[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
“I'm blaming you if I puke later.”
“Fine. But admit it in the story,” Hanni El Khatib replies, passing a vodka and soda that I didn't order.
We've been mixing poisonous color combinations of liquor for the last 60 minutes: margaritas, beers, Jägermeister, five-hour ENERGY shots. It's not even 9 p.m. on the last night of SXSW and I'm unsure whether to pledge a fraternity or a Brit-pop band. Khatib has completed a quintet of showcases, and downtown Austin is currently chaos out of order. But flux has been the norm for Khatib since he decamped to L.A. from San Francisco two years ago.
Switching cities, leaving a job and touring twice with Florence and the Machine should theoretically crease the nerves. But Khatib, 30, is immune to signs of extreme stress. Rather than slow him, his nascent stardom has spurred productivity. While his music fuses punk, garage rock, '50s pop and blues, it remains primitive and blood basic. His songs are dedicated to those hit by a train, or shot. They embody an acronym a wise lush once told me: KISS. Keep it simple, stupid.
Over the last year Khatib has played 150 shows. He released the revered Will the Guns Come Out, co-produced the debut of psych-rockers Feeding People and licensed songs to national Nike and Nissan commercials, Eastbound & Down and Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. And he's done it on an indie label without radio play or much in the way of tastemaker co-signs.
Major labels have knocked on his Hancock Park door with ideas to turn him into the next White Stripes. It doesn't hurt that the half-Palestinian, half-Filipino with slicked-back hair looks like a truce between the Transplants and the Outsiders. (Last year, the Weekly named him “L.A.'s Sexiest Musician.”)
But Khatib is no pretty boy. He's a musician's musician embraced equally by Florence Welch and indie rap star Aesop Rock, whose new album includes multiple collaborations with him. Gonzo garage-soulster King Khan invited Khatib to do an onstage duet in Berlin. Most notably, Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach is producing Khatib's next record later this year at his Nashville studio.
“A friend owns a bar in Paris and introduced us when I was deejaying after a show,” Khatib says, steering us between parties, still guzzling brave permutations of liquor. “He went deep into music and started dropping knowledge about all these obscure L.A. bands. We ended up going back and forth deejaying all night.”
The mutual admiration society extended back home. Khatib even designed the logo for Auerbach's studio. But rather than switch brands, Khatib is staying with his locally based label, Innovative Leisure. After all, he recently became its part owner and art director, steering the fast-rising imprint's visual aesthetic as well as acting as a liaison between artists and the business team.
“My new songs lean toward '60s garage but without nostalgia. I want a record that makes sense to me today,” Khatib says, before we wind up at the Vice party, the festival's last bastion of uncut debauchery, where punk band Trash Talk thrash before headliner A$AP Rocky comes on.
Khatib disappears after the first round. But even after 80 additional ounces of cheap swill, I'm impervious to the effects of the alcohol. No vomit. Victory. At 3:30, a minor riot breaks out between the A$AP crew and a beer-hurling audience member. Several days later, I ask Khatib if he saw the melee.
“That shit was hectic. So I just smoked a blunt with Trash Talk and blacked out.”
Hanni El Khatib plays April 6th at The Satellite, w/ Feeding People & Tijuana Panthers.