What is What Is?! North America is about to find out. Rock'n'roll revivalists King Khan & the Shrines had one hell of a 2008. Vice Records released their greatest hits compilation, The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines, and suddenly the garage rock showmen were electrifying crowds at high-profile gigs like the Pitchfork Music Festival and garnering widespread critical acclaim. It seemed like perfect timing for a domestic release of their 2007 album, What Is?!
"The record was released in Europe and sold as an import in North America," explains front-man and namesake King Khan. "It got loads of great reviews all over. I think it is the best record we have done so far and I am glad to bring it on home, finally."
"We're super happy with what happened last year with Supreme Genius," says East German-born trumpet player Simon Wojan, who is also well chuffed with the band's upcoming North American tour this spring. "There are not a lot of German bands, especially rock bands, that get to tour [in North America] and we're pretty happy that we're able to do this."
Montreal-born Khan now calls Berlin home, Wojan lives in Cologne and the rest of the band are scattered throughout France and Germany. The geographical divide makes practicing a complicated feat at best; the band generally get together the day before a tour to regroup and manage to squeeze in most of their rehearsals while on the road. But as anyone who has ever witnessed King Khan & the Shrines in concert can attest, you certainly wouldn't know it to hear them.
The North American version of What Is?! will include a bonus mockumentary, which was actually created as a final project for film school.
"It is a short faux documentary film made by Miriam Glaser," says Khan. "She was a big fan of the band and asked to make a film about us. I did not know if it was going to be good, so I asked to be killed in the beginning and resurrected at the end so that I would not have a major role in it."
Spoiler alert! "Khan dies onstage and goes to some kind of purgatory," says Wojan. "With a kind of voodoo, he talks to us with his mind. We revive him, but we make a little mistake and he comes back as a Bavarian folk musician. He's totally cheesy and really awkward and we decide not to play with him anymore. That's the basic idea. I'm not sure how they edited it. I haven't seen it yet."
While the Shrines' sound is heavily influenced by '60s garage/soul/psych/freakbeat, Khan insists that his musical revivalism is merely an amusing departure from a life that is downright gosh-darned ordinary. "I make sure that even the change in my pocket is pre-1969. That's how strong my love is," he jokes. "Actually, besides my refusal to own a cell phone and my love of postcards, I am a pretty modern guy. I wear Oakley wraparounds and ride a Segway all day. At night, I like to slip into a mankini and play with my Wii... euh, I just puked in my mouth a little bit."