BACK IN THE FALL OF 2004, GP’ S LATE SISTER PUBLICATION
Frets duly anointed Kaki King “The future of solo-acoustic
guitar.” Perhaps we should have known better. Sure, at the time
her refreshingly innovative harmonic progressions, crafty
alternate tunings, and multi-layered mastery—pitting frettinghand-
hammered bass notes and long legato phrases against
picking-hand percussive taps, slaps, and machine-gun like
fingerstyle fusillades—marked King’s then-latest release, Legs
to Make us Longer, as the biggest game changer in the steelstring
realm since Michael Hedges’ Aerial Boundaries.
But envisioning the future for someone
as imaginative as Kaki King is risky
business. No sooner had the transplanted
Atlanta native gone from performing on
New York City subway platforms to landing
a major label deal and becoming the
instrumental solo-acoustic-guitar voice
of her generation, when she promptly
Choosing to define herself less as a
solo guitarist and more as a complete
artist, King began showcasing her singer/
songwriter side on 2006’s …Until We Felt
Red. By 2008’s Dreaming of Revenge, she
was handling much of the album’s instrumentation,
as well as more fully exploiting
track layering and other studio production
King’s latest offering, Junior [Rounder],
is her heaviest to date, both sound-wise
and emotionally. She retains her unique
compositional sensibilities, but eschews
the two-handed rhythmic tapping approach,
instead relying on distorted and
heavily processed tones, and the muscular
rhythm section of drummer Jordan
Perlson and bassist/producer Malcolm
Burn, which drives punkish numbers
such as “Falling Day” and “Death Head.”
Even instrumental tracks like the brooding
“Everything Has an End, Even Sadness”
and “My Nerves That Committed Suicide”
focus more on evocative emotional content
than instrumental virtuosity.
Far from hindering her career, however,
King’s restless muse has rewarded
her with myriad musical opportunities and
increased exposure to varied audiences.
She has been a guest on albums by Tegan
and Sara and Northern State, appeared in
the film August Rush, and contributed
music to the film Into the Wild. King also
collaborated with Foo Fighters frontman
Dave Grohl on the acoustic instrumental
“Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners,” from
the band’s 2007 release Echoes, Silence,
Patience & Grace. When Grohl invited King
to join him onstage to perform the song
at London’s massive O2 Arena, he
unabashedly told the crowd, “There are
some guitar players that are good, there
some guitar players that are really f***ing
good—and then there’s Kaki.”
Are you using any new altered tunings on Junior?
I think the tuning on “Everything Has an
End, Even Sadness” is new, and as I recall it
is E, G, E, G, B, D [low to high]. “Spit it Back
in My Mouth” uses the same tuning, but
with a capo.
Has plugging into an amp changed your
approach to playing guitar?
Not really. For me the challenge now is
learning to play the amp. I used to just plug
into an amp and hope for the best, but now
I’m more attuned to what different amps
and pickup combinations sound like, and
also how they sound at different volumes.
My backline amps on the current tour are
Fender Bassmans, which are great for reproducing
the low tones I often use in my style.
They don’t have reverb, though, so they force
you to deal with the dry, unadulterated
sound, and there’s nowhere to hide. I also
find that you really have to tune the sound
of your rig to the venue in the same way a
drummer tunes their drums or a soundman
equalizes a room. You have to learn how a
particular setup is going to sound in a particular
room on a particular night.
Did you have a go-to distortion sound while
Yes. I really like the sound of the Fulltone
OCD, and I used it a lot, particularly
when playing melodies. I’m learning that
you have to play your pedals and your amp—
as well as your guitar—which makes things
that much more complicated. For example,
when I play the solos on songs like “My
Nerves That Committed Suicide” and
“Betrayer,” I have to be careful because the
sound changes so drastically when I step on
the pedal. Everything has to be set very specifically.
But it also opens up a lot of excellent
Have there been any guitarists who have influenced
your electric playing?
Yeah, but I don’t list influences anymore
because it’s misleading.
How did working in a band situation affect your
All of the songs were written around the
guitar, bass, and drums as a band. One advantage
of that is not having to teach the songs
to the others before recording them and performing
them live, which saved a step.
What is that interesting pitch-bend sound we
hear in the background of “Spit it Back in My
That’s Dan Brantigan playing an Akai EVI
[Electronic Valve Instrument]. While there
are fewer layers on this album than the last
one, Dan’s sounds—on horns, piano, and
keyboards—saturate some of the tracks in a
really interesting way. He’s still experimenting
and learning about what he’s doing, so
he’s not working in a formulaic way.
Are you playing lap-steel for the melody on
“My Nerves That Committed Suicide”?
Yeah, but there’s also horn and EVI. That
particular melody is pretty layered.
What are you playing on the song “The Hoopers
That’s a 4-string steel-string tuned like
the first four strings of a regular acoustic
guitar: D, G, B, E.
What’s that koto-like sound in “Falling Day”?
That’s an Ovation Applause UAE-148
acoustic-electric tenor ukulele that the company
sent me for Christmas a few years back.
It arrived in a tuning something like an F#7
chord—E, F#, C#, F#, low to high, with the
F# on the third string being the lowest note—
and I just started messing around with it. I
actually used to know someone who would
go into a guitar shop, buy a used guitar, and
then write a song in whatever tuning it happened
to be in.
When you play fast arpeggio runs like the main
riff for “Falling Day,” do you always play fingerstyle,
or do you sometimes use a pick for a different
type of articulation?
I always play fingerstyle. I have long nails
on my picking hand and they’d just get in
the way if I tried to use a pick. I’d probably
just drop it [laughs]. Sometimes I will use a
thumbpick when I play baritone guitar, for
extra emphasis on the low strings.
Did you start out playing fingerstyle or was
there ever a time when you used a pick?
I played with the classical pima [pinky,
index, middle, ring] fingering when I first
learned as a kid. Later on, I played with a
pick for a while. But when I was around 13
or 14, I rediscovered fingerstyle playing,
although at that point I hadn’t yet gotten
into using acrylic nails.
What do you feel are the common threads
between your earliest recordings and Junior?
I’m still using a lot of altered tunings,
and I’m still trying to be a decent guitar
player. I’m still trying to be above everything
as a musician, and I’m still trying to write