Kaki King appreciates where she is. Not that she didn't for a time wonder, like Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?" But after dipping her toe into the rock lifestyle, she's returned to the solo acoustic milieu where she cut her teeth. With her latest, Glow, King is satisfied she's where she's supposed to be.
King's an extraordinarily gifted acoustic guitarist influenced by the trailblazing fingerstyle folk of Preston Reed and Michael Hedges. Though she's played guitar since she was a preschooler, she always figured if she ever made it in music it'd be as a drummer or bassist. King's history with rhythm translates to guitar, where her playing is characterized by intricate two-handed fingering techniques, ringing harmonics and battling countermelodies. She's one of the more exciting guitarists to emerge in the past decade, creating music with great beauty, complexity and propulsion.
"[Rhythm] is part of my nature for sure," King tells the Scene from Milwaukee. "I think even if I played only guitar I would still be tapping on things constantly. I like rhythms.
"I'm influenced heavily by having played drums and learning a lot about time signatures," she continues, "but mainly — be it drums or piano — I learned to separate my hands. I knew that my left hand was perfectly capable of making sounds all on its own. The kind of pitter-patter pattern, going back and forth as a drummer — I learned to do that on the guitar but in a totally different way. Sort of rapid back and forth between them ... speed it up and somehow it sounds incredibly fast, when really each hand is doing something really simple. I'm just weaving them together rhythmically in a way that sounds crazy."
King's six-album, decade-long career has been full of transitions — going from the gossamer, instrumental beauty of her early work to incorporating vocals, electric guitar, then electronics, and finally a whole band for 2010's Junior. Junior came on the heels of 2008's completely self-recorded Dreaming of Revenge, wherein King vacillated between tender soundscapes and rock energy. Overwhelmed by the process of recording everything herself but still craving that fullness, King assembled and wrote with a band for Junior. In retrospect, she needed to get it out of her system.
"In a way, Junior was like, 'Let me pose some challenges and see if I can meet them,' " says King. "And we did. We toured the world and we played in every crazy rock club around the world and it was a very epic show. I am very happy that I got the experience of doing that out of my system, because it was crazy and exhausting, and really fun and really insane. All the insanity offstage is reflected onstage. It was that rock 'n' roll moment that I just needed to have even in my late 20s, but when I was done I was done."
So before embarking on Glow, King paused to reflect. "Everything I have ever done has been wrapped up in music and people's relationship to me and my music," she explains. "So that was just a kind of, 'Is this what we're going to do forever? Is this it? Like, we're married?' "
Recommitted, King returns to the instrumental format of her first two albums, while showcasing the growth of the intervening years.
"I'm 10 years into this and I'm mainly known as a solo acoustic guitar act," says King. "That's pretty fucking amazing. That was not the intention. I had no idea. Not in my wildest dreams. That I'm as popular as I am is like a coup de grace. I think of the patience it takes for someone to sit in the chair and watch someone play solo guitar in a chair for 90 minutes — that's a special kind of human being."
This curmudgeon misses 328 Performance Hall everytime I see a show at The Cannery
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