Fresh off a European tour with a recent performance on the David Letterman show, singer/songwriter Hanni El Khatib has been busy serving up his own design of frenetic, bluesy-inspired garage rock. His new album, co-produced by friend and Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, Head in the Dirt is how one would imagine getting happy slapped in the face would feel like.
Since his first album release of Will the Guns Come Out in September 2011, El Khatib has been touring steadily gaining significant street cred by playing with several household names including Cold War Kids, The Black Angels and Florence and the Machine. BeatRoute caught up with El Khatib on his brief home stint in LA for a morning chat before he embarks on a whirlwind tour back to Europe, followed by a headlining tour throughout North America.
“I think after that I’m gonna chill for a little bit, start working on the new record I guess.” All the talk of touring seems to sink in and there’s a vivid realization of how quickly time flies when you’re getting shit done. “That’ll be a year I guess, fuck… that’ll be a year already by the time I’m done in January, what the fuck?! That’s weird!” Although things have happened quickly for El Khatib, he’s already planning to get back into the studio after a well-deserved break post tour.
With an art direction background, El Khatib didn’t get into music because he needed a change or longed for something more artistic, as many transitions into music seem to stem from.
“I always felt like I had a creatively fulfilling job you know, it wasn’t like I was punching data. I kinda skipped the whole being in a band thing in high school and just played guitar.” He continues, “as I got older my friends were all in bands, I watched how difficult it could be and that turned me off it; the idea of living with five guys to get in a van and play 15 shows. A friend heard my stuff online, he had some time so we recorded what would be the previous album, I was lucky and got picked up on some tours, the record was released under the label I’m partners with now.“
Working on this album was a bit different not only because of Auerbach or the musicians he brought on board to play in the studio sessions, including drummer Patrick Keeler of The Raconteurs and The Greenhornes, but because it was a different take on his writing/recording esthetic altogether. El Khatib has always been more of a solo guy from producing his own work to producing others.
“I didn’t really feel like I needed a producer per se, when I got together with Dan it was pretty clear from the start that he was gonna do the bass and some guitar and play whatever to make the track which is exactly what I wanted, it was pretty cool he actually ended up playing all the bass on the album.” Having always done things his way it was important for him to be open to input from Auerbach and the others during recording. “I wasn’t really to strict about the form going in, the songs were written but pretty lose in terms of the musical form.” He remembers going into recording thinking, “If I’m gonna work with these other musicians, I’m going to be open to doing whatever it takes to make the song better.”
Ultimately, the success he’s had is from not thinking too much about how it all translates. “What you release is not the end-all-be-all of your musical identity, it isn’t so definitive, like once you put out a record, that’s it. I mean look at David Bowie.”
Hanni El Khatib rocks the Electric Owl on Sept. 22.
By Chrystal MacLeodBC, British Columbia