In Australia to celebrate New Years Eve with the cats at Pyramid Rock and Peats Ridge garage rock’n’roller (and, it has to be said, very good looking man) Hanni El Khatib is doing a quick one-two around the Phillip Island festival to play his own headline shows in Sydney (FBI Social, December 29) and Melbourne (The Tote, January 1). That’s one big weekend. And the shows tipped be a couple of those “I was there when…” situations. His recently released debut album Will The Guns Come Out (through Stone Throw Records offshoot Innovative Leisure) is, according to the artist “for anyone who’s been shot or hit by a train” or, as Spin put it, “anyone who wished Jon Spencer fronted The White Stripes.” Yeah. Serious. He’s supported Florence And The Machine, and perhaps more aptly, the Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson; an experience El Khatib reckons was “pretty sick. Nicky and I got to hang out with her and her husband and just exchange stories about touring. She’s been on the road for, like, fifty-six years.”
The coolest thing, says Hanni in a warm voice that somehow manages to drawl enthusiastically, peppered with skate punk lingo, was that “Wanda actually got to listen to what we were doing and when we came into the dressing room she was like, ‘Where’s the rest of the band? I could have sworn there were more of you guys out there.’”
“You guys” are simply Hanni and his bestmate drummer Nicky Fleming-Yaryan. Having recorded the entire album by himself Hanni needed someone to back him up on stage. The duo is working out just fine; El Khatib sees no need to try and mirror the album’s instrumentation on stage.
“As long as Nicky can keep up with me, the show can kinda go anywhere at any given time. And I made a conscious decision to leave it this way ‘cause I really wanted the people who listen to my music to get two different experiences. I really like the idea of someone getting my record and being familiar with songs and then coming to a show and being completely exposed to something totally new and going, ‘What the fuck is this guy doing? Whoa.’ If I wanted to re-do the record I’d just play the CD really loud, you know what I mean? I like the idea of being able to be spontaneous.”
It’s interesting to hear Hanni’s take on the couple of cover songs he’s included on the record – particularly his version of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel”. It seems a gutsy move covering Elvis but El Khatib doesn’t rate the decision as particularly noteworthy – and doesn’t sound as though he cares for it to be a definition of his own music.
“When I recorded the album, I was just kinda doing it in my spare time. It didn’t really dawn on me that anything I was doing in the studio would even matter. [It was] more like, ‘Well, here’s a song that everybody knows and these lyrics are pretty dark,’ and here I was writing music that, in my mind, matches the mood a little better. It was like, ‘Fuck it. Who cares? I’ll just record it.’
“It’s so drastically different [how it sounds now] that covering an icon, a legendary song that maybe you shouldn’t do; an era…I never really conceived of any of that stuff when I did it.”
Growing up as an American kid in a Palestinian/Filipina household Hanni was, just like everyone else, exposed primarily to his parent’s musical tastes before he started exploring and discovering his own.
“My mom listened to a lot of British pop, like The Zombies and The Beatles; later on, Van Morrison and stuff like that,” he says. “As far as the blues, and discovering that first wave of rock’n’roll music, I started to get really interested in the sound and how it was recorded. I started to really appreciate the songwriting. It’s basically just lyrics and guitars. I really like that approach…it’s so focused on the emotion and the lyrics.”
While his music may be definitive, like any musician he’s a music fan with broad interests: “I’ll listen to just about anything; when I was younger even more so. I’d soak it all up. I’d listen to NWA one day and Sonic Youth the next. The first record I ever owned and was stoked on was Beastie Boys License To Ill.”
Will The Guns Come Out gives the impression of barely controlled chaos; it’s not hard to visualise a live show where beautiful, dangerous, people are going to be sweating and smashing beers all over themselves. As to whether that’s what going to happen at Hanni’s Australian shows, El Khatib says, “I hope so. When we’re having the most fun, those are the best shows. The thing I like about punk music and punk shows in general is the energy that goes on there. People aren’t afraid to let loose and do whatever the fuck they want. We’ve played many different sized venues around the world but we’re still down to play a house party in the living room in front of like thirty kids. That’s where we feel comfortable. That feels like a good time to me. I’d gladly take a shitty bar with a weird low stage when you’re on the floor with the people.”
You’ve got only four chances to see Hanni in Australia this summer. You can also check out the dark sexy clip for his track “Fuck It You Win.”