On his 2011 debut Will The Guns Come Out, Hanni El Khatib tried something he’d never tried before—making a bedroom-style recording of his then stripped-to-the-skeleton guitar-and-drums rock ‘n’ roll mostly for the sheer joy of making it. For his ferocious 2013 follow-up Head In The Dirt, he tried something new again, showing up at producer Dan Auerbach’s analog-dreamland Nashville studio with nothing but the clothes on his back and an open mind.
But after Head In The Dirt’s release and almost a year of relentless touring, Hanni knew he needed to go past ‘unpredictable’ all the way to ‘unprecedented.’ He needed isolation, time and the chance to experiment. So after 30 days locked in hand-picked L.A. studio the Lair, the result is the albumMoonlight (Jan 20, 2015 Release Date)—the rarest and most welcome kind of album, made at that perfect point in life where confidence, experience, and technique unite to help an artist do anything they want.
That’s why it starts with a song that sounds like a Mobb Deep beat under a Suicide-style synth drone and ends with an ESG-meets-LCD Soundsystem gone italo-disco song about life and death. That’s why it collides crushing crate-digger drumbeats that’d be right at home on a Can LP or an Eddie Bo 45 with bleeding distorto guitar, bent and broken barroom piano and hallucinatory analog flourishes. (In fact, some smart producer is going to sample the drums from this album and complete the circle of life.) And that’s also why Moonlight feels like the album he’s always wanted to make: “What would it sound like if RZA got in the studio with Iggy Pop and Tom Waits?” he asks. “I don’t know! That was my approach on everything.”
To make Moonlight, he needed the right engineer and the right place to record, the kind of place where they’d understand when he’d ask for ’62 Slingerland drumkit and obsolete fuzz pedals. And he found it in the Lair and engineer Sonny DiPerri, whose pinpoint instincts and unassuming personality camouflaged an all-star resume including stints with Trent Reznor to Avey Tare (Animal Collective) to Giorgio Moroder.
So on April 1st of 2014, Hanni sat down with his live drummer Ron Marinelli and a selection of heavy friends to translate his best ideas to tape. As the album developed, Hanni found himself playing almost everything, switching from guitar to bass to synth to Mellotron—sometimes several times during the course of a song—and even sampling and re-editing Marinelli’s beats.
It’s a personal album in the most primal sense, put together in any way that worked. Iggy Pop and David Bowie did this kind of thing on The Idiot, the Wu-Tang Clan did it on 36 Chambers and The Clash did it three times over on Sandinista. And now it’s Hanni’s turn, across 11 new lightning-struck songs, each written and recorded in its own flash of inspiration. It sounds like an album made by an endless list of collaborators, but really Moonlight was more like the first do-it-almost-all-yourself music Hanni ever made, except after six years recording and touring, he’d learned to do so much more.
“My approach is still the same,” he explains. “Do things you’ve never done before. Challenge yourself. Be free and be creative. The same thing holds true for everything I’ve ever done, whether painting or design or skateboarding or whatever. Do it for the right reasons—exploring yourself. That’s what it’s about.”