Interview by Joyce Peters
Reprinted courtesy of Taconic Press
I caught up with the “feisty, five-foot, funny” guitarist Kaki King by phone recently to discuss her music, stamina, and Conan O’Brien.
JP: Do the adjectives “edgy” and “unorthodox” ring true as descriptions for you?
KK: Yes, it feels good. All the music I’ve every really enjoyed shared those adjectives. I like to make people jump out of their skin and show them something new.
JP: Besides, acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, and drums, what instrument do you want to explore next?
KK: The accordion. I like the sound of that.
JP: Have you considered writing for film?
KK: Oh, yeah. I’d rather do a student film that’s really cool. I’d like to do something really crazy & interesting than compete with the commercial film scores.
JP: Who do you consider to be an underrated guitarist?
KK: Alex de Grassi never got the credit he deserved. Sometimes it’s weird, you can be a really good guitar player and you have to scream to get noticed. That can be hard for some people. Shawn Colvin is a great guitar player.
JP: Do words or images come to mind as you write music?
KK: No, just emotions. Music is a language of emotions. It connects with people in a more irrational level. That¹s what emotions are. That’s where I’m coming from when I¹m writing. I like the music to make me feel something.
JP: You described the experience of performing in the subways as giving you stamina. Now that you’re playing in less “rustic” surroundings, such as the Towne Crier Cafe and the Late Night with Conan O’Brien studio, how do you get your stamina?
KK: When I started playing 45 minutes, it was crazy. I’d wear myself out with anticipation, nervous excitement, and fear. Your body learns it: how to travel, how to keep yourself together. It can take a lot out of you. An hour seems short now.
JP: What was it like performing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien? Conan strikes me as genuinely interested in music.
KK: He was cool. He knew I wasn’t coming on his show to become famous. He recognized that I wasn’t buying into that. He said you’re really doing what you want to do. He said there were a million ways I could have marketed myself… and he admired me for that.
JP: What are you most proud of?
KK: Hmmm… interesting question. The way I was able to become a full-time performer was through getting a job with The Blue Man Group — to make a little money and to have the freedom to travel. Someone who had known about me sent me an email about the audition. I thought, “This will be a laugh.” It was the first audition of the day and there were 20 or 30 people auditioning. I was 22 at the time and I got the job. I’m still proudest of this.
JP: What would surprise people to find out about you?
KK: I’m not sure — you can’t really surmise what a person is all about through a couple albums and some interviews. People come to the show expecting a nice quiet girl. I have an irreverent sense of humor.
JP: What do you want to happen now with your music?
KK: I want to keep writing really good music and not get distracted by everything that’s happening with me. I want to be honest. I’ll be 80 years old and totally forgotten and I’ll have these records. If I’m not proud and happy with what I’ve accomplished, what have I got?