Kaki King reaches beyond her solo acoustic act
September 26, 2006
Kaki King, a recent favorite of the acoustic guitar world, took her laurels and invested in a new sound with her recent CD, “… until we felt red.” What was once a rhythmic tapping and drumming on an Ovation – sounds honed on New York City street corners and subways – has taken a turn toward grit pop, with a bit of old jazz and old-school rock.
King and her new band play Belly Up on Thursday; it’s a different experience after solo tours following 2003’s “Everybody Loves You,” and 2004’s “Legs to Make Us Longer.””It’s a huge challenge,” said the 20-something Georgia native. “Now that we’re three weeks into this tour, the show is going amazingly well. For me, just being able to figure out what to listen to when and have faith that the sound onstage is not what people are hearing.”According to King, the onstage monitors don’t reflect what the audience hears because she sings quietly. So she ups the vocals in the monitors and hears the sounds her band is making from the stage and amps only. She just assumes the sound guy is mixing the whole sound and worries about it later. “At first it was like, ‘Oh Lord, this sounds awful’ and then I heard some of the shows we taped, and they sound amazing,” said King said. “That’s just what happens.”King burst onto the scene in one of those media-darling whirlwinds. Called the Jimi Hendrix of acoustic guitar, the percussionist-turned-guitar whiz has forged a new path for the instrument.
She credits her early days playing for tips on New York City street corners, which taught her to listen to her own sounds and tune out everything else. “It gave me a lot of skills I didn’t have before, in terms of listening to myself,” said King, who would play until she had $50, which usually took about three hours. “It was the first time I had played for such a length, so I really built up stamina. It definitely took me to another level pretty fast without much pressure.”It was the fret-tapping, harmonics and complicated riffs that led to the “wow” factor from passers-by. “… Until we felt red” isn’t a total change for King, however. Rather, it’s more like what she has been listening to for most of her life. And as with any experiment, some of it works and some of it doesn’t. The stratospheric sounds are perfect smoky-jazz-club stuff, until they stray a little too far into the dark of night. There’s a fluegelhorn player on a few tracks, along with a harp and cello at times. Sometimes King’s rocking out with an old tube amp sound, drums crashing, then slows it down, for an ultra-high falsetto. She gets the tension up, then lets it down with the most gentle of touches.
And while her current show – party of the Yellow Umbrella Tour (which benefits the fight against cervical cancer) – features her new stuff, King also plays a solo set, taking the music back to the streets.”I get more excited now than I had been before about playing solo,” King said. “I had played by myself and played my own tunes, so now when I take a break and play solo it gives new life to songs I’ve played for a long time.”Already, she’s looking forward, wondering what will happen next. She said working with a band can help speed up the creative process because it’s collaborative. Still, “it’s all an embryo,” King said, “but I’ve certainly been thinking what’s the next step? Do I take another departure?”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org