Music Interview: No-nonsense virtuoso

By Katherine Fletcher

There are several f-words you could use to describe acoustic guitarist Kaki King, none of which include the one you’re probably thinking of. She’s feisty, fearless, fierce, and five-feet tall. With the exception of the latter descriptor, this string of alliterative adjectives also characterizes her remarkable music. The young musician’s wit is as quick as her fingers on her instrument, so when asked what she enjoyed on her brief Canadian tour, King doesn’t give any old three-cord answer.

“Not the food,” she says with an infectious laugh. “I like Canadian people. It’s really cool to go and play [places where] you can speak your language, but you don’t have to be in America anymore. That’s refreshing.”

King herself is a refreshing addition to the realm of the solo acoustic guitar artist, a genre which has lost a bit of steam in the last couple of decades. Blessed with amazing talent, King has introduced “fingerstyle”­–playing both a melody and a bass line on one guitar at the same time–to a whole new generation. While honing her skills, she was heavily influenced by fingerstyle giants Alex DeGrassi, Preston Reed, and Michael Hedges, from whom most of King’s critics and fans draw comparisons.

“I really don’t do the things that [Hedges] did,” King explains. “He had a really great approach to the whole tapping thing. And my approach is different and it’s sort of funny [because] he’s probably the guitarist that’s influenced me the least of all the ones that I can name, and yet he’s the one that people understand the most, and it’s sort of like if I don’t reference him, someone else will.”

Though the constant comparisons might grow tedious, one thing King doesn’t mind is being named one of the top 50 players along with Hedges in Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s Reader’s Poll. The poll points out she’s one of three women, as well as the youngest person honoured. Her listeners and critics often dwell on these characteristics, as well as her good looks, but it does not faze her.

“We live a culture that’s obsessed with youthful sexy people, and as long as I’m one of those, I have no problem with that,” King remarks.

This no-nonsense attitude plays a great part in the establishment of her career. She began to perform on subway platforms shortly after 911, but she wasn’t forced to play because of the attacks.

“It was just really the consequences of not really being able to find a job, honestly,” she says. “It wasn’t like ‘Oh, I’m going to start my career.’ Honestly, it was more like ‘Oh, fuck, I got nothing to do, nothing going for me. Oh, I’m going to play the guitar in the subway today.’”

King went from performing in the subway to playing gigs at venues like the Mercury Lounge, where she once worked. In 2003, she released her debut album Everybody Loves You. At the same time she was also playing the chapman stick with the Blue Man Group.

“I just got lucky,” King says of the BMG stint. “I knew someone that knew someone who was one of the original musicians and they called me up and said that there was an audition today, if you want to go for it, and I’d never even played the chapman stick before. I just went to the audition and it turned out that they liked me and they called me back.”

This coming fall, King plans to work on the follow up to her sophomore album Legs to Make us Longer. Though she’s known for her adeptness on guitar the new album may include her other musical passion: the drums.

“I don’t really want to play solo guitar for the rest of my life,” she admits. “But I enjoy it and I’m good at it and I don’t want to make the mistake of doing something I suck at just for the sake of it.”

This scenario isn’t likely to happen, after all, her recorded work suggests fallible is another f-word which can’t be used to describe her.

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