Hanni El Khatib
interview / Koko Ntuen
photography / Joaquin Palting
When his first album Will the Guns Come Out debuted early last year, Hanni El Khatib unleashed some pretty fantastic auditory violence onto the world. It’s an album he has described as a compilation of songs designed “for anyone who has ever been shot or hit by a train.” He’s gotten some pretty major exposure with his music recently, having been featured in commercials for Nike and Nissan.
We had a sweet little phone date with Hanni who got nostalgic on seventies style, his parents, and television shows. His wildly charming Californian style made it easy to chat with him about pretty much anything. He opened up about everything we wanted to know most, like skateboarding, rock and roll and what the groupie situation is for such a stud. Turns out, the fellow is pretty oblivious when ladies are trying to get him home. Hope this interview gives all the eligible bachelorettes a clue on how to get this guy to unload his equipment into your trunk after a show.
When did you start playing music? I started messing around when I was pretty young. When I started playing instruments, I was probably 8 or 9, and I was forced to take piano lessons. I was probably about 11 when I got my first electric guitar, maybe? Then I kind of messed around with a bunch of different instruments. I have always had a guitar or a piano lying around. It wasn’t until high school that I started experimenting more and then trying to record things or whatever I was doing. Then yeah later on, maybe at 20, I started playing guitar for one of my friend’s band and did that on and off. Nothing ever serious—I just picked up on 5 or 6 shows here and there. I was feeling kind of like I needed some sort of creative outlet outside of my old day job. I used to be a designer for years, and then I wanted to do something else. I started playing and writing songs, and then I started recording, which led to playing shows. Then that led to getting signed to this label, and now I have a record out!
Well how has San Francisco, California in general, and the beach environment affected your music? I think just growing up in a city that’s basically a big mix of all these different things kind of affected me in general—affected my taste and influences. I don’t live in a town that’s isolated from outside sources of different kinds of music; I pretty much live in a town that has everything you possibly want .
What about your background? How did your parents meet? My mom is Filipino, and my dad is Palestinian. They both met in San Francisco while they were finishing up college, or something like that.
How do your parents feel about your music? Do they love it? Yeah, yeah. They are into it. I mean, I don’t know if they fully get it, or whatever, but they definitely enjoy watching what’s going on. From afar, they come to they shows and shit, and its pretty cool. I used to not invite them to shows. It was because I used to play at a shit dive bar at midnight, and people are like fucking wasted—like hammered. It’s just weird. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if they were there, so I would have to watch myself. I was kind of waiting for the right show to invite them to, and then we went on tour with Florence and the Machine last year. I said, “Okay, they should go to that. That’s more parent friendly!”
What was it like touring with Florence and the Machine? It was awesome. It was really cool because I didn’t know what to expect. Then we hit the road, and I had the realization that holy shit you guys are fucking huge. We all kind of clicked right away. They are all really fun people to travel with. They are just cool: no ego,they are not fucking weird, they like to party and hang out. I mean every time they are in L.A., they come see us, and every time we are in the UK, we go see them. You know when you tour with people, you create a kind of bond you can only get from traveling day in day out with the same fucking people. You know how it is if you travel with someone for a week, and all of a sudden, you’re like best friends forever.
Did you and your drummer Nikki meet in high school? Yeah, pretty much. He is from Santa Cruz, and I was living in San Francisco. I met him through my best friend who now lives in New York but went to the same high school as Nikki. He introduced me to Nikki who is now my drummer.
How old were you? I think he was 16, and I was 17. What’s funny, though, is that we went on for years just hanging around. When I was needed to form a band to play a show, I couldn’t find a drummer, and then it dawned to me that Nikki used to play the drums in high school and hadn’t played in almost five years. Then I asked him to play in the band and said, “Oh man, if I get a practice space and you get a drum kit, would you want to drum in my band?” He was like “Yeah I guess. I don’t know…sure? ” We played 3 shows together, and then that was it.
You guys sound really good together. It has a very surf-rock kind of vibe. Did you guys play a lot of squat houses, and punk shows? Yeah, we used to play at a lot of house parties—we do still, even to this day. We just played one less than a month ago. We will set up in someone’s living room. It’s what we like to do. We always do random shit like that.
What is your favorite 70’s rock band? Probably Black Sabbath.
How did Nike hear “ I Got a Thing”? Did they just approach you and say, “We love it!”? It was one of those things where like they liked what I was doing musically and actually asked, “If you could do this song, how would you do it?” I recorded what I would do, and it went from there. They were going to take a song off my record and then went back to that song. They were just stoked on it— that it sounded the exact opposite of the original, and then it worked with the visuals of the commercial. The people at Nike met my manager while they were out drinking, or hanging out, or something, and it was all a coincidence. I think the head of global marketing was like, “Yeah, you know I am really feeling this music right now. ” Then my manager said, “Check out this new artist I signed.” It just all fell into place right after that moment.
Do you feel like a rock star? No, definitely not. I still have to take out the trash, do my dishes, and pick up my dogs shit. I still carry all my shit around and get my own beer.
Do you have lots of groupies? Um, I don’t know. Maybe? There is definitely at every show a weird groupie yelling. It’s always so weird.
What do you do when girls come up to you after a show and say, “ You sounded so good! What are you doing later?” I would say, “ I’m packing all my shit, getting in my van, and getting the fuck out of here!”
Wow, you would sound like such an asshole, they would probably be like,“ What? I was trying to fuck!” I am going to start saying that.
Me too… I don’t know. We are one of those bands that don’t always hang out backstage. We would usually be at a bar hanging around. I feel like we are so accessible. We feel weird back there just hanging around with the guys that pick up the lights and move shit around.
What are you working on now? Are you working on a music video or your next album? Right now we are just touring a bunch to support the record. We just finished a music video for a song, and that guy we took to Alaska ended up making a 12 minute short video. That will be put out in the world soon. The next thing is that I will start recording a new album as soon as I get back from this Europe tour because I have a bunch of new stuff I need to record. When I have time I’m going to be working with this group called Feeding People. They are going to help produce our record—they sound like Sabbath or Jefferson Airplane.
See more of Hanni in our #4 Nostalgia Issue.