Q&A With Hanni El Khatib
Anyone who awards their dog ‘Best Friend for Life’ status gets nothing but glory and the biggest of thumbs up from us. Taking out this category is LA musician and songwriter Hanni El Khatib. Hanni may claim to be a former skate rat but he’s come pretty far from his days of trouble-making and marathoning ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)’ by Beastie Boys. In 2011 he released his debut, Will the Guns Come Out and in 2013 his second album, Head in the Dirt was released after being produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. If that weren’t enough, Sir Elton John is a big fan calling it a “brilliant record” and akin to “old school rock n roll”. No big deal.
Fair warning: this vid may be NSFW depending on your employer’s level of appreciation for nudity.
We caught up with El Khatib at Falls Festival and had a wee bit of a chat,
What were you like as a kid?
I was a little skate rat. I was obsessed with skating and curious about everything. I was always getting into trouble.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
It could have been the first time I heard the Beastie Boys’ ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)’. I became enamoured with that song as a kid and played it over and over until my parents were sick of it.
How did you first get into making music and when did you pick up the guitar?
I think making music and playing the guitar happened around the same time. My mum always had instruments lying around the house and when I was really young she made me take piano lessons. I quickly traded that in for the guitar and that turned into the electric guitar.
From there I learned how to play the songs that were in my head. I’ve never been one to learn other people’s songs, I’ve always just made up my own. However it wasn’t until recently that I actually started recording my own music and performing it.
Any shameful musical moments we should know about, like talent quests, auditions, cover bands, clarinet lessons?
Does getting booed while opening for The Specials count?
Does your Palestinian and Filipino heritage influence your music?
Not directly. However, I do think that growing up in a multicultural house in and of itself was influential. I think that some people may have this idea that my parents were playing their native music in the house and that I was picking up sounds from the Middle East and the Philippines and infusing them in my own. That’s not the case really. My parents listened to stuff like The Zombies, The Animals, and Queen.
What TV show would you love to hear one of your songs on?
Louie would be cool.
Sir Elton John is a fan of yours, how does that feel?
It’s pretty cool. I would never would have thought I’d hear that. It’s sort of a surreal moment when you hear people like that talking about you on the radio. It’s very weird, but I’m totally stoked. [Yen note: You can hear Elton John gushing here].
He said your record sounds like an old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll record from the ’70s, is that something you’re consciously going for?
I don’t know about consciously, but I think he hit the nail on the head. I sort of felt as if my latest record embodied some of the things that I like so much about that period in music.
What were your inspirations for Head in the Dirt?
I like the idea of loners travelling through America, making their way through deserts, alone and surviving with little or no help. That idea and mood fuelled the concepts on the record. Whether that is reflected in the songs or not, that’s a bit subjective, but that was the initial starting point for me.
What were some of your day jobs before music?
I’ve had lots. The day I turned 15, and could legally work, I got a job. At first I worked as a pizza boy, a nanny, in retail, as a summer camp counselor, as a doctor’s assistant. After that I began a career in graphic design and worked in advertising for years. Ultimately I became the creative director for a skate company called HUF.
What do you do when you aren’t making music?
You can usually find me working on other projects for my record label Innovative Leisure. If I’m not doing that then I’m riding motorcycles or hanging with my dog.
How is life on the road? Any stand-out stories?
Life is good on tour. It can be exhausting and tough, but it’s worth it. We’ve got far too many stories to tell, half of which I’m sure will land us in jail. So I’ll just keep those to myself.
For better or worse, who’s the most memorable person you’ve met backstage or on tour and why?
I recently met Rick Rubin backstage. He appeared out of nowhere at one of our shows in LA. He was super nice and just wanted to talk about music. He even walked us up to the stage and wished us luck. That was pretty cool.
What’s your dream festival location, lineup and green room rider?
La Cigale in Paris. It’s a good-size theater with great sound and energy. The lineup would have to be Black Sabbath (in the ’70s), Led Zeppelin (in the ’70s), Tom Waits, Iggy Pop (in the ’70s) and Nirvana. If that was the lineup, I don’t think I’d give a fuck what was on the rider.
Highlight of your music career so far?
I don’t know, maybe playing The Late Show with David Letterman? It’s been an institution in American pop culture forever so it felt good to play there.
What’s your most prized possession?
My dog Harlow.
Film you wish you could live in?
What’s on your to-do list while you are in Australia for Falls Festival?
I’m trying not to have a to-do list. I want to relax and see what happens!