About Kaki King
American guitarist and composer Kaki King has spent her career redefining what it means to play the guitar. Her technical mastery is combined with an unquenchable desire to expand her instrument's physical and sonic boundaries. Using a custom-made Adamas guitar, her numerous fingerpicking and tapping styles are underscored by the use of pedals and employing the guitar's body as a percussion instrument. Her compositions wed key aspects of Western harmony -- jazz, pop, classical -- with approaches to, and adaptations from, global musical traditions. Her 2003 solo guitar debut, Everybody Loves You, showcased these abilities without overdubs. 2006's Until We Felt Red, produced by Tortoise's John McEntire, explored post-rock with a full band. King wove previous musical experiments together on the largely instrumental Dreaming of Revenge produced by Malcolm Burn in 2008. She turned toward vocal indie pop on Junior in 2010. Two years later the instrumental Glow integrated Far Eastern modes and harmonies with Western blues, pop, and folk in elegantly composed instrumentals. King crowdfunded 2015's The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body. Originally a multi-media project, its audio portion was released to showcase mercurial and combinatory shifts across jazz, nuevo flamenco, crossover classical, shoegaze, indie rock, and Latin sounds. 2017 saw the release of Live at Berklee, on which she performed with the Porta Girevole Chamber Orchestra.
Born in Atlanta in 1979, King was introduced to the guitar at age four by her dad; she played it informally for a few years before discovering the drums through her love of Brit-pop recordings. She insisted on learning to play the kit to the temporary exclusion of the guitar. Her pre-teen aptitude on the instrument impressed her teachers. Drumming remained a preoccupation for King throughout adolescence. She played drums in high school rock bands with bassist and classmate Morgan Jahnig (Old Crow Medicine Show). The trap kit provided King with what she saw as the best opportunity to make a vocation of music. During her later high school years, she heard the music of acoustic guitarists Preston Reed and Michael Hedges; their music reignited her love for the guitar.
She attended New York University and studied guitar with Bill Rayner. King's earliest solo performances were at campus open-mike nights. Upon graduation in 2001 she decided to pursue the guitar seriously, and began developing her playing style and percussive techniques while busking in the N.Y.C. subway. The venue's hard surfaces offered cavernous, slap-back acoustics that deeply influenced the development of her unique style. When impressed onlookers inquired about purchasing recordings, she realized she could make her living as a musician.
A copy of her 2002 demo got her a short gig at the Tap Bar in the Knitting Factory, where she was seen by Velour Records head Jeff Krasno. Velour released her full-length debut, Everybody Loves You, the following year. She incorporated signature fingerstyle playing called "fanning," while simultaneously employing flamenco style percussion and fret-tapping techniques. It was here that she initially showcased the use of double open and viola tunings while playing. Critical acclaim was unanimous. To date, it remains her only solo acoustic guitar outing. The media buzz won her an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and an invitation to sign with Sony Epic's Red Ink imprint. She cut 2004's Legs to Make Us Longer for the label. Sympathetically produced by guitarist David Torn, King began to incorporate different instruments and sound effects, such as looping, lap steel, and organic drums. Greeted by enthusiasm from critics, King opened for blues rock guitarist Eric Johnson during part of his 2005 tour and undertook her first national tour as a headliner afterwards.
She returned to Velour for 2006's Until We Felt Red. Produced by Tortoise's John McEntire (who also provided drums and percussion), it featured King's singing and playing amid expanded instrumentation that included everything from mbira to flügelhorn. King toured the album through 2006 and into 2007. While working on her fourth album, she made time to guest on outings from Tegan and Sara and the Foo Fighters. She also contributed original cues to the soundtracks for Into the Wild and August Rush.
King enlisted producer Malcolm Burn (Chris Whitley, Lisa Germano) for Dreaming of Revenge. Though she provided most of the instrumentation, Burn added electric guitars, harmonica, and keyboards, and brought in a string quartet on a few tracks, resulting in a more melodic, pop-friendly outing. Dreaming of Revenge was released by Velour Recordings in March of 2008 to near unanimous acclaim. It peaked at 23 on the Heatseekers chart. King supported it with a world tour. Upon return, she contributed to Carter Burwell's score for the film Twilight and also offered a version of "Close to Me" to the various-artists compilation Perfect as Cats: A Tribute to the Cure. In 2009, she guested on singer/songwriter Vienna Teng's Inland Territory on Zoe. In addition, she released the five-song Mexican Teenagers EP issued jointly by Rounder and Velour.
King re-teamed with Burn for 2010's Junior. Co-released by Cooking Vinyl and Rounder, it was dominated by her electric guitar playing in an indie rock trio, while her vocals were accompanied by a multi-instrumental indie rock trio. The setting resulted in mixed responses, as some reviewers claimed it an overreach. Nonetheless it peaked at number seven on the Americana/Folk Albums chart. That year Timbaland recruited her as his primary guitarist for Shock Value II -- she co-produced the song "We Belong to the Music" featuring Miley Cyrus. Independently, King released the concert DVD The Berkeley Sessions.
In 2011, she undertook her first solo tour since 2005. Called The Traveling Freak Guitar Show, she performed with a collection of seven instruments including harp guitar, dojo, a custom-made nylon seven-string guitar with fanned fret board, and a self-made hybrid instrument that combined the acoustic guitar with the Japanese koto.
In the fall of 2012, King issued Glow, a collection of instrumentals. Produced and featuring multi-instrumentalist D. James Goodwin, she was backed by globally renowned string quartet Ethel on several tunes as well as bagpipes and organic percussion. She and Goodwin individually designed soundscapes for each track using her acoustic guitar as a dominant centerpiece. Despite the use of other instrumentation, King said of it: "This is the sound of a person playing guitar." Most critics acclaimed the set as a return to form after Junior. It placed on numerous charts and marked her debut on the Top 200. King's personal life also underwent a significant change when she married sweetheart Jessica Templin during the summer. That October, the pair honeymooned in Australia piggybacking on her performance at a festival there.
In 2014, King released the compilation Everybody Glows: B Sides & Rarities and undertook a crowd-funding campaign to realize her ambitious multi-media performance, The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body. She collaborated with Glowing Pictures, a "visual experiences company," to construct a production in which her guitar is used as a projection screen to relate a narrative. The hour-long production placed the focus on the instrument as the video of a cyclical creation myth from genesis and extinction was projected onto the body of her signature Ovation Adamas 1581-KK six-string while she played it; the guitar was customized specifically for use in the production. She debuted the work to laudatory reviews at Brooklyn's BRIC Theater in 2014. The guitarist exceeded her financial goal for the production, and with the remainder of the money she raised, issued the audio portion of the performance in 2015 as a standalone album under the same title. She played guitars and drums while the Ethel quartet contributed strings. After touring the project, she and Jessica took time off to start a family.
In September of 2017, King privately released Live at Berklee. Recorded in concert in the Red Room at Cafe 939 that April, it featured King performing new arrangements of her solo guitar compositions, reimagined by adding strings and woodwinds. King, Devotchka's Tom Hagerman, and Berklee students Takuma Matsui and Shereen Cheong wrote the arrangements specifically for the recording. King performed them with the the Porta Girevole Chamber Orchestra, a 12-piece ensemble composed of Berklee students and faculty.
King returned to recording in late 2019 and early 2020. She co-produced with Arjan Miranda and Chloe Alexandra Thompson (who also provided the album's sound design). Entitled Modern Yesterdays, it was issued by Cantaloupe in October and celebrated with a streaming concert through Georgia Tech Arts' Facebook Live! page. Its tour was accompanied by a new multimedia show featuring her now-fully developed projection mapping. ~ Marisa Brown & Thom Jurek
BORNAugust 24, 1979