kaki king
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kaki king

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The best kept secret in music


"Kaki King"

"Ms. King's quiet acoustic-guitar virtuosity, with hammering folk patterns and altered tunings that might remind you of Michael Hedges or Leo Kottke, carries new connotations; on "Legs to Make Us Longer" she's updating a small and very male tradition for a new eria of folk music: Oct 5th. Epic." - New York Times


Everybody Loves You - LP (Velour 2003)
Legs To Make Us Longer - LP (Epic 2004)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Kaki King is a feisty, five-foot, funny, outspoken Atlanta transplant who now lives in New York, a city whose energy is almost equal to her own. She also happens to be the most exciting solo guitarist/composer to have come along in decades. On her upcoming album, Legs to Make Us Longer (Epic), she blazes through a set of original works with an intensity that reflects her world -- the subway platform gigs, the late shifts at the Mercury Lounge, the surreptitious intermission entrances into Lincoln Center to catch some Stravinsky -- more than the new age stupor that most solo guitar music seems to induce.

Her music is as contradictory as the city itself. On the first track, "Frame," her guitar tolls like bells beneath an iron sky. Right after that, "Playing With Pink Noise" dashes in and out of traffic, with pistons pumping. On "Ingots" a steady, four-beat thump keeps time, a pulse beating as she runs through vistas of sound.

For King, the guitar isn't just a reverie machine; it's a percussion instrument, just like the drums she played with her high school band. Sure, there were guitars around the house -- her father, a lawyer, was a music lover who spotted his daughter's talent early on. "When I was about four years old my parents wanted me to take music lessons, and I chose the guitar," she says. "But I didn't enjoy it, so when I was five I put it aside. Then I started playing drums when I was nine or 10. I still play them. That was how I got into playing pop music, and that feel was a big influence when I did go back to guitar."

For the next several years, drums were her passion, but around age 11, King began experimenting with the guitars that her father had collected. She spent a month or so working through a Beatles songbook. A new Fleetwood Mac album would come out; she would read the tablature and figure out its songs. Then she moved on to edgier bands and their guitarists: Johnny Marr with the Smiths, Graham Coxon with Blur. She was around 16 when she became aware of the fingerstyle giants -- Preston Reed, Michael Hedges, Leo Kottke and Alex DeGrassi – but younger, somewhat darker players seemed more intriguing: among them Nick Drake, Elliot Smith and Mark Kozelek of the Red House Painters.

Yet when she left for New York to begin studies at NYU, King still thought of herself mainly as a drummer. She played around the Village with various bands. "I thought that if I ever was going to get a break, it would be as a drummer," she insists.

That break never came, but opportunities to play guitar began to materialize in New York. "The first time I ever played solo guitar in public was at the end of my freshman year," she remembers. "I got up onstage at this student forum thing and played three songs. I was incredibly nervous. Then there were a few little joints, like the Sidewalk Café, or Cinema Classics in the East Village. Or a party would happen in Brooklyn and someone would say, 'Do you want to play some songs?' And I'd be like, 'Sure.' It all happened step by step."

Her commitment to the instrument took a sudden turn a few months after graduation; King had been wondering what to do with her life, but on September 11, 2001, circumstances pushed her to take faster action. Looking for a way to support herself in the wake of disaster, she took her guitar into the subway and began playing for tips. She worked mainly at night at stations along the L or F lines in the Village. More than anything she had done up to that point, these performances transformed her into an artist of fierce and fiery originality.

"The subways gave me stamina," she says. "It's a workout in every way -- mentally, physically. To play for two hours in an ugly environment is very challenging. But soon people were coming up to me and saying, 'Do you have a record?' And I realized that if I could sell a CD for 10 bucks every time someone asks me for one, I could actually do all right for myself."

Soon King was hawking a compilation of demos. She picked up a job as a waitress at the Mercury Lounge, long established as a venue for breaking bands. She learned there too as she witnessed some of the earliest shows of the then-burgeoning New York rock scene. King says, “Watching all these bands gave me a greater understanding of what it takes to command a stage and captivate an audience. Since the Mercury is a popular venue for showcases, it also gave me my first glimpse into the machinations of the music industry.”

By this time she was out almost every night: at the Mercury, in the subways, in the clubs, or in New York's most elegant concert halls. All of it fed her creativity, which was now evolving with almost alarming speed. "I started writing things with a lot of dissonance or with dangerous chords that don't really resolve," she says. "I'd be floating around, not in any key, which is what composers like Stravinsky, Debussy and Prokofiev did. Some of my inspiration comes from 20th-century classical music, which I