Shop UO UO Blog

About A Guy:

Hanni El Khatib

The former creative director at HUF traded his day job for life on the road with his band (and a whole lot of cowboy hats).

Interview by Angelo Spagnolo

Let’s talk about the new album. How long was the recording process?

It was relatively quick. I’ve been touring for the past two and a half years straight and didn’t really have the time to stay home and write a record. I don’t really write songs on the road because it’s not necessarily the best place to be by myself and write songs. I had a two-week break before I was going to go into the studio with Dan [Auerbach of The Black Keys] to record, so I wrote at least 80 percent of the record two weeks prior to recording it in Nashville. Then, in Nashville, we tracked the record in 11 days.

How did you get hooked up with Dan?

I met Dan at a bar in Paris. We just started talking about music. I was Djing, he started playing some records and then we just partied. We linked up the next day and hung out some more, then just stayed in touch after that. A few months later it was time for me to record and book studio time. Ever since I met him, he was talking about me recording with him. He was familiar with some of my music, so he was suggesting I record it there, and that turned into him producing it.

So your first album was recorded with Marc Bianchi from Her Space Holiday, who I loved back in the early 2000s...

Yeah, we’re super good friends. I’ve known him forever, for years and years and years.

What did you learn between recording your first album and then working on this new record?

When I recorded my first record, those were some of the first songs I’d ever made. Even though it came out like two years ago, it was recorded almost four years ago. It’s really old music for me. Since then, I’ve recorded in tons of different studios, produced records, and played 300 shows or more. That’s a lot of growth for me personally and as a musician. Last year I was on tour nine months out of the year, and when I was home I was working on other people’s records.

Was there a point where you realized it was time to focus full-time on tunes?

It was the point when I got offered a bunch of tours in a row, and I realized I couldn’t really keep a job if I was going to be gone for two months at a time. I had to make a leap of faith and just hope that it would work out. I figured if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to designing. I can still do it. Maybe my factory connections will slip away but I can still design stuff.

Are there similarities between your creative process for design and music?

I think it’s very similar. I think anything creative is pretty much the same. You’re still creating something from scratch. I used to get inspired all the time by music to design clothes. It all goes hand in hand and I don’t see any separation...

Has life on the road changed your personal style at all?

I’ve noticed myself getting deeper and deeper into Western things. Like I straight up have a collection of cowboy boots now, and I’ll buy cowboy hats and fucking turquoise jewelry. I think that’s just from traveling around the South. When you’re on the road, you don’t give a shit what you look like. You can just do whatever because you’re passing through cities. People will never see you again, so if you want to wear a cowboy hat, just wear a cowboy hat.

That’s a good philosophy. Do you still find time to skate at all?

That is actually becoming less and less possible. It’s super weird. I’ll try to when I’m home for break but I’m just so off. It seems like I’m gong to hurt myself, and the last thing I need to do is break my wrist right before tour. In that sense it sucks. I cruise around every now and then, but I’m not really going for a hard session and hitting stairs or anything.

If you had a skate video part in 2013, what song would you have on your part?

Shit, it depends on the vibe. At my skating level now it would be better to do a weirdo, artsy, cruising part set to Thelonious Monk. Weird black and white footage and just bombing hills — that would be my video part.

I’m always interested in music influence; I think it’s hard to pinpoint. Is there a record maybe that your parents played or an early memory of just getting stoked on rock?

My earliest memory of getting stoked was getting Licensed to Ill by The Beastie Boys. I got it on cassette tape. Actually, my mom got it for me. Then I got a 4th & B’way compilation around the same time. It had all sorts of shit on it, but the stuff that stood out was Eric B. & Rakim, and MARRS. It had some weird, pseudo-‘80s dance tracks. I don’t know if it was really underground New York scene, but I was a kid, so it felt like stuff that I didn’t hear on the radio.

What about a first show that really blew your mind?

I remember seeing a big festival in the early ‘90s with Sonic Youth and Neil Young and all these random bands. I remember being young and trying to soak up all the different bands and trying to get into all of it. I think that’s where I’ve always been. I’ll go to a hardcore show but at the same time I’ll go to a hip-hop show. It’s really all the same. If the music is cool, the music is cool. I’ve always been that way. I never stuck to one specific genre of music.

Hanni El Khatib's new album Head in the Dirt will be out April 30.