Interview: Mark Sultan Of The King Khan & BBQ Show
By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 18, 2014 3:05PM
Photo by Miron Zownir
The Bad News Boys are set to release an album early next year, but you can preview the new tunes this Friday and Saturday when the King Khan & BBQ Show play a pair of shows with the Black Lips at the Logan Square Auditorium and Thalia Hall. Chicagoist caught up with Mark Sultan (BBQ) to discuss the old band name, the new album, and the end of the world.
MARK SULTAN: We’re in the car driving. We’re in like an area where there’s a swamp and some kind of boring field at the same time. It’s really exciting.
CHICAGOIST: That sounds picturesque. How have the solo shows been going?
MARK SULTAN: Great. It’s going really good and I’m doing a lot of new songs. I’m happy to just be playing and it’s a good way to start a big, crazy tour. I can ease into what will inevitably be something so retarded that after a week I’ll be crying or something like that.
C: So you have new solo material as well?
MARK SULTAN: Yeah, for those couple shows. Then when me and Khan start our tour we’ll be playing a bunch of new songs off our new album. So today after this interview and one more I’ll sit in the back of the car with a guitar and learn songs for the King Khan and BBQ tour, because I haven’t yet [laughs].
C: How is the German barbecue anyways?
MARK SULTAN: Not very good. Lots of gristle. I think that’s their specialty. Sometimes you won’t know what kind of beast it is until you check what kind of fingernail you’re eating. So they don’t have it down yet, but I think soon enough using ancient efficiency techniques they’ll get it all down pat.
C: How did you guys decide to return to the Bad News Boys name instead of something different?
MARK SULTAN: That was honestly our first name. When we started I had a one man band and Khan had a one man band, which was short lived, and we would tour together. We didn’t actually have a name. It would be me as BBQ and King Khan, but not one unified band. We just kind of played some shows together. Then we changed it up and started recording, playing, and writing songs and we were like, “Oh my god Bad News Boys!” We were so hyped. We were both kind of living in Germany and a record label there was suggesting, “Oh, why don’t you guys just put your names together as the band?” That made sense so we came up with the King Khan & BBQ show and put aside the Bad News Boys name.
Fast forward to today - there’s a lot of reasons for changing it. One of the big reasons is that people are kind of ADD these days and don’t pay attention. I don’t think people really listen to music that much anymore. They kind of like the idea of listening to music. They like images and icons, but don’t take the time anymore to actually delve into something they might enjoy. What happens to us is that, for example, the other day people said, “Oh hey you’re in The Shrines.” They can’t differentiate. People think King Khan and the Shrines and the King Khan & BBQ Show sound the same, which they don’t. It just became really frustrating. Like you don’t even take the time to listen to anything, nobody cares. Also, the relationship between me and Khan went from being like blood brothers to hating each other and now being back to brothers. Just coming full circle we thought it would be great to go back to that old name. At the risk of sacrificing everything we’ve build, it doesn’t matter. Maybe next tour there will be like three people at the shows but it doesn’t matter. We needed to just go back to our roots.
C: Well we got a taste of the new material with “We Are the Champion.” Can you tell us how the new album developed?
MARK SULTAN: It was kind of weird. I’ve got a house in Germany and I set up a little recording area. Ultimately, when somebody hears the album it was actually only done with like two microphones because we kind of screwed up. It sounds good, but it’s really a budget recording. We were just hanging out drinking absinthe and doing some other things and said, “Hey let’s record.” We just made up some songs and recorded it. The recording itself was just so magical and we were going back. We’re ultimately friends and brothers and family. We forgot about a lot of that and just thought, “Oh we’re this stupid band.” When the band itself takes precedent over your actual organic relationship, that’s what separates something being fun from being a job and having a job is something neither of us ever wanted.
So recording this was so magical. It just kept going and going and was so exciting. It was new and fresh and everything sounded amazing. We felt like kids again. It just kind of gelled and we recorded it very quickly, and efficiently, and shittily. It all made sense.
C: Were there any surprises that came out of your writing and recording this material?
MARK SULTAN: For a listener the surprises would be different than the surprises for us. There’s a lot of hardcore stuff that didn’t make it onto the album. I think we want to do something with that, but we haven’t discussed what. That was just a natural thing too that we’d bust out in. Years ago, we had another band we really wanted to do that translates to “dirty dog.” We had a lot of hardcore songs about Regan, Reganism, Shriners, just all sorts of current affairs. It never materialized, but we actually recorded one of those songs on this album. It’s about diarrhea and it’s great. I’m really happy with it.
So maybe that will surprise people, “Oh look, a hardcore song about diarrhea.” For us though, there were no real surprises. The songwriting is essentially the same, a lot of doo wop, psychedelic, punk, and rock ‘n’ roll. We like what we’re doing more, maybe other people won’t, but it’s about us and not you. So screw you!
C: What can we expect on the tour you and King Khan are gearing up for?
MARK SULTAN: I’m really excited for this tour. I don’t know how well it’s going to do as far as the dumb business stuff, but I’m excited just to see my friends. Last time the Black Lips and the King Khan & BBQ went on tour together it was 2005-ish. It was super fun but it was like eating out of garbage cans, making ten bucks a night, sleeping in a toilet, waking up with a log of shit for an eyebrow. It was just dumb, stupid, poor, rock ‘n’ roll sacrifice stuff that was really fun. It’s still fun and exciting but now seeing how far Black Lips have progressed and how much people seem to like our band sometimes, getting to tour again in a different way, playing these weird bigger places, and seeing younger kids knowing the words is really exciting for me. I’m 4,800 years old and seeing that this transcends the times somehow and makes people happy makes me happy. I’m just excited to hang, play these songs, and hug my friends and get drunk.
C: Are you too old to sleep in a toilet now?
MARK SULTAN: I sleep in a toilet at home, so it’s kind of lost its lukor. Is that the word? Luster. I can’t talk in cars. I lose my vocabulary because my ass is being jiggled by the road. It loosens my bowel and then there’s like these weird sound effects that I get. I would blame this swamp but it’s actually just the inside of the car because I let loose. I was eating tofurky last night, and apparently I can’t digest it properly.
C: Is there a chance of hearing any Almighty Defenders on this tour?
MARK SULTAN: It’s weird, people have been asking that at my solo shows. We loved that band when we did it and we just did it for fun. We did a European tour and an American tour at one point. I would love to, but we don’t know what’s going to go on because we don’t have time to get together before the first show and practice. We might try to do a few or an encore. I love that stuff. I’m being honest, I have no idea if it’s going to happen.
C: You and King Khan have known each other and worked together for ages. What do you guys still learn from each other?
MARK SULTAN: The older you get things change. I never expected to be 52,000 years old. I thought I would die when I was like 20, but as you get older you realize you’re probably going to live to be older than 20 unless something bad happens. Then when you do get older with your friends playing music you learn that everybody’s got problems, nobody’s infallible, and everybody’s responsible for something. You learn that you have to honestly love one another in order to make music happen if you want there to be art and you want something to be important. If you don’t care, you don’t glean and you don’t learn. I care about my friend Khan and he cares about me and that’s why our music might affect you, because it’s coming from a real place.
I’ve learned to accept his things I may not like, and the reward is getting together and creating something magical onstage or on a record. It gets me personally through my life. Playing music like that makes me want to live. I used to be negative and I’m very positive now. When I play solo sometimes I’ll break up the band offstage.
C: You have such a variety of projects. Is there anything coming up that you’re working on?
MARK SULTAN: I recorded a new solo record which I’m really happy with. I have that studio in my house and I have a FourTrack and these really good German microphones so it sounds good. I don’t know when that album is coming out because I don’t want to interfere with me and Khan’s album coming out. So that will come out in the spring I’d assume. I have a 45 coming out on In the Red [Records]. I just did some shows with my band The Ding-Dongs, but I don’t think we’re touring anymore. I have this band with Lionel Richie and we’re probably going to kick off a tour in the summertime just doing mostly new country to a DJ Scratchy CD. I think it’s innovative and it’s fresh.
C: What’s happening with your label [Sultan Records]?
MARK SULTAN: Ah that’s a good question. My label is on hiatus just because I generally don’t have time. Me and Khan have been discussing getting together to either continue my label as it was or starting something else. We have a lot of good ideas. So we’re starting something in the next year, and we’re going to put out a lot of cool stuff.
I’ve been in Germany trying to assimilate and understand a lot of stuff. It’s very bureaucratic and confusing. Like if you don’t wear the proper sauerkraut t-shirts you can get in a lot of trouble. They put you in this little room and just throw darts at you, so I’m porous right now. I can’t really walk down the street without bleeding, so I have a lot of problems with that.
C: You’ve had such a prolific and colorful career. Are there any moments that stand out the most?
MARK SULTAN: It’s weird because I don’t have an ego, but I hope that somebody understands that I’ve made a lot of stuff. Then I look back and think, “Oh man I got to do this or that!” I’m very proud that I myself and whatever bands I’ve been in have been able to see the world, meet people, and understand different cultures. I know that sounds lame or whatever but I don’t care. It’s an amazing fringe benefit to being a complete scumbag rock ‘n’ roller. I’ve seen so many things that I would have never had a chance to see in my life otherwise. My path was set and I think I burned that path, like I had actually been in a fire and had to take another route at some point in my life. Fate is licking at my heels, but I’m always doing something exciting.
Musically speaking, one of the most recent things I was really proud of was playing at the opera house in Prague. When you meet a kid who likes your music, I think that’s just as exciting. I’m still excited every day being able to do this crap, and until I hate doing it I’ll continue doing it. Until a seagull kicks me in the face while I’m on a roller coaster and blood is all over the place I will continue to do this.
C: Is there anything you’re looking forward to in the future? You’ve got a solo album, this tour, you’re excited to be making magical new music with King Khan. Anything else you want to share?
MARK SULTAN: Assuming this does go to print, I’m excited to see what’s going to happen in the world. I hope that something absolutely catastrophic happens. I hope I can live long enough to see the end of everything.
King Khan & BBQ Show play a pair of shows with the Black Lips on Friday Sept. 19 at Logan Square Auditorium, 8 p.m. SOLD OUT; Saturday Sept. 20 at Thalia Hall, 8 p.m., Tickets $18 or $30 available online.