2:03am

Fri October 12, 2012
Music Interviews

Kaki King: A Guitar Wizard Conjures New Colors

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 5:36 am

If you listen to NPR news shows, chances are good that you've already heard the music of Kaki King. Her rich, distinctive guitar playing is a favorite of the directors of our programs — certainly Morning Edition.

She gets her sound by playing the guitar in a unique and mesmerizing way. Rolling Stone has named her a "guitar god" and called her a "genre unto herself." When she plays, King says, "there's a lot of really strong flailing and strumming and beating."

It's a style she developed over years of practice: King is 33 and has been playing guitar since she was 4. In her early 20s, she started busking in the New York subway. Today, she tours worldwide, does soundtracks and has put out five albums. Her records have run the gamut from solo guitar to playing with a full band to singing. Her latest release is called Glow.

"I wanted to make a solo guitar record really badly again," she says. "But I really didn't hear that in my mind; I heard something more. So there's a lot of color in this record, a lot of added sound."

She teamed up with producer D. James Goodwin and went to a studio in Woodstock, N.Y., with solo guitar tracks that she'd already recorded. The two of them went after that colorful, added sound.

"We really spread it all out — we took all the instruments that we had at our disposal and just made them visibly present," she says. "So there's a Weissenborn guitar hanging out in that corner, and there's a piano here. I brought all my shakers and percussion things, so it was all really ready to go."

King says she was skeptical that she'd be able to get the sound she wanted without the guitar getting lost. But to her surprise, adding layers around the guitar often enhanced its presence.

"I'm really pleased with this record," she says. "There's a lot of magic and mystery in where your ear's going to take you. It's almost like exploring a house — you kind of peer into little bitty rooms. Your ear can just pick out all these little things, but it can also listen to it as a whole, and it's beautiful."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This rich distinctive guitar sound you're hearing is a favorite of our directors here on MORNING EDITION. You'll sometimes hear it between our new stories. Today, we'll meet the musician behind the sound. Kaki King started out busking in the New York subway system. These days, she tours worldwide, makes soundtracks, and has even named a guitar god by Rolling Stone magazine. She's put out five albums - playing solo, with a full band, singing - but she says her latest record "Glow" is all about the guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAKI KING: Hi, I'm Kaki King. I am 33 and I've been playing guitar for 29 years, since I was four. That's a long time. And the first thing that pops into my head is like oh, I should be way better by now.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: I sort of have a complicated guitar style. There's a lot of really strong flailing and strumming and beating.

(SOUNDBITE OF THUMPING ON GUITAR)

KING: That thump you hear is my and doing that on the guitar. So it's just guitar you're hearing right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: I wanted to make a solo guitar record really badly again. But I really didn't hear that in my mind; I heard something more. So there's a lot of color on this record, a lot of added sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: I did up in a studio in Woodstock, New York. And we really spread it all out - we took all the instruments that we had at our disposal and just made them visibly present.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: And then you throw everything that you can at a track. You just kind of go well, that can work, and that sounds neat, and I like this bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: Hitting bass guitar and that snare hit, or what - you know, that percussion, that is metal pieces on top of a trashcan lid that I'm kind of slipping like a pancake. So it's like...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: And then, you know, the guitar is carrying it all, which I honestly didn't know that was possible. But the more we got involved in that process of adding layers of sound to the solo guitar, the better it sounded.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREAT ROUND BURN")

KING: This song is called "Great Round Burn." The title "Great Round Burn" is a reference to the sun. There's like a beauty here, but also a sharpness. Bright, bright, bright sunlight seem to fit. I'm really pleased with this record. There's a lot of magic and mystery in where your ear's going to take you. It's almost like exploring a house - you kind of peer into little bitty rooms. You know, your ear can just pick out all these little things, but it can also listen to it as a whole, and it's all so beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREAT ROUND BURN")

MONTAGNE: That's musician Kaki King. Her new album "Glow" came out this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREAT ROUND BURN")

MONTAGNE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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