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07 Jan 2015

From Hobbyist to Hitmaker: Hanni El Khatib Uses Skater Culture and a Variety of Influences to Create His Music

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Hanni El Khatib. Hanni El Khatib.

In 2011, Hanni El Khatib released his debut album Will the Guns Come Out—and ever since, he’s been a rising star in the indie-rock world.

He’ll be heading to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Friday, Jan. 16, to promote the release of his third record, Moonlight.

El Khatib seemingly appeared out of nowhere with Will the Guns Come Out in 2011. His music has since been included on the soundtracks for Hung, Suits, Californication and United States of Tara. His sound is a mixture of blues, classic rock and even punk.

During a recent phone interview, he explained how he was guided by his love of music.

“I like everything,” El Khatib said, “everything from classic rock to the Delta blues to hip-hop to electronic music. I’m very wide in my influences.”

While his sound is based in the blues, he said he doesn’t consider himself to be a blues musician.

“I’m not really a blues guy. I definitely like the blues, but I was listening to Black Sabbath more than I was listening to Robert Johnson,” he said.

El Khatib said he had no idea where his music would take him after releasing Will the Guns Come Out.

“I recorded all that stuff in a friend’s bedroom. I didn’t really have any intent of starting a music career,” he said. “I was just sort of doing it as a hobby and on the side whenever I had spare time from my day job, which was being a creative director for a skateboarding company. That took all my time. It’s not like the music came secondary, but was more just a hobby.

“I quickly realized what was going on with my music being chosen for television shows. I was also asked to go on some really big tours; I opened up on a tour with Florence and the Machine. I was playing for 30 people in a bar one night, and then 3,000 nightly shortly after. It was just sort of like, ‘Wow, there’s something here.’ You kind of look up and realize you hit all these milestones without even realizing it.”

Skateboarding remains important to El Khatib; he said it helped shaped his mentality.

“I grew up skateboarding in San Francisco, and I still skate, actually,” he said. “The owner of the company I used to work for was a pro skater for 15 years, or maybe more. I knew him for years before I started working for him.

“Skateboarding is a newer sport, but it’s unique in the sense that when it first hit the scene, it was sort of like an outcast sport. It was long before the days of it being a corporate monster like it is now. I started to build a really tight-knit family based on the fact you just skateboard. That was reason enough to be friends with someone. … You could find a friend of a friend who would let you sleep on his couch, and you could skate the city with them. That sort of mentality has carried on to everything I do now. … I feel like skateboarding is responsible for my open-mindedness.”

He said he tried a different approach while recording Moonlight.

“Every process is different so far, which is normal. I like to jump around, experiment and try new things,” he said. “The first record was a home-recording process; the second record, I recorded in Nashville with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, so that was its own special thing. … This record, I wanted to split the difference between the first and the second, with knowledge from the second mixed with that time to explore, experiment and be introverted and see where the music took me; it was best for me to do it on my own. I can play a lot of different instruments in the studio. I didn’t really need to bring in musicians every day, but I did bring in my live drummer, who’s been playing with me for the past couple of years now.”

El Khatib said he loves the desert; in fact, he said intends to purchase a home in the desert. He’s a co-founder of his record label, Innovative Leisure, and some label-mates previously played at Pappy and Harriet’s. That got him interested in playing at the venue himself.

“I love it, and I go often,” he said of the desert. “I try to get out there as much as I can. I spent a total of a month out there basically just getting inspired and writing songs for the new record last January and February. There’s something about the bare landscape, and everywhere you go, it looks like unchartered territory. There’s something that draws me to it all the time: the imagery, the landscape, the plant life, and just being able to escape to the place that seems to find you.”

Hanni El Khatib will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 16, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.

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