Guitar virtuoso and composer Kaki King remains ahead of the curve on her sixth full-length album, Glow, released on October 9. King’s instrumental release is more proof that the Brooklyn-based musician is a true visionary. Her sound knows no limits. Each song on Glow defies genres and charms the listener with its originality. King will be in the District on November 16 to perform at The Howard Theatre; On Tap caught up with the genre-bending instrumentalist about her new album.
On Tap: When I first listened to Glow, it took me a few songs before I even realized that there were no vocals. I really felt that you made vocals completely unnecessary by creating such a rich instrumental sound. Was this your intention when recording the album and are you pleased with the outcome?
Kaki King: I love the record. I think that I have a better perspective on it than any other record [that I’ve done] in the past. I didn’t know that it was going to come out this way but as soon as I heard [it], I realized that we’d found something really great and I was immediately pleased. As far as the no vocals thing, I honestly didn’t expect that because I usually add something. Even if it’s an instrumental record, there will be something with vocals but it just didn’t happen. I didn’t force it.
OT: I also noticed that you play with genres throughout the album. But no matter how different the style of each song, the album has a very cohesive sound. Can you tell me a little bit about that creative process of recording such an eclectic group of songs for one record?
KK: We had different techniques and totally different instruments on every song, too. I was actually surprised. I think when you make an album at the same time period with the same producer in the same studio, something happens when it’s going really well. It all fits in together even though all of the songs are totally different.
OT: I instantly fell in love with the crystal clear strings in Glow’s opening song, “Great Round Burn.” Was this your first experience working with a string quartet on an album? What was it like to collaborate with ETHEL?
KK: It was great. I’ve had strings on prior records but this is totally different. This is me sitting down with Ralph, who is the musical director of ETHEL, and jamming and playing together. I was able to get feedback and then we rehearsed it together before we recorded it so we were able to collaborate the entire way through. It’s amazing working with musicians that are so talented and so willing to work with you and be creative.
OT: You were also responsible for all of the percussion on the album. How did your co-producer (D. James Goodwin) affect your choice of instrumentation Glow?
KK: D. James played some parts but it was mainly me. All of the percussion is me. All of the extra guitars are me. You know, I wear a lot of hats but I’m used to that. [D. James and I] just really went back and forth and it was really fast. We didn’t have time to contemplate a lot. Our response was very immediate.
OT: I think some artists feel cornered if they declare a genre, like they have to stay within the confines of that style. Do you feel this way? Or are you just sort of riding the wave to see where it takes you musically?
KK: I really have identified with this sort of genre agnostic thing that’s been accepted by both musicians and fans. Let’s just hear it for what it is. I think ultimately the goal is to become your own genre. I just really identify with that idea because that’s always how I’ve felt. I’ve never really understood why there were kids in high school that said, “Well, I listen to this music and not that music.” And I was like, “Oh man, you’re really missing out.” And I think a lot of people are rejecting that idea. People don’t have to listen to one style of music or label anything anymore.
OT: How have your fans and live audiences reacted to Glow?
KK: The response has been incredible. People are really freaking out about this album that I’ve done and I couldn’t be more excited about that.
OT: Have you been playing the album in its entirety on tour this fall or do you mix in older songs? Do you add in any vocals or do you keep your shows strictly instrumental to tie in with the new album?
KK: I play more than half of [the record] and that’s great because I’m not able to provide all of the extra instrumentation. These songs exist very much on their own and nothing is left out when I play them live because they’re very beautiful, very challenging idiosyncratic guitar songs and that’s what I’ve always done best. I sing a little bit and I do some older material. I try to give the people what they want.
OT: After 2010’s Junior, it sounds like you needed to step outside of yourself a little bit to remember why you loved making music and decide if you wanted to continue pursuing it full-time. Has Glow helped you gain any perspective about your future in the music industry?
KK: It’s tough, you know? I’m amazingly lucky to go out and tour as a solo musician. I mean, it’s not an easy life. I just got married. I’m not with my wife right now and it’s certainly not ideal but I love what I do and I suck at everything else [laughs]. I’m completely unemployable in any other field. I think music has chosen me. It’s not the other way around.
Kaki King’s November 16 performance will be at The Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; 202-803-2899; www.thehowardtheatre.com.