Condivisione Di Sentimenti, O Non, Con Kaki King – Un Colloquio.

January 25, 2011 by Chris Grosso

Some guitarists reach levels many others will spend their entire lives aspiring to, but won’t. Kaki King is one of those guitarists, though if you tell her that, she’ll be quick to disagree. Kaki’s style is as eclectic as her Brooklyn surroundings, ranging from jazz to flamenco, folk, rock, percussive and more, all fused with various non-traditional tunings and even some lap steel guitar just for good measure.

Ms King was kind enough to take some time out of a recent trip up to Woodstock, NY to talk to me about the past, present, and future of all things Kaki. So without further ado, I give you…

The Kaki King Interview

TIS: So when you’re not touring & recording, how do you spend your down time?

KK: Ooh, well, actually right now is one of those times. I’m actually learning Italian. I also try to exercise quite a bit while I’m off the road because when on the road, it’s really difficult. Sometimes I get it into my head that I’m going to enrich myself in some certain way that doesn’t always happen, but the Italian has actually seemed to stick. In the summer, I do quite a bit of gardening. I have a rather big green thumb. I guess I spend a lot of my time doing your run of the mill, boring stuff. I do like to get out into nature quite a bit though, especially if I’m stuck in the city for long periods of time. Today I’m actually taking a road trip to Woodstock just for the hell of it.

TIS: That all sounds good to me, and you live in Brooklyn right?

KK: Yup, I live in Brooklyn.

TIS: And you did a rather interesting guitar/art project out there a little while ago. Can you tell me what inspired the idea and a bit about the process?

KK: Well you know it’s funny because it was almost a “stream of consciousness” idea I guess you could call it. I was playing lap steel with Dan Brantigan and Lennie Peterson on trombone, who’s also an artist and involved in the project, and he said “you know, it’d be really interesting to see the pattern your fingers make as you play on the guitar”, because he was interested in the formation and what it would look like. So I thought, hmm, I wonder what it would look like, and then we thought about if I played a certain song, where the paint would end up on the guitar and if I’d be able to visually tell which song I played by where all the heaviest splotches were.

So that led me to wonder if someone would help me do that, and then I thought maybe I could get fourteen people to help me do that for each song on the album, and I slowly continued to cut myself out of the process. I was able to get guitars that were unusable, broken and unsellable from the company I work with, and I had artists submit their sketches and ideas on what they wanted to do. After that, I’d send them the guitars, they’d do their art and send them back, and then we put the show together.

So for me, not being a visual artist and not having a strong connection with visual arts and music, this was something that helped me go “oh wow, that’s what someone see’s when they hear a song, how interesting”. So that’s basically what the process was about and it was fun to collaborate with other people and see how their brains work.

TIS: That’s awesome. So you did a show when everything was finished, and did the artists keep the guitars after the project, or are they all displayed somewhere?

KK: Yeah, we did a one-night show. We hung them that day and took photos which I think are still up at As for the guitars afterwards, they went back to the artists and I did ask that if they offered them for sale, or auction, that it went for charity, but also I knew that I had no control over what they did. I do know that at least some of them were auctioned off for a good cause, so I’m happy about that.

TIS: Sounds like a great event! So you worked on the soundtrack to one of my favorite films ever Into The Wild, which also featured Eddie Vedder and Michael Brook on the score. Can you tell me about that?

KK: Well, I didn’t work directly with Eddie or Michael. Eddie wrote a lot of songs for the soundtrack as did Michael and I was the third composer in the mix, so it was a three part process but not really a collaboration as one would think by seeing everyone’s name on the same piece of paper. So I was brought in early on, while they were still shooting the film, and I came on set and met Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch and Michael Brook and I remember thinking ok, Sean Penn must have a way of working where he throws a bunch of names into a hat, shakes it up and sees who comes out.

My process was that I came out to LA and they said here’s 10 or 12 scenes we just can’t get the right music for. So they put them up on the screen and I wrote music for them. Poor Michael Brook bore the brunt of the agony of trying to please all the editors and sound engineers etc. So basically, I wrote for certain scenes and my music and Michael’s worked really well together and it was a nice experience.

TIS: Ok, and you also worked on the August Rush Soundtrack and other films as well, so is that generally how you write for screen?

KK: Well, there are no rules, especially since I’ve done a lot of film work that’s not been huge Hollywood stuff. August Rush was actually a completely different situation. They’d completed the movie and came to me with the scenes where he’s playing the guitar. I thought it looked great and like he was actually playing the song. They wanted it to be a little more “sexier” or “amazing”, so I rewrote and rerecorded the music in order to have it be visually more complicated. Then they dressed me up in a costume and all of the close ups you see in the movie are of my hands. So that was how that came together. But I’ve done some documentary work and contributed bits of music that aren’t useful for songs. I think gut instinct is very useful. If you’re able to have a copy of the film it helps, but it’s really rare that happens. People typically want something, so you give it them and then they come back with an edited scene and you have to re-edit the music, so there’s a lot of back and forth involved.

TIS: Right on. And regarding your guitar playing, your obviously one of the most respected guitar players around for what you do.

KK: That’s a pity.

TIS: That’s a pity? Why?

KK: I don’t know. I wonder who else they’re listening too (laughter).

TIS: Well I know a lot of very talented musicians who agree with that. Even Dave Grohl has been quoted as saying “There are some guitar players that are good and there are some guitar players that are really fucking good. And then there’s Kaki King.

KK: Yeah, but that guy can’t play guitar (laughter).

TIS: Haha, fair enough. I was going to ask how you respond to that, but it seems like you don’t agree?

KK: Well it’s just that, hmm… the way I feel about it is there are so many different things you can do on guitar. You never stop learning, it’s always a challenge. Nothing about guitar is instantly gratifying. You don’t bump into it and make noise like the drums or piano. You have to make it make noise, and to do something incredible takes a lot of focus and stamina and there’s a lot that goes into it. The whole idea of making it look easy is sad, because it’s not easy and I know I’ll always be a student. Even right now, I’m a student of my own music. I’m learning songs again that I haven’t played in a long time for this upcoming tour. When people give me really hyperbolic compliments, of course I appreciate them, but I just can’t really share the sentiment.

TIS: Ok, well thanks for explaining. So on your latest album Junior, you opted for a more straight ahead approach, leaving behind your signature tapping techniques, as well as forming a band for the recording. Can you tell me about your decision to go in this direction?

KK: I had never written an album with other people and I was playing with Dan (Brantigan), and Jordan Perlson was the drummer we’d replaced our former drummer Matt with after he left t do Broadway work. So we were actually prepping Jordan for some gigs and a tour, and during that time we were also writing some songs and things just fell into place. So we had these songs we’d written as a band and put together in a rehearsal room, so it felt like there was no other way to do it other than three people playing live.

So most of the basic tracks of that record were recorded in about four days with us just playing them in the studio and it was just as simple as that. I mean sometimes you can’t plan things, like we didn’t plan for Matt to find that he was better off playing Broadway shows even though he loved going on the road, but there we were and we had songs and then a record. I really liked that. I really liked changing the process around, like here’s the take, it’s done, we’re not changing it. However you can make it better, go for it, but that’s it.

TIS: So even though you were just getting Jordan ready, were you initially writing the new songs with the intention of an album, or more to just becoming familiar with one another musically?

KK: Yeah, we were writing for a tour and an album. We were going to have to tour before the album came out and it was interesting because we were just doing what we do. We were playing, writing, recording and touring.

TIS: Right on, and since you’ve headed in a different direction, does it concern you that some of your older fans may not be open to the new material?

KK: Not at all, nor do I offer any refunds. Buyer beware (laughter).

TIS: So what is the set list going to be like on you upcoming tour?

KK: Well we toured Junior for a year. We really put that record to the test, and it was an amazing year of the states and Europe and Australia and we really covered it. We played every rock club there was to play and it was a beautiful thing, but now I’m ready to move on. It was a pretty short album cycle considering we toured for an album that came out less than a year ago now, but we really just ran into it head on. We toured Australia twice in that time period between writing/recording it and releasing it.

It’s a strange thing because every time an album is released, you may have had those songs inside you for six months to a year, so I’m done. There’s some beautiful stuff on Junior but I’m not in the mood to play rock shows with big rock drums right now. This tour isn’t necessarily a back to basics solo guitar thing, because I’m not planning on playing a lot of traditional six string guitar, but I will be playing a harp guitar and high strung twelve sting guitar. I’ll also be interpreting some of my songs that are a little older, as well as some new things, and some covers on non-traditional, “guitar like” instruments I guess you could call it.

TIS: Very cool. So are there any particular guitars or pedals you absolutely can’t live without?

KK: I love my Ovation, I mean I love it. It’s funny because I was just out at NAMM, which is a big music manufacturers convention and Glenn Campbell was there for Ovation. He was the first signature guitar guy for them, like let’s wait in a line around the corner to get his autograph kind of guy. It’s funny because people walk into studios in Nashville for example, and pull out Ovations and engineers will complain, but the artists will tell them to calm down and set up their mics and wait to see what happens, and the guitars end up sounding amazing. They travel amazing too! I’m not pimping the company at all, I mean whatever, they know it already. That’s the guitar I have to have to do a show and everything else adds to it.

TIS: Cool. So in close, you’ve done tons of collaboration work with artists from the Foo Fighters to Tegan and Sara and even Timbaland. So do you have any future collaboration plans, or anything else in general in the works?

KK: It’s been a while since I’ve had a lot of time to prepare for a tour, and right now I have a month, which to me is a huge amount of time to prepare for something, so I’m hoping in that process, and in the process of doing these relatively short tours, something will come out of it. I’m not trying to plan on what that will be exactly, but I know that if I do something every day that isn’t repetitive, the creativity sort of starts its own thing.

TIS: Awesome. Thanks so much for your time.

KK: Absolutely, thank you.

Visit Kaki King On-line Here!

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Chris Grosso is a writer, public speaker, mental health youth group facilitator, and author with Simon & Schuster. He also writes for Revolver Magazine, Fangoria, and has spoken at a bunch of fancy-schmancy festivals and conferences (as well as even more events that were significantly less than fancy-schmancy). Chris's podcast, The Indie Spiritualist, is hosted on Ram Dass's Be Here Now Network.
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