“I felt like I completely lost everything — the ability to play music, all this kind of stuff,” Arish Ahmad Khan says, thinking back to the “huge meltdown” that nearly destroyed his psychedelic R&B outfit, King Khan & the Shrines.
In 2010, years of exhaustive touring and a trio of personal tragedies (three of Khan’s best friends died within a two-year span, one succumbing to cancer, another to suicide, and the third, Jay Reatard, to drugs) finally caught up with him. “I hadn’t mourned the loss of these people,” he says. “I was having breakdowns on tour. Suddenly, I would be laughing with someone and then just start crying.” While in Korea, the garage-soul shaman suffered a severe freakout and found refuge at an all-female Buddhist temple. After shadowing the head monk for a week, Khan decided to renounce his rock’n’roll lifestyle and retire from music. “And then basically my family was like, ‘Yeah, man, you’ve got to get your head checked, you’re going crazy.'”
Two years of intensive psychiatric treatment followed — “I was on all kinds of mind-altering drugs,” he recalls — and now Khan has returned with the aptly titled Idle No More, his first release with the Shrines since 2008’s The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines. “I think this record has been kind of like a big healing process after a lot of stuff that went on in the past few years,” the 36-year-old frontman says. “It was almost like you had to burn down the whole ship and wait for the phoenix to rise out of it. It felt like a rebirth almost. I feel stronger than ever.”
Out September 3 via Merge Records, Idle No More takes its name from a Canadian indigenous rights movement, which Khan feels connected to after having spent time on the Kahnawake Mohawk Indian reservation while growing up in Montreal. “I’m very happy that people are getting together and rising up and facing these injustices,” he says. “At one point, music used to be a part of the revolution, going hand in hand with it. Unfortunately, nowadays I find a lot of pop music is just geared toward making people stupid, breeding mediocrity.”
Not so with King Khan and the Shrines’ latest album, a sleazily spiritual LP that grooves to the sounds of a personal apocalypse. When discussing the 12-track effort, Khan, who makes his home in Berlin, cites gospel music as a primary influence, noting the themes of struggle and perseverance. “There is so much joy in it, but you know that joy is coming from pain,” he says. “I think that whole thing, you turn shit into gold, you turn misery into something that is positive and hopeful and in doing so you give other people who listen to it that same feeling of hope.”
Khan has already shared two songs from Idle No More — the wah-wah-warped “Born to Die” and the Nina Simone-inspired “Darkness” — and now he’s made the entire album available for streaming. Kneel at the Shrines below.
:audio=0:116879:playlist:King Khan & the Shrines, Idle No More: