Tuesday, September 14, 2010

THE QUEEN IS THE KING - An interview with Kaki King

About to embark on a return trip to Australia, KAKI KING talks about her new album Junior, the merits of Ovation guitars, scoring for films and her Weiner dog who is apparently ‘not gay’. ANDY HAZEL harbours doubts.

Despite being one of the most acclaimed guitarists of recent years, a respected songwriter, in-demand film scorer and, according to thousands of men and women, a total babe, Kaki King is unsatisfied with how she’s appeared in the media. “One thing is always going to overshadow another,” she says, while trying to navigate her way from her home in New York to a friend’s place. “I have a lot of great songwriter friends both male and female who are also excellent guitarists but seem to struggle with this way the media can only focus on one thing at a time because of their famously short attention spans,” she says in a distracted, mile-a-minute manner reflective of her work ethic. “So usually my friends who are great guitar players but in the singer-songwriter genre get asked questions like ‘let’s talk about your lyrics. What did you mean when you wrote this?’ or ‘Let’s talk about your guitar playing,’ it’s always difficult to excel at more than one thing, and I think that’s the key to making good music. Even if you’re not the most proficient guitar player in the world, when you combine a gift with the instrument and write with honesty, that’s what makes true beauty.” This straightforward view infuses her beloved songs and gives a clue as to how one woman has overcome the initial tendency for attention to be given as much to her appearance as to her skills on the guitar, with little left over for the songs.

“It’s not hard to come up with a sweet guitar technique,” she says breezily as I suppress the urge to blurt ‘easy for you to say Miss Rolling Stone Guitar God of 2007™’. “I mean it does take a while, but it’s not as hard as it is to write and I don’t mean like: ‘Yeah baby / I’ll love you forever etc.’ that’s not what I’m trying to do. If I’m able to somehow get both jobs done while being a good guitar player then that’s when I know a song works. When I play a gig people aren’t going to stick around just to watch me play guitar.”

Few of those who have seen King perform on one of her frequent visits to these shores would doubt that she’s doing all right by her standards. While earning accolades such as a Golden Globe nomination for her work on the film Into The Wild, awards and praises from every guitar magazine that mentions her and love from her peers (especially Dave Grohl), King has been working with everyone from Timbaland to renown film composer Carter Burwell. Though a very different process, she finds film scoring can be equally rewarding. “It always depends, it can be something where you can listen to it on it’s own as a piece of music or it can be intricately tied to a particular scene. Sometimes I’ll turn in a bunch of tunes and say to myself ‘ooh I hope they don’t use that one because I really like it!’ It can be so fucking painful to go back and forth between director, editor and music editor and get three different opinions,” she says despondently. “After a while really what you’re doing becomes arbitrary and everyone has a different feeling about a certain piece or they fall in love with the temp track etc. Scoring is something I’m interested in, as you have to work quickly, get inspired and create. Even when the people I’ve worked with are great there have still been edits where I’ve had to go back to the roughs of the film and begin again, it becomes something I spend hours working on. And then it gets cut or something else gets added and it’s hard because I’m writing music to very specific pieces of time. It’s a challenge but I’m frustrated because it can become so little about what I want to do.”

Something that comes across in King’s music and style of talking it‘s that she does what she wants, when she wants. Even when it comes to becoming a pioneering guitarist, it never seems anything was sacrificed to get where she is. “Sometimes playing the guitar feels like hard work, but it’s hard work you really enjoy. No one’s making you do it, it’s not painful. I think there are times when you’re young and learning because you really want to be doing it. It’s a challenge in a beautiful way, You should never look at it as work and it never should be.”

Renowned acoustic guitar manufacturer Ovation, whose guitars she often uses, asked King to design the 1581-KK guitar for them in what is surely an ultimate sign of industry respect. “My father had an Ovation but he wouldn’t let me touch it when I was a kid - I’m driving now, this is so not safe…” she says laughing, hopefully talking on her hands free. “When I went to college, he gave me that guitar and I wrote my first album on it. I’d already been playing an Ovation when I met [influential guitarist and Ovation player] Preston Reed. I was already going down that route when I saw him play, which was another serendipity type of thing. Nothing I do is very strummy, and it gives a very tactile sound. I’ve tried to move away from that in recording recently I didn’t use it once on Junior, as I’m sure my sponsors will be happy to hear,” she says laughing. “I use whatever works at the time, when I’m playing in really low tunings, that’s mainly when they get used.”

All we can say we have, are some photographs and a wiener dog / That chews up everything I love and all the things you left behind” sings King in Junior’s closing song Sunnyside of her beloved pet. Despite some insider information I gleaned which suggests otherwise, she professes her dog to be ‘not gay’ Readers, here is the evidence, you decide: “He has no balls," she begins, "but he likes men and he’s really funny because he’s really pretty; he’s a gorgeous dog,” she continues with glowing pride. “He likes guys because he’s always around my sister and me and we’re always coddling him, but he has this little boy inside him so when boys come around, he senses testosterone. He likes to lick men, he likes to lick their hairy legs, he always gives the guys a lot of attention.” Hmmm….

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