After a somewhat prolific 2016, in which Hanni El Khatib released no fewer that 5 EP’s, he’s started 2017 by packaging them all together along with several new songs into one, blockbusting 19-track album.
Full of languid, meandering garage rock & roll, there’s a dusty rawness and rough edge to his music, like it’s been left out in the desert to fend for itself. While not quite as stripped down as some of his earlier work, it remains taut and basic; note a note or instrument sounds extraneous. He gave us the lowdown on the thinking and inspiration behind each song via email from LA.
Everyone has had a bad night. This recalls an account that was exceptionally bad and sometimes writing music and letting it all out is the best way to put some closure to that. I intentionally didn’t write down any of the lyrics before hand because I wanted the music to guide me. I wanted it to be raw, straightforward, and most importantly honest.
Gonna Die Alone
Life can sometimes get really dark. I often find myself feeling very alone, even in most cases that may not be true. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve always felt like an outcast in one way or another, but I can’t help but feel a bit isolated from time to time. I try to use humor to deal with these emotions and this song is an exercise in just that. I wanted it to be a little tongue in cheek. We’ve all heard people say this phrase and it totally makes me laugh. It’s like one of those things that someone would say while sitting at home with their cat alone on a Friday night on a TV sitcom.
I came up with the idea for this song after a shit storm of news and a staggering amount of anti-immigrant sentiment here in America. I’ve always wanted to make a song using only drum machines and analog synths. Once I laid down the track using very brutal and primitive sounds, the lyrical content poured right out. I wanted to be as concise and simple with the lyrics as possible. The goal was to tell the story of my family and my identity using as much emotion as I could without over complicating the lyrics. I felt that energy of this track is what drives this point home. It was a very intense song to make and after it was done, I was both physically and emotionally drained.
Being that I’m a musician and entertainer, it’s sometimes strange for people to find out that I have a great deal of social anxiety and suffer from panic attacks from time to time, especially since when I’m not in the studio, most of my time is spent out with people, at shows or whatever. This song is about just that, anxiety. When I wrote the music for it, I thought that it was so dancy and kitschy that it could be cool to disguise this concept within the almost cliche lyrics about infatuation or longing for a lover. I mean, severe anxiety can sometimes literally make you feel paralyzed and so I felt it was a good parallel in that sense. Also, when we play it live it’s great to see people dance to a song about panic attacks. It puts me at ease.
We as humans have a tendency to push our luck and test the boundaries in life. I’m no exception to this. I’ve done a lot of crazy shit in my day, and sometimes when I look back I can’t believe I made it out of some of those moments alive. Thankfully I’ve learned from these mistakes and I’m constantly trying to grow and evolve. Thank God for art and music.
Mangos and Rice
This is an ode to the way I was raised – it’s a nod to my Filipino heritage. If you’re Filipino you can probably relate. Mangos and rice were a staple in my house and so were cans of sardines. And while all the kids at my school had Lunchables and peanut butter sandwiches in their lunch box, I grew up on this.
I originally wrote just wrote the main chorus hook for the song and when it came time to record, I didn’t have the verse lyrics ready yet. So as a placeholder I just sang it over and over again but started to flip the gender of God back and forth. After playing it back the song started to take on new meaning. The way the song ungulates makes it almost feel a modern hypnotic chant or mantra, similar to what monks would sing at church back in the day.
The song is about first generation families that have lived in their neighborhood forever but are now being pushed out due to gentrification.
Mondo And His Makeup
I grew up in San Francisco and I grew up around such diverse group of people. I was exposed to all types of individuals and have many great memories. This song is about my mom’s gay best friend who was the coolest dude ever. He’s no longer with us, so this was just a little garage song dedicated to him and how cool he was in his prime!
Gun Clap Hero
Sometimes those that are meant to protect quickly blur the lines of heroism with fear, thus reacting in immediate violence. It’s saddening to see this unfold in front of our eyes. This is for anyone who’s ever lost someone they love to unjust circumstances.
I was listening to a ton of Son Ra during the time of this recording. I wanted to explore abstract thought and space. I wanted to write a song loosely about the universe and our place in it. I wanted to be more illustrative and less literal than some of my other songs.
I’ve always loved those insane commercials for electronic stores in the 80s and 90s, specifically the local guys that are always acting nuts and slashing prices and breaking everything on screen. Guys like Crazy Eddy or Crazy Gideon. I wanted to write a song about what I imagine their life to be like off camera. I tried my best to put myself in their shoes and write something from their perspective.
Till Your Rose Comes Home
Last year a really good friend of mine passed away from a motorcycle accident. He was a great dude and everyone loved him. He had a magnetic personality and I could always count on him to make me laugh and put a smile on my face. I wrote this song for him. Keep riding homie.
Hold Me Back
I’ve never been one to back down from confrontation, but I’ve learned that this is not the way to handle things. Not only is it stupid and gets you in trouble, it’s totally unproductive. Aggression is not the only answer; in fact it’s a cowardly way to conduct yourself. I wrote this song as a reminder to myself to stay calm and chill and not to fall victim to aggression. You can only benefit from positive vibes.
This is about the world we’re living in today. We’re at the point where fear is beginning to control our every move. Paranoia is becoming more and more widespread. Technology isn’t helping us either; it’s starting to really change the way we act and think. I sometimes feel like we are really losing a sense of what is really important in life. Real relationships and human contact is slowly getting eroded and we are becoming disconnected from reality.
This past year, my girlfriend and her friend got held up at gunpoint by three men right in front of our house. I heard the screams and commotion and ran out front and tried to chase them down. My girlfriend was screaming that they had guns and stopped me in my tracks. It was a very traumatic evening. The next day I went into the studio and recorded this song recalling the events of the night before. It still gives me chills.
Back when I lived in San Francisco, I had this friend who was a total character. You could always spot him wandering around the north beach with a Perrier bottle full of tequila and a tote bag full of books. Occasionally he’d tell me these funny stories of interactions he had at the Lusty Lady, which was a local union run peep show. He’s also the same guy that introduced me to my favorite bar in the world, Specs Adler Museum.
This I Know
Sometimes you have to let the person you love know that you are down to ride for them. Through thick and thin. No matter how tough things get. When you find that person you gotta let ’em know.
Almost 10 years ago, my best friend curated an artshow in the jail cells on Alcatraz island. One day I visited him while he was working and he’d become really good friends with the staff there. He had a guy take us down below ground to solitary confinement. This is also where a lot of political activists had squatted and taken over and occupied in the 60s. While in there we saw graffiti and scrawls everywhere and one piece stood out. It read “Freak Freely”, and that phrase has been in my head every since I saw it. I finally set it to music.
Hanni El Khatib’s Savage Times is out now via Innovative Leisure. For more information, including upcoming tour dates, please visit his official website.