Hailed by Rolling Stone as “a genre unto herself”, Brooklyn-based composer, guitarist and all-round artist Kaki King is a true musical maverick.
In her career thus far, King has released six diverse and distinctive albums, performed with such icons as the Foo Fighters and Timbaland, contributed to a variety of film and TV soundtracks, and played to an increasingly fervent following of music lovers on countless world tours.
Although her instruments, influences and style has evolved over the past 10-years, her boundary pushing projects and awe-inspiring fret tapping techniques always manage to amaze.
Kaki King was born Katherine Elizabeth King on August 24, 1979 in Atlanta, Georgia. While still a small child, her father noticed her natural musical ability, and encouraged her interest in music.
Whilst at New York University, King picked up the guitar and revisited the finger-style techniques that intrigued her as a child. She studied with Dr. Bill Rayner, an accomplished professor of guitar, and played a few gigs and busked in the New York City Subway.
Over the years, King has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon (playing with resident house-band The Roots), played with string quartet ETHEL, worked alongside Eddie Vedder and Michael Brook for the soundtrack to Sean Penn’s film Into the Wild (which the trio received nominations for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score), curated her own art guitar show, and is now touring her latest LP, The Neck is a Bridge to the Body.
Ever evolving and developing as an artist, King has played and experimented with a great variety of guitars over the years, but its her Ovation Custom Adamas Acoustic that is the most distinctive.
The look of the guitar is instantly recognisable and intriguing; with a big, bulky matte black body and paw-print like upper-body soundholes. King tours with two of the signature 1581-KK models in ever-changing tunings and Elixir strings.
In 2014, Kaki collaborated with the visual experience company Glowing Pictures to construct an innovative, immersive multi-media production in which the guitar is used as a projection screen to tell a story. Protections of genesis and death, unexpected textures and skins, were cast onto a Ovation Adamas 6-String Acoustic guitar customised specifically for the production.
As well as the Ovation guitar, King often rotates between Veillette Gryphon mini 12-string and a a long, intricate and intimidating Japanese lap-steel style wood guitar, the Koto.
Kaki King is known for her percussive and jazz-tinged melodies, energetic live shows, use of multiple tunings, and her diverse range of genres.
Her instrumentals have an old-world vibe that comes from the fast-paced, intricate flamenco melodies she teases out on her acoustic guitars. Her songs have a dark, low tone but still great clarity and detail -you can hear every chord change and slide. Her melodies are dreamy, ethereal and soaring, whilst her guitar work is mechanical and bass-heavy, proving true the old saying that opposite attract.
King incorporates finger-style “fanning,” with both percussion and fret tapping techniques in most of her skilled solo work. She frequently uses double open tunings, viola tunings, and traditional Russian guitars (they have 7 strings).
Although she sings on a number of songs and albums, it’s best to focus on the instrumentals to really soak up her crazy guitar skills.
The wild reggae rhythm and breakneck fretboard tapping of ‘Playing With Pink Noise’, the classical and emotive influences of ‘No True Masterpiece Will Ever Be Complete’, the artistic melancholia soundscape that is ‘The Surface Changes’, the rumbling heavy-metal riff influences of ‘Battle Is a Learning’, the softness of ‘We Did Not Make the Instrument, the Instrument Made Us’, the pop and locks of ‘Kewpie Station’, the indie finger-picking delicacy of ‘Yellowcake’, the piercing ethereal licks of ‘Montreal’, the stammering chords and string section of ‘Great Round Burn’ and the resonator guitar rhythm of ‘Tunnel’.
Her full live set at TED 2008.
The Berkeley Sessions features Kaki King’s solo performance from the Berkley Church in Toronto, Canada in stunning HD video alongside her collection of videos from the past decade.
Most jaw-dropping, however, is the below video of Kaki King absolutely nailing her incredible challenging and insanely-complex instrumental ‘Playing With Pink Noise’ on David Letterman Live back in 2007. A must-see: