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Interview: Hanni El Khatib

The LA-based artist shares how skate culture influenced his music

by Mike Giles in Culture on 19 June 2013

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San Francisco-born, LA-based Hanni El Khatib's new album Head in the Dirt—produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys—is perfect summertime listening. It contains more of that blues and garage-influenced rock that the singer-songwriter is best known for. Less known, perhaps, is El Khatib's long-standing enthusiasm for skateboarding. With that in mind, instead of typical music-related questions, we asked the musician about the influence skateboarding has had on him—both personally and professionally.

We're assuming you've been into skateboarding for a while now. Can we pick your brains about your first skateboard and how you ended up with it?

My first skateboard I ever owned was in the early '80s. My parents got me this old all-natural finish Nash. The grip-tape had the logo cut out and it had clear red wheels. It was cool. After that I had a couple miscellaneous, random boards. Then I got a Steve Saiz Powell deck. The one with the totem pole graphic. That one lasted a while.

Did you get his aesthetic or did you have another artist you admired?

I loved all those early graphics. They had this very hand-done illustrated style to it, but they all had a very design-oriented way about them. There was a certain order and symmetry to it. When I got a little bit older and skateboarding started to change and evolve I started to really get into Marc McKee. I think it had a lot to do with my age and how the subject matter spoke to me and all my friends. Also, the simple fact that my parents never wanted me to get some of those boards.

Before the internet was common, skate movie soundtracks were a way to be exposed to new (and sometimes old) music. What's your favorite skateboard video soundtrack of all time and why?

This one is easy for me. It's gonna have to be FTC Penal Code. I watched this video almost everyday for a year. Not only was it filmed in SF, but all my favorite skaters at the time had full parts in the video. It also had such an eclectic mix of songs. And at that age, it opened my eyes to classic and important music outside of just rap and current rock. I think that is around the time I started digging into the past to find music. I still have some songs from this soundtrack on my iPod today.

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Do you find that you still listen to the bands you did growing up, or has your musical taste changed?

I definitely still listen to some of the same bands that I did growing up. Classic music is classic music, regardless. It stands the test of time. Van Morrison, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Misfits, A Tribe Called Quest, Mobb Deep—I can keep going—will never get old to me.

It's easy to see the connection between skateboarding and music—look at former pros like Tommy Guererro and Ray Barbee. Do you think there is something about the DIY ethic and fluidity of skateboarding that also translates to being a musician?

I think that it's just another form of creative expression. That's all skateboarding is anyways—or at least that's how I view it. In the early days, it was about going out alone or with your friends and doing whatever the fuck you wanted to do. I think music has a very similar creative process and they are both equally satisfying for me.

For a list of Hanni El Khatib's upcoming shows and more, check his website.

Images courtesy of Nick Walker

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