"I Wanna Be A Girl" is a delightfully absurd and disarmingly nuanced approach to rock's flirtations with androgyny. As it admires femininity from a decidedly male perspective, it flies its title like a banner. Khan is King here, charging his nine-piece Shrines through psych-soul swagger that gives the song enough hip-swaying slink to show how serious he just might be about his "sometimes" wish.
As with most of the tracks collected on the band's Vice Records compilation, The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines, "I Wanna Be A Girl" doesn't need an album's worth of context to make a point. The songs (especially this one) stand proudly on their own two legs, whether or not we know what's between them.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What's the origin of "I Wanna Be A Girl"?
KING KHAN: I guess that's kind of from living with and being surrounded by girls all the time, and then realizing that they're kind of the superior being.
There's truth to that.
It has to do mainly with worshipping women.
Is there a specific story that was a catalyst?
Um, not in particular, no. It's kind of like, I mean, at home I've got two daughters and my wife, so I'm just constantly surrounded by girls. It's just kind of gotten into my brain.
There's long been this push and pull with gender identity and androgyny in rock music. How much of that maybe played into your process?
I think it's always good to play with that kind of thing with the audience. Especially because, like, I've always admired Little Richard, and I think he's one of the most important people in rock 'n' roll because back in the day he was doing that thing at a time when most of the audience would probably want to kill him for wearing makeup and stuff like that. So I think that that in rock 'n' roll is pretty important.
In the chorus, the song goes, "I wanna be a girl." Then, there's a pause, and you add, "sometimes." Why the qualifier?
Well, I mean, I'm pretty happy being a man, too.
You'd be happy either way?
Yeah. I guess so.
Contentment is always a nice thing.
Actually, I hear a bit of another Rolling Stones song in "I Wanna Be A Girl," in the guitars. A little bit of "Paint It Black."
Oh, yeah. It's a little bit of an Eastern psychedelic—not necessarily "Paint It Black"—but just, there's a lot of '60s garage rock that we're pulling from ... We kind of never wanted to go for any kind of purist thing. We try to mix it up.
How do you feel about rock 'n' roll as a singles format? I guess, at least in reference to The Supreme Genius as a compilation.
The band started like 10 years ago, so most of the stuff that we've put out was mainly in Europe and then I guess when the last record came out, the What Is?! album, that really caught on in the States with all kinds of reviews and, like, Pitchfork was all over it and stuff. So then, I thought it was a good time to kind of spread the word a little about the old stuff, and Vice was into doing it. I'm glad it happened because we get a lot of response when we tour all over America.
When you write, do you think of the song in the context of an album, or, again, as a single?
I always think of it in the context of the song. I don't have a vision of the album as a completed thing, but as a collection of good songs. After a while, you just kind of see if it needs more rockers or more tear-jerkers.
So you're not losing anything hearing the song on Supreme Genius versus What Is?!
No, I don't think so. It's just to get it out to more people. I mean, if people like it, then they'll go back to the whole What Is?! album. What I've tried to do is to compile the songs with just a quick taste of each of the three records and the singles and stuff, so if people do want to hear more, there's enough to be discovered.
Let's talk a little about the live show, too. There's definitely a theatrical element to the song and to the show. How does that all come together?
I wanted to make it really old-school and have costumes and theatrical elements. Not really theatrical, but more like the traditional soul kind of things, like have a dancer and—we used to have a Tarzan on tour, just this guy who was on tour for one song, and all he would do is just come onstage and yell like Tarzan. So, I think it's pretty important to have that, particularly for soul music. It makes it more of a visual experience for the audience, and maybe people get a little more loose and crazy.
How do you define the word "soul"?
I never considered it a type of music, but I think it's more of a quality in music. If you hear really good punk music, you can say that has soul—or any kind of music where you can hear that desperation and raw power. Like when James Brown screams, there's a certain rawness and goodness that just sounds soulful to me.
King Khan & the Shrines play Local 506 with Spider Bags Monday, June 30, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.