Hanni El Khatib
I remember reading The Outsiders at school – Ponyboy, Soda and Darry, slicked back greaser hair and switchblades, Mustangs and girls in skirts with hair just so. Elvis was ‘tuff’ and the Beatles weren’t, there were rumbles and packets of Kools and the kids would sneak into the Drive-In and find off-tack ways to get their kicks. Looking back at the scenes described within those pages now, I can hear a soundtrack to it all, one I wasn’t really aware of at the time, but one which now fuels a lot of what I do on a day to day basis, and I’m quite obviously not alone. If I were to pick up a pack of Kools and look to share ‘em with someone today, it’d probably be Hanni El Khatib.
Khatib, an American of Palestinian heritage, channels these scenes through his current music. It’s a mish-mash of ‘50s-era blues and rock ‘n’ roll and it brings to mind images of knife fights, rumbling trains a-la mid-century America, huge old cars and an attitude one doesn’t really associate with current times. Khatib brings this all together in a wonderfully left-of-centre way (it’s not neat, by any stretch) and it reeks of authenticity and downright Because I Have To. And he does have to, a few years ago leaving a (no doubt) well-paid job as Creative Director for a skate fashion label to pursue his musical dream.
“I dunno man, music is something that I've always done as a hobby and when I got the opportunity to go for it full time, I was like, ‘Fuck it’,” Khatib relates on this unorthodox (but wholly understandable) move. “I knew if I didn't jump on it that I would regret it for the rest of my life.” Regret is obviously something Khatib didn’t want to live with and so off he went, a couple of short years later releasing his full-length debut, Will The Guns Come Out, dropping earlier this year. It’s interesting listening to it too (full as it is of the aforementioned ‘50s sounds), when you realise what Khatib grew up listening to.
“Well (and this is when I was young, it all changed as I got older), but let's just say it was Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Ozzy Osbourne, Neil Young and Snoop Dogg,” he smiles when asked who, when he was younger, he wanted to be like, musically, when he grew older. This has indeed changed, but it seems a fair jump from Snoop Dogg to the likes of Elvis and Buddy Guy. “Growing up in America, music from the ‘50s is pretty much a part of the culture here,” he explains on how he came to find such an affinity with these sounds from times gone by. “It's pretty much been ingrained in the fabric of our society since that time. Furthermore, me being a child of the ‘80s, I experienced one of the many resurgent periods of that era. So for me it's quite familiar and as I got older I really started to appreciate the recordings and innovation of the time as well as the simplicity and purity of the music.
“I think the simplicity and iconic nature of the era [too] is the main thing that attracts me to it. Such easy and classic style,” he adds. Easy, classic style is what is printed all over Will The Guns Come Out. Yes, it is messy and yes, perhaps Khatib should have waited more than just a couple of years before he released it (hone those chops a little, fully grasp the basics so you’re able to then move them outside of the box), but as mentioned, it’s authentic and real and channels not just sounds of old, but some newer ones too, the three groups of more modern times that come to mind being The White Stripes, The Black Keys and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
“In a sense I guess those bands have paved the way for all bands like myself that make stripped down rock and blues music,” Khatib muses when I ask how influential these newer bands have been. “I don't necessarily think they influence my song writing directly, but I do feel maybe we all pull from a similar bag of references and are inspired by music of the past.” No doubt, although this now poses a tricky question – how is Khatib going about adding his own brand of originality to this music? How is he not just rehashing a rehash?
“I feel like what I do is just pull inspiration from old sounds and music,” he counters. “I don't think I'm necessarily even attempting to make authentic revivalist music. I'm not trying to replicate that sound to the tee. For me, it's about making music that feels natural and it just happens that I'm influenced by all that type of music.” Make no mistake about it, Hanni El Khatib is doing this because he has to. He left his ‘real job’, he relishes the sounds from times gone by, he lives in the now. A heady bunch of ingredients which are informing a musician with a plan. As Khatib has been quoted as saying before, “These songs were written for anyone who’s ever been shot or hit by a train. Knife fight music.” I ask him if those things have ever happened to him, to which he replies, “No comment.” Just what Ponyboy would have said.
Samuel J. Fell
Will The Guns Come Out is available now through Innovative Leisure / Inertia.