Kaki King

Kaki King Biography

Kaki King is best-known for her gorgeous, percussive guitar playing, and her first two albums showcased her work on that instrument to great effect. Now, with her third album, ...Until We Felt Red (Velour Records), King is about to become known as a gifted singer and songwriter, as well. Like the yarn that graces the album's cover, she's spun her material out: the haunting melodies are sadder, the lush orchestrations are fuller, and the sharper edges can cut. Together with producer John McEntire (Tortoise, Stereolab, Sea & Cake), King has expanded her sonic palate to include everything from processed pedal steel and electronic distortion to live trumpet and strings -- and, most startlingly, her own voice, disarmingly winsome and sweet for a woman with enough attitude to launch her career playing for spare change on the New York subways.

King was kind enough to answer a few questions for us via email about how she got her start and how ...Until We Felt Red came to be. Meet your new favorite guitar goddess.

AD: Where did you grow up?

Kaki: Atlanta, GA.

Do you remember your first guitar? What kind was it?

A four-string guitar from Japan called a 'Pepe.'

People always talk about how unique your playing technique is. Did you consciously set out to be unorthodox or did that just sort of naturally come from teaching yourself the instrument?

I get bored easily. It was bound to happen. I had been playing since I was 5.

Are there any guitarists you really look up to? Where you watch them play and go, "Wow, I have to figure out how to do that."

When I look up to someone as a musician it's always in awe of their composition. Technique is a means to an end. Playing faster or weirder does not mean your music is any good. Just look at what PJ Harvey can do with dropped-D tuning, two fingers, and a pick.

Song titles are always tricky in instrumental music. How do you come up with titles like, for example, "Close Your Eyes & You'll Burst into Flames" or "Gay Sons of Lesbian Mothers"?

The former is a David Lynch quote. I thought about adding "(shit happens)" to the latter but decided that perhaps that would be in bad taste.

At what point did you decide, "Okay, I want to start singing now"? Was it scary at first or did it feel like a natural extension of your guitar playing?

I started singing because no musician worth their salt can't play their instrument and sing at the same time. It was an issue of pride. I also really felt the sudden need to talk about nuclear explosions and how pianos are ultimately better than guitars.

Vocals aside, this album seems to have the most variety of sounds, textures and arrangements of anything you've done so far. Was a lot of that a result of working with [producer] John McEntire? Did he bring out some new aspects of your music?

Yes! The man is a genius!! He should be followed around and worshipped, but only because I know him and I know how very much he would dislike that. A certain former president of Epic Records, who was fired the following week, remarked at a luncheon, "a producer doesn't help you make the album you want to make, they help you make the album you SHOULD make." What a load of crap! John helped me make the album I wanted to make, textured sounds and all, and that is why I will always love it more than the record I made for Epic.

Who did the video for "Yellowcake"? And what's it like working with marionettes?

A wonderful man named Jon Fine made the video in the middle of flying back and forth to Africa making a documentary about orphans. I am completely indebted to his generosity and stamina. Marionettes are great to work with because they work for free, don't get sweaty under hot lights, and don't need bathroom breaks.

Is the title "Yellowcake" a reference to yellowcake uranium, by any chance? Is there a political statement in that song, or in the video?

It's a meditation on nuclear technology and what it might be like to be blown up by an atomic bomb: "you will become the light you see."

What's your favorite thing about touring? And your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing about touring is collecting little shampoo bottles from hotels that I can put in my little wicker basket kangaroo at home. My least favorite thing is the threshold where one more Subway sandwich is one too many and you're left with only deep-fried options the rest of the tour.

What's your favorite hometown (i.e. New York) venue to play?

I love the Knitting Factory. It's where I got my start. I've played there so much that they let me in for free when they did their night of Stevie Nicks tribute bands, which was assuredly better than actually seeing Stevie Nicks herself.

Kaki King's new album, Until We Felt Red, is available now in the ARTISTdirect Store.

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