It hasn’t been long since Arish Ahmad “King” Khan stopped through Seattle—that would be last year at Bumbershoot—but it has been some time since the garage rocker and his psychedelic soul band the Shrines dropped an album—six years, in fact. Khan is a wild card, known for the feathered headdresses and donkey-teeth necklaces he wears in his fevered, belly-baring performances; erratic behavior is all part of the show. But something deeper and darker was at work during Khan’s off years with the band, whose last release was 2007’s What Is?
On the phone from his home in Berlin, Khan explains the gap: “About three years ago, I went pretty crazy”—a fairly strong statement for someone who famously mooned Lindsay Lohan. But it aptly describes the globe-trotting bender the artist took up during a dark time in his life. He continues: “I spent a night in jail in Barcelona, [and] I befriended a homeless aboriginal guy in Australia and introduced him to Lou Reed.” After that, he says, he shaved his head at a Buddhist monastery in Korea and told his family he was quitting music and becoming a monk. “One of the reasons I went as far as I did with the craziness was that I lost three friends in a few years and I didn’t grieve properly,” he says.
One of those friends was garage punk-rocker Jay Reatard, who started to come into his own just as Khan’s star was rising, and was found dead of a cocaine overdose while Khan was on tour. Another, Khan remembers, was an old friend from Montreal, where Khan grew up. “He was Mohawk, you know, Native American,” he says. He later found out the friend passed away the same day he decided to shave his head—he wore a mohawk at the time—thousands of miles away, in Korea. “My head was in a crazy spin,” he says.
Such synchronicity and symbolism mark Khan’s downward spiral, an experience he says made him feel like “I was protected by something, even when I was going crazy.” Looking out for him was family, including his wife, two daughters, and sister-in-law Rose McGowan, who eventually intervened and asked him to check into a mental hospital. “Rose . . . was one person who actually was writing to me a lot at that point and saying, ‘Arish, your e-mails are insane. Go to the fucking mental hospital because you are losing your shit. Don’t be embarrassed about it. This happens to people, especially artists.’ ”
“I decided to accept their help and get my mind soaked in psychiatric drugs,” he says. “That’s why it took so long to finish this record. There were two or three years of just me fixing myself.”
Now back on track, the 36-year-old Khan released Idle No More last month, his fourth album with the Shrines and his first on Merge Records. “There is definitely a more serious kind of feel to the new record,” he says, and tracks like “Born to Die” and “So Wild,” which was written for Reatard, reflect Khan’s new existential trip. Yet even after a journey to hell and back, the psych-tinged R&B groove Shrines fans crave—what Khan calls “make-love music”—remains wholly intact: proof that Khan isn’t ready to step down as king anytime soon. (Read the full Q & A with Khan at seattleweekly.com/music/reverb.) With Hell Shovel, Spaceneedles. Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9951, neumos.com. 8 p.m. $15 adv.