Ask Mark Sultan how he’s doing, and small talk threatens to turn scatological. As The King Khan & BBQ Show cruise past Oregonian woodlands en route to its Portland date, the singer/guitarist responds with a bill of clean health and quickly reports that the highlight of his drive has been a deer adorned with “a Mohawk of shit.”
If a regular pleasantry can incite this obscenity, delving into his hedonistic Rock & Roll is sure to provide much worse. Sultan’s observation also hits on a characteristic key to his speech: His responses begin rational and practically benign yet often degenerate into absurd hostility. Ever the showman, Sultan thrives on teetering between the genuine and the farcical.
Knowing the reputations of Arish “King” Khan and Sultan (aka “BBQ”), it’s tough to be legitimately offended by the smut they unapologetically spew. In the ’90s the pair served in the feisty Spaceshits. Today, the Montreal/Berlin-based troublemakers use the Show as an outlet to revel in a time-tripping goulash of Doo Wop and Garage Rock. In Sultan’s case, affection for those styles comes from deep roots.
“The music I was first exposed to was Rock & Roll — ’50s and early ’60s stuff — due to parental guidance and radio on Sundays,” he says.
Branching out into Punk and Metal as he grew up, Sultan eventually drifted back to his childhood sounds.
“It just came back to me,” he says. “I started investigating and buying records. Now I’m here looking at a deer with a shit Mohawk.”
While their recorded material has a subversive jangle, their anarchic performances are where the duo goes all out.
“It’s an extension of our beings,” Sultan says. “We’re well-versed in the arts of magic, chaos and floral seduction so it just happens on stage. If I choose to have diarrhea on stage, I know that Khan’s going to wipe it up with his urine.”
Example in point was the duo’s lone Mexico City show, mentioned elsewhere by Khan as being a particularly great concert.
“The bouncers were scared, and we had to leave,” Sultan says. “People were bum-rushing the stage and breaking shit.”
He describes one guy stage-diving off of himself (not sure how that works) and another fan, uh, fisting himself. When the credibility of his account of the show is challenged, he contends, “Man, it happens sometimes. When you get that feeling, you gotta let loose.”
Still, he doesn’t think that the concert was that interesting. “I don’t recall it being crazy enough to mention, to be honest,” he says, his voice shrugging. “It was another crazy show. It wasn’t over-the-top insane.”
Like that apparently ho-hum Mexico City date, the band’s latest album, Invisible Girl, is fun but not much of a departure from past Show endeavors — and that’s how Sultan prefers it. A slight melancholy flavor, overdubs and a few organ parts comprise the extent of the additions.
“The purpose of this band and the reason it stays primitive is to pay homage to a sound we love. If we made it any more rich or complex, we’d be betraying the soul that we’re putting into it,” Sultan attests. “If people think it’s repetitive, it is. That’s the point.”
The lyrics to Invisible Girl are similarly unrefined: Khan and BBQ croon forlorn platitudes (“I wonder what you’re doing every Saturday night/ I’d love to hold you tight” from “Lonely Boy”), tackle teenage rituals (“Spin the Bottle”) and launch into campy shake-it-out numbers (the livestock-noise-populated “Animal Party”). One track is so raunchy that it has warranted a mention in practically every story about the new album: “Tastebuds” is about attaching sensory ends to many more places than the tongue.
“When we sent the album to get pressed, there was a big brouhaha about the song and how people were getting offended and la la la,” says Sultan. “It’s come to a point where reviewers are pissed off and saying whatever. It’s like, ‘Man, what year is this, seriously?’ ”
While the song wasn’t intended to shock (“It was to make ourselves laugh”), if it does, “it makes me happy inside,” Sultan says.
The group’s recent problems with the law have done little to change their mischievous image. On Nov. 12, The King Khan & BBQ Show’s entourage were arrested for alleged drug possession in Kentucky. Hours later, news of the incident spread widely.
“You can glean what you will from the sordid tales on the Internet that are basically all lies and conjecture,” Sultan says. “We know the truth, and we’ll talk about what happened once the tour is over probably. Right now, the media and Internet are all a bunch of cowards hiding behind Coke bottle glasses talking bullshit and never paying the price for it. We’re paying the price because somebody has some kind of grudge. I believe in karma. That guy’s going to turn into a Fruit Roll-Up and he can suck it.”
Even with the above in mind, Sultan doesn’t think of himself and Khan as anywhere near wayward.
“We’re bad boys, I guess, compared to Bill Cosby,” he says. “We’re not bad, we’re just dudes. We do what we want to do. We don’t mean to harm anybody.”
Then, that layer of sincerity rips: “If that harms somebody’s sensibility or mustache, they can suck it also.”
THE KING KHAN & BBQ SHOW plays a free show Thursday at Northside Tavern. Get club and show details here.