6Qs with Hanni El Khatib //
The 50s are back with a musical vengeance. A movement that has been slowly surfacing in the music scene with many artists dabbling in these nostalgic sounds for quite some time. At the helm of this genre renaissance, we go to Los Angeles, where Hanni El Khatib is curating the doo-wop of the future. Here, he lets FEN in on how he got started in music and how he wears his culture — quite literally — on his sleeve. Keep your eyes open for him this summer on tour, we have a feeling he is gonna be around for a while. And check out his video, “Loved One” on last month’s FEN FIVE >>
Melody vs. Harmony: Melody
Lyrics vs. Music: Both, equal
Hydraulics vs. Big Tires: Definitely hydraulics
1. How many instruments do you play and what’s the story behind learning each one?
I don’t know how many but I can get by on a lot, like string instruments. I can’t play violin or cello, and definitely no wind instruments. But I play out of necessity when I’m recording. So if I want to hear an instrument on the song, then I’ll attempt to play it. If I can’t then I’ll have someone else play it. I’m by no means a master at any, but I primarily play guitar. When I’m live, I play with just a drummer.
2. You also design stuff (clothing, skateboards, etc), how did you get into that? Was this before or after your love for music?
I just recently stopped doing that, but for the past six years I was the creative director for a skate company called Huf. We designed apparel, footwear, and skateboard stuff, hard goods. Although this was a pretty heavy career, I always did music to keep myself sane and do something other than work. When I was approached to do a record with Innovative Leisure, I didn’t think anything of it cause I was so busy with work, but it snowballed into going on tour with Florence + the Machine immediately, and that was our first tour. Prior to that we were playing shows locally, but nothing major. After that, the possibility that I could turn music into my career became very real.
3. You are half-Palestinian, half-Filipino. What was that like growing up? Was one culture more influential than the other?
I would say my Filipino side may have played a bit of a stronger role in terms of being around that side of my family, a few of my mom’s brothers and sisters lived in the bay area where I’m from, so I was constantly around my cousins from that side, whereas my dad’s side was more spread out, or in the Middle East. I haven’t been to the Middle East because the two times I was going to go with my dad, the circumstances were completely weird. The first time, when I was younger, we were supposed to go for my grandfather’s funeral in Kuwait, but then the Gulf War happened a week or two before we were supposed to leave. The second time we were planning to go visit relatives 9/11 happened. Since then, my family has spread out and my grandmother moved to San Francisco. I do want to visit, but the timing has always been off.
4. You do it all; singing, songwriting, producing, synthesizing, etc, when you feel you need a perspective outside of yourself who do you go to?
My friend who recorded the record, Marc Bianci, he is one of my good friends and also a musician and he helped me in the studio as a second set of ears to help formulate all the songs. He was a big part of how the record turned out, whether he helped engineer or arrange, or even back up vocals. He was a huge help on the record, for sure.
5. The LA Times recently compared you to Jack White. I hate to ask this cliché question, but who and what influences your music? And what first got you into music?
I like the sounds of 50s and 60s Rock ‘n Roll. How they did things back then are much different than modern recording. Lyrically, I like more straightforward writing, like Lou Reed’s writing style. When he is talking about something you get it. I like Doo-wop, old soul and R&B. Also the garage scene: The Sonics, Thee Milkshakes, The Prisoners, that loud guitar music. I try to listen to everything just to gather it all. My playlist would be like Danzig and MF Doom, and then Sam Cooke right after that.
Skate videos got me into music early on, the music choices were always awesome. Whether it was old punk and hardcore, or early hip hop to classic Rock ‘n Roll, it’s so varied. Skateboarding is a melting pot of all these creative people. You can look at the genre in so many different ways, and approach it in different ways. Skateboarding is like music, no two skaters skate the same. Talented musicians may play the same type of music but don’t play it exactly the same.
6. I noticed you have your name tattooed in Arabic…
Yeah, that was actually one of my first tattoos, don’t know what sprung it on. I think I was feeling an identity issue, not feeling connected to that side. I asked my dad to write it down. I said to my dad, ‘I should learn how to write my name in Arabic, shouldn’t I?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you probably should.’
I grew up with two drastically different cultures…
my parents both immigrated and met each other here, so they communicate in English, and that’s probably why I never learned Arabic or Tagalog. Growing up for me was more about assimilating, and plus my parents groups of friends were very multicultural. In some cases cultures from the same part of the world stick together but in my case it was the opposite. Also my mom is very artsy, eccentric, and social so there were always different groups of people coming around.
When I first started recording, I was telling my friend I should probably have a band name, and my friend said well you don’t have a band, so you should just use your name. I thought, you know, my name is hard to say and spell, and it might be confusing, but my friend Marc talked me out of it and said, go with your name, it’s your fucking name. I’ve actually had people come up to me and ask what my name is, so it’s pretty funny…