He’s Got A Black Key To Success
Had it not been for an email from a young colleague at work (“Have you heard Hanni El Khatib? The guy is awesome. Very Black Keys. Shazamed it on Californication”), I’d probably have never heard El Khatib. Till he became more famous, that is, and I’ve reasons to believe that he may well become so.
Hanni El Khatib is a half Palestinian, half Filipino musician based in Los Angeles and when my colleague referred to ‘Shazaming’ it on Californication, he was referring to the American TV series that is now into its sixth season and stars David Duchovny. Some of El Khatib’s songs are part of Californication’s soundtrack and that’s how he discovered the musician. The songs on that series are all from El Khatib’s debut album, which came out in 2011 and is entitled, Will the Guns Come Out. So, after tooling around with a few YouTube videos and on his refreshingly utilitarian website, I decided to go get that first album of his.
Sometimes (not all the time), you don’t need more than one listen of an album by a new artist or a band to get the feeling that they have it in them to be big. Perhaps even very big. Listening to El Khatib could make you feel like that. El Khatib, 30, began as a creative director at the skateboard fashion label, HUF, and also worked in advertising before getting into music fulltime—besides writing and performing music himself, he is part owner of the indie label, Innovative Leisure.
El Khatib’s first album has a rawness that certainly harks back to The Black Keys (as my discerning young colleague mentioned) but also to The White Stripes and old garage bands. His music—he’s a multi-instrumentalist but plays a beefy guitar—has a back-to-the-roots character to it and is garagey but with clear influences of soul, punk and blues. The first song on Will the Guns Come Out, which is titled the same as the album, is a minute and something, almost a capella rendition that even sounds hip-hoppy. But that doesn’t prepare you for the rest of the album.
El Khatib says his music is targeted at “anyone who has ever been shot or hit by a train” and that may be a hey-there-notice-me kind of marketing line but his album is definitely one that stands out. My colleague mentioned The Black Keys. They’re definitely an influence on some of El Khatib’s minimalist blues-infused tracks but you can also hear the influence of Jack White’s primal guitar sounds in his riffs.
On the album, besides his own compositions, El Khatib has covered others’ songs too—you get a raw and edgy (with a banjo in the lead) interpretation of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel and a typically garage-rock rendition of Funkadelic’s I Got a Thing. His talent and versatility is underscored by the range of tracks—some such as Wait.Wait. Wait. are primarily acoustic, others such as his version of Louis Armstrong’s You Rascal You is given the psych-rock treatment, and the skanky guitars on Fuck It. You Win make you instantly recall the older albums by The White Stripes.
So what kind of stew is El Khatib cooking up? He’s got blues, soul, folk and garage rock—all of which you can listen to on his debut album. It may seem bizarre to read that description about a single album but when you listen to Will The Guns Come Out, everything jells quite well. Yet, you get the feeling that maybe Hanni El Khatib needs a producer to steer him into making something more sustainable. He actually has one.
Enter Dan Auerbach. It was learnt recently that El Khatib’s next album will be produced by Auerbach, the guitarist and vocalist of The Black Keys. Earlier this year, Auerbach produced the New Orleans’ legend, Dr. John’s tremendous comeback album, Locked Down. Now, he’s zeroed in on El Khatib. Although the name of the album and when it will be released is still to be announced, I’m beginning to think we’re on to something really good.
Al Spx, a Canadian singer-songwriter, calls herself Cold Specks on her recordings and performances. A purveyor of what has been called ‘doom soul’, Cold Specks makes music that has a strikingly goth influence underlying what could be otherwise called gospel music. Her debut album is called I Predict A Graceful Expulsion. Worth a listen. But first, check out her YouTube videos such as Winter Solstice and Lay Me Down. Goth and gospel make for an interesting combo.