Q&A: Kaki King
The modern day guitar god discusses new material and her role as a musician.
With a musical career spanning over a decade, Kaki King’s instantly recognizable percussive techniques and genre-bending style have made her a modern day guitar god. Since her 2012 release, “Glow,” King has continued to push the boundaries of the world’s most popular instrument while exploring new artistic elements in her live performances. King took some time to talk about her life as a musician and creating the new show, which she will perform on Jan. 30 at The Hamilton Live.
The Eagle: Your live shows are as much about the visual elements as the music. Where did that inspiration come from, and what was that creative process like for you?
Kaki King: For years I wanted people’s attention to be focused on me, my fingers and the guitar work. For a while, I toured with a band and we had very stark lighting, and maybe a few guitars on stage - there wasn’t much to my show. And I enjoyed that because it was very difficult, I had to be a very good guitar player. But then I started thinking [about lighting], and I kind of fell down this rabbit hole. I got curious about lighting design, and the eureka moment was, “Can I project something onto the guitar? What would that look like?” I found some really talented people and eventually we matched the guitar with a photo and it looked amazing, I thought, “I can really do something with this.”
E: Do you see this as an opportunity for yourself to move into the mixed-media or art communities?
King: I’ve had a lot of fun with these projects, but I’m a guitar player. And really, this show is about the guitar and showcasing it in a new way. My role is still very much that of your humble guitar player, but I definitely wanted something different. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I’m still passionate about the guitar and about being a guitar player, and I think the show expresses that visually.
E: And how does the show help illustrate that?
King: Well, for example, there’s a part of the show where the guitar starts “speaking.” I use a wah pedal and get that sort of “Charlie Brown” adults talking sound and there are subtitles. So you’re reading what the guitar is “saying,” and its accompanied by a video so that the guitar is sort of talking about itself and what its been through. So the guitar is the protagonist, in a sense. It’s a show about the guitar and how I interact with it, my role as the guitar player. Am I a facilitator? Am I at odds with it? [The show] explores the frustration of learning an instrument, how it connects me to thousands of years of people doing the same thing and how we’re now changing the format [of playing guitar] now.
E: With all the emphasis you place on the instrument and the music, do you feel there’s a role for you as an individual in the music community?
King: My take is that I’ll never learn how to do it all. I’ve traveled all over the world and seen and heard a lot, and in almost all musical cultures someone will have a guitar. I just think that’s so interesting. I guess I thought that after 30 years I’d be bored. I mean, there was a time maybe 20 years ago when I couldn't even imagine playing guitar for that long. But now, having played for so long, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored. It’s the most fascinating thing. I’m still a student, and I’m still learning.
Kaki King will perform “The Neck is a Bridge to the Body” at The Hamilton Live on Jan. 30. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show begins at 8:30 p.m.