Channeling stripped-back, Sonics-esque garage rock and the melodies and harmonies of early rhythm and blues, Hanni El Khatib has seen his brand of raucous rock ‘n’ roll burst out of LA’s underground into the consciousness of the wider world in little over a year. Catapulted into the spotlight courtesy of his involvement in Nike’s ‘The Chosen’ campaign, and still riding high as a result of a couple of hype-inducing singles for Innovative Leisure, ACCLAIM caught up with the LA based musician to talk how he’s got to where he is today.
Was there anyone or anything that was really formative in the development of your career as a musician?
I’ve always enjoyed playing and making music on my own. I don’t know what actually sparked the interest in the beginning but I’ve always been a bit enamored by it. When I was about 11 or 12 I got my first electric guitar. I would say that I was pretty much hooked from that point. In recent years my good friend Marc Bianchi was instrumental in the development of my new record. It was him that urged me to get into the studio and transform the simple acoustic songs I had been messing around with into fully realized record material. He was a huge reason as to why I even made an album.
Has music always been an important creative outlet for you?
There is something really cathartic and freeing about making music. It’s one type of art you can really get lost in. I think performing is one of my favorite aspects of it.
Do you feel compelled to write songs? Or is it not quite that strong?
I would say there is no rhyme or reason to why or when I make songs. They just kinda come out whenever I get the urge.
Sometimes it’s hard to sort the hyperbole from the reality in a press release. In the one I’ve got it mentions you’re “living proof of the American dream.” How do you think your experiences as a first generation American from immigrant parents have affected your drive to get to where you are today?
I don’t know why the whole American Dream thing was written about me, but I had a pretty normal life growing up and didn’t feel any pressure from my parents or culturally to ‘make it’ or anything. I think that I was driven by my own passions and interests, and it so happened that my parents have been really supportive the whole time. That’s definitely made it easier for me to explore and do things as I wanted.
How has San Francisco shaped you both personally and musically?
San Francisco was greatly influential to me. It exposed me to everything I really know – I fell in love with skateboarding because of the city, I was introduced to many cultures and people. It’s a great place to live and get inspired by.
What drew you to LA? And do you think that it has had much of an affect on your creative output?
I moved to LA about a year ago for work. I was the creative director for a skateboard company called HUF, and the offices moved cities. I was sort of against it at first because I had only really known San Francisco and didn’t want to move anywhere else, but once I got to LA I really embraced it and have grown to love it here. LA is a great city to be a musician in. I’ve been extremely active playing live as well as recording since I got here. It’s much easier to do this here because the city has a built in music industry. It’s a great place for music.
In your bio you state in regards your music, “These songs were written for anyone who’s ever been shot or hit by a train. Knife fight music.” Could you elaborate on that a little?
It’s just a dedication to those that have been through some rough times. And sometimes I picture my music as the soundtrack to a knife fight scene in a movie or something.
You have a pretty raw, stripped back sound in some instances. Do you find by having just yourself and a drummer, it’s a more direct way to express that urgency and emotion? Is that something you’re aiming for?
When it’s just me and a drummer, there’s no hiding from anything. Everything you do is in the open. The music is pure and simple, there’s not much to distract you. It’s fun and feels like a challenge to keep the show interesting and dynamic. It can sometimes feel really limiting, but it often feels more free.
Is it ever tempting to fill out the sound with a bass player?
There is bass on the recorded music, but I don’t ever really feel tempted to add it to my live show. I’m content how it is. Maybe one day, but for now I’m gonna hold off.
Is there a particular mood or atmosphere you’re trying to evoke with your music?
I feel like the majority of my music has certain kind of tenseness and urgency to it. I like to make music that’s raw and evokes emotion.
Are there any lyrical themes you’re trying to tease out on Will The Guns Come Out?
It’s just a collection of songs written about my life or people in my life. Some songs are similar in concept, but it was really about just writing simple and honest music.
What is it about classic rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll that you find intriguing? And what was the initial appeal?
The sound is real pure and easy to understand. It’s the perfect platform to write lyrics over. The melodies and sounds of those genres just can’t be beaten.
Is there an aesthetic appeal to the ‘50s and ‘60’s for you, beyond just music?
I really love the simplicity of the aesthetic. Things were based on function yet had a clear vision and understanding of style. Nothing was too over the top or over designed. It’s an aesthetic that has transcended trend and time.
How did your collaboration with Aesop Rock come about? Were you pleased with the job he did?
I’ve been friends with Aesop for years. We both had a respect for each others music, but never really worked on anything together up until that point. When he heard You Rascal You he was compelled to do something with it, so I told him to do whatever he wanted. I was really stoked on where he took the track musically – it’s awesome. Since then we’ve worked on a bunch of stuff, some of which will hopefully make his new album. Aesop Rock rips.
You seem to have gained quite a bit of momentum over the last year. Looking back, how would you describe it?
It’s been a bit of a blur. I’ve tried to keep my head down and play shows and stay active. No time to rest.
Are you still involved with HUF?
Since leaving HUF, I haven’t really been back. I left to pursue music and give it all my energy. I think it’s good to take chances and move on.
How important is skating to you?
Skating is a huge part of my life and will always be. It’s one of the very few things that has remained constant and has held my interest since childhood. I’ll probably be 70 and still turning my head when I hear the sound of wheels hitting the cracks in the sidewalk.
– HARRY PEARL