It’s amazing that Kaki King only has two hands. When she picks up a guitar, the sheer complexity and depth of sound she creates through tapping, banging, and intricate picking is more than ten fingers can manage. Deemed a “Guitar God” by Rolling Stone, the 29-year-old virtuoso has a resume that just won’t quit: since her 2003 debut, Everybody Loves You, she’s released three full-length records, toured with Foo Fighters and The Mountain Goats, and snagged a Golden Globe nomination for her work on the Into the Wild score.
Before heading out to Bonnaroo and the Wanderlust Music & Yoga Festival, King sat down with Flavorpill to chat about Timbaland, the Mountain Goats, Tupac mash-ups, the evils of guitar lessons, and channeling the inner Morrissey.
Flavorpill: First things first: There’s a Kaki King vs. Tupac mash-up in the world now.
Kaki King: Yes! It’s awesome!
FP: Is that a high-water mark?
KK: Oh, it’s such a high-water mark. It’s totally cool that someone who is really into Tupac, and is listening to that music, is also aware of me, and wants to combine the two.
FP: So Tupac joins your diverse roster of collaborators — a list that includes Timbaland, Dave Grohl, and the Mountain Goats. How do you approach such different partnerships?
KK: It’s nothing about me: it’s about their music, their songs, and really, how I can challenge myself in a way that fits what they need.
FP: How did this all start? When did you pick up the guitar?
KK: I was five years old, and my parents made me take lessons… I started playing drums when I think I was nine, right around the time I was re-learning parts on the guitar. I wanted to play bass guitar in the elementary school band, and my parents approached this teacher to ask if I could play. They said, you know, not really — but that’s the rhythm section, so why don’t we just put her on drums.
FP: Was that the beginning of your percussive guitar style? Was it something you actively developed?
KK: Well, as a solo guitarist, you have to fill up all the sound that you can with one instrument, especially when there aren’t vocals — which is was what I did for the first two records of my career. And so I think that you just try to utilize every aspect of that one guitar that you can. It’s kind of like when people slaughter an animal, you know, no part should go to waste, every piece has a purpose.
FP: You’re a true snout-to-tail musician!
KK: [Laughs] I never thought about it like that at the time, of course, but I think it kind of applies in a weird way. If you want to make two full albums of just solo guitar (and people have made 12 or 13, I’m not resting on my laurels or anything) you rely upon every little sound that you can make with it. And as a drummer, I learned to separate my left hand from my right hand, so it was only natural to apply that.
FP: You first truly added in your own vocals on 2006’s Until We Felt Red. Was that outside of your comfort zone?
KK: It’s funny, [that record] was really just a return to all the things I had been doing as a teenager. One of the songs on the record I wrote when I was 15. It was basically me going, “I no longer have any responsibilities towards this solo guitar genre, what else can I do?” And then all the bands I’d been in, all the songs I’d written before… all these things came flooding back to me.
FP: You’ve said at some of your shows recently that you’ve just gotten a real address for the first time in a long time. How’s that feel?
KK: Wow, yes… I left my address in Bushwick in about June of ’07, and I went and made a record and went to Europe, and then came back to New York and stayed with friends, and then it was just nothing but touring.
FP: Is that the longest stretch that you’ve lived out of a suitcase?
KK: Yeah, I would say that. But, for six years I’ve really just toured and toured. Maybe even longer than that, if you go back to the beginning. Right now it’s been two months off, we’re about to go to Bonnaroo, but this is the longest time I’ve had off in six years. I mean, that’s an adult life! I’ve really spent my 20’s on the road. The whole time!
FP: Are you restless yet?
KK: Oh, man, I’m so restless. Everyone said, “You need to relax and take this time and do nothing.” For the first week I thought, that’s insane, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Then for the next month I was thinking, this is great — I’m reading books, and seeing friends — I have a social life! And then I went completely stir crazy and started to plan all sorts of new things for myself.
FP: I know you’ve been performing a ton locally — including a Morrissey tribute, for his 50th birthday. Did you do Moz proud?
KK: You know, in the car on the way there, I was like, “What the fuck am I doing? Am I crazy! I can’t possibly live up to this!” It was so much fun though, at this great little club in Williamsburg. I picked out my 8 top favorite Morrissey and Smith songs, and the whole thing was this giant sing along. It was great. Everyone was just screaming along. I am an unapologetic, humongous fan of Morrissey and the Smiths. I love him. And I’ve drawn great inspiration from him.
FP: So is there a Morrissey-Kaki King collaboration on the horizon?
KK: Oh, God! Don’t even .., I don’t … [Laughs]
FP: Maybe we’ll wait for a mash-up.
KK: Yeah. The thought makes me squirm. I can’t even think about it!