Guitar Legend Kaki King Talks Being a Woman in Music

A great deal of noteworthy musicians consider American Kaki King to be the best guitar player in the world. Having released an extensive body of albums and musical projects, King has now evolved into a multimedia artist, incorporating lights and projections (among other elements) into performances for her latest piece of work, The Neck is a Bridge to the Body. We spoke to King about working as a multimedia artist, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and a personal sense of fashion that she likes to call “optimistic communist.” Check out our chat below.

Why did you decide to construct a multimedia show for The Neck is a Bridge to the Body?

I wanted to add a lighting element to my otherwise very bare stage setup so I began looking around at what was new in stage lighting.  This led to my discovery of projection mapping, and I wondered if it would be possible to projection map onto my guitar itself as I played it.  Once I saw the guitar lit up and glowing I knew that this would be a much bigger project than just a change in lighting design, and the rest of the show flowed from that point.  I also saw it as an opportunity to make a show that was as much about the guitar as it was about me.

What type of visuals do you play with and how did you choose them?

Film, animation, photo, generative video, etc.  Pretty much everything.  I chose visual themes based on the script I wrote for the show and developed them with collaborators.

Your artistic style has always been evolving. What did you bring to this album sonically that separates it from previous work? Y9uo

I wasn’t afraid to produce what is very much a soundtrack to the full visual show.  The record isn’t something that I would have made on its own.  In the past I usually haven’t added many effects to acoustic guitar, preferring to keep the acoustic somewhat pure, but this record has all kinds of elements that change the sound of the guitar into many many different ideas and concepts, all of which tie into the visual element of course.

Your style has also changed in terms of fashion.

I appear in white–with platinum white hair–because the guitar itself is also painted white.  The purpose is to show that neither I nor the guitar are totally in command at any given time.  There is a relationship that ties us together and the white serves to illustrate that.

How do you usually dress when you’re not on stage?

I like to call my personal style “optimistic communist.”   A lot of grey and dull green and comfortable shoes.  To each according to her need.

What was it like as a woman in music at the start of your career as opposed to now?

If you experienced sexism in the early 2000’s you might tell your friends or your manager or at most rant to an audience or a magazine about your experience.  Now you can direct the entire wrath of your social media following directly towards an individual or company or institution causing the problem.  There is a lot of anger out there, and there are a lot of trolls doing their very best to put that anger on a feedback loop.  I also think some platforms are better than others for reasonable discourse.  My point is, professional women are taking to task those who have harmed them or thwarted their mission, and this is a good thing.  This wasn’t around when I was being asked to deliver beer to the backstage because some tour manager of a band I was opening for assumed that being a woman at a venue meant I was either a girlfriend or a waitress.

What’s your favorite part of touring?

Food.  Yelp has changed everything.  I spend a lot of time on yelp planning my meals on tour.  And reading 1 star reviews. I love finding out what kind of human garbage had to deal with a slightly wobbly table or didn’t get their bacon fast enough and now wants to take down the restaurant.

It seems like it might be hard to go back to music without the visuals. Do you see yourself combining the two again in your next project? 

It will be easy to go back to music without visuals.  Songwriting can be done in a matter of hours or days if you have the need/desire/pressure.  Visual content can take weeks or months to develop and get right.  That said, I am sure that I’ll continue in the vein of combining music and visuals for as long as I have the patience.

Do you have a New Year’s resolution for 2016? 

Improve my Italian.  The language, that is.  All the Italians I know don’t need any improvement at the moment, but my ability to speak to them does.•

Follow Mathias Rosenzweig on Instagram. 

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