks – and turn up their noses at Khan and Sultan's perceived lack of artistic evolution. But for two men so committed to their chosen rock & roll paths, such considerations are nonsensical. "We have a sacred formula that was given to us by the tribal elders," Khan says. "If we hinder too far from the path, we are likely to have our eyes gouged out." Sultan adds, "We never consciously decide to sound [a certain way] – we just end up sounding how we sound ... People disagree, but I like bands that just do and are. I like reliable constants, sometimes."
Of course, for a while, the reliability of the King Khan & BBQ Show was on ice. In 2014, they got into a surreal legal battle with a Berlin BBQ joint named King Khan und BBQ. And that came after their infamous onstage fights during a 2010 tour of Australia and South Korea, with Khan's often-drunken debauchery tearing them asunder. But, as Sultan says, "There's a specific and rewarding energy we tap into as a band. We weren't friends for a while, and now we are again. We refuse to let 'time' interfere with our mission." Khan takes that even more seriously. "Mark and I are real soul brothers who are on a mission to offer salvation in the form of reckless abandon and pure rock & roll. As they say in the rap world, 'It takes two to make a thing go right.'"
Lucky for us, that thing is road-tested again after an opening run for the Black Lips last year and a few one-off dates in Europe this past winter. Khan says he can't wait to get back to Orlando, too, where his "big brother," the Wildtones' Nadeem Khan ("the best Indian role model the universe has to offer," he says. "I even heard he made Gandhi cry once while bathing together"), resides and where he and Sultan have cultivated deep friendships with bands like Golden Pelicans.
Each man says their collaboration fulfills something specific in their wildly divergent artistic lives. Khan describes it as more "primal and sexual" than his increasingly politicized work: "In some ways, we're like fetish priests." And even the normally reserved Sultan reaches for similarly transcendent heights: "I play music because I have to, and playing with Khan is part of an amazing tapestry. It's very positive – more celebratory, possibly, [and] really gratifying to my purism. We can conjure ghosts and ride lost rock & roll sound trains trapped interdimensionally. We have a psychic bond, for real. It's like a musical Ouija board sometimes. The room smells weird during our show."