Kaki King Dreams of Melody, 'Revenge' Rock stars have been known to try crazy things with a guitar. Kaki King doesn't light hers on fire, but she does pick the string of the guitar with both hands, while slapping the body in time. On her new CD, Dreaming of Revenge, she displays a new melodic sensibility with her own voice.
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Kaki King Dreams of Melody, 'Revenge'

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Kaki King Dreams of Melody, 'Revenge'

Kaki King Dreams of Melody, 'Revenge'

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This is musician Kaki King. She's playing her guitar in our studio. She plucks the strings with both hands while slapping the body of the guitar, all in a perfectly times choreography. You kind of have to see it to believe it.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Rolling Stone put Kaki King on its list of guitar gods. She's joined here by her band mate, Dan Brannigan, on synthesizer.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Kaki King's fourth album is just out. It's called "Dreaming of Revenge." She joined us in the studio to talk about, guitar in hand, and later on she'll even sing a little for us. She started off with this instrumental:

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: That's "Bone Chaos in the Castle." It's the first track on the new album, "Dreaming of Revenge" by guitarist Kaki King. Thank you for joining us here in the studio.

Ms. KAKI KING (Artist): Thank you for having me.

SEABROOK: And Dan Brannigan is hear as well playing something.

Mr. DAN BRANNIGAN (Artist): Breath-controlled analog synthesizer.

SEABROOK: Which means a stick that plays like a trumpet.

Mr. BRANNIGAN: It's - that's exactly right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Well, you know, something that occurs to me as I watch you play that song here in the studio is that at no point, Kaki King, do you touch the strings in a way that a normal guitar player touches the strings. You slap them, you hit the body, your style is so incredibly percussive. But I wonder how you write a song when there isn't a melody that you start with.

Ms. KING: Ah.

SEABROOK: What do you start with when you write a song?

Ms. KING: Well, I am a chord person, or I am a person that thinks in terms of progressions, chordal progressions. And in doing this latest record, I was forced into becoming a melodist by my producer because he kept saying what you're doing is really interesting. Where is the melody?

So I actually in this song...

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KING: ...so that's actually a melody.

(Soundbite of humming)

Ms. KING: We picked it out of what I was doing within all this sort of craziness. And so starting to write a song I am actually - melody is kind of the last thing that I do really. And in doing this last record everything was fully written - all the guitar parts - and then all the melodies were written in the studio.

SEABROOK: Let's hear a little bit from the album. Let's play the song "Air and Kilometers."

(Soundbite of song, "Air and Kilometers")

SEABROOK: This - I want to ask you what this sound is. It sounds like you're playing a fork.

Ms. KING: I am.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: I'm playing a spatula that is - it has grooves in the middle so, yeah, I'm playing it with a spoon so I'm playing a spatula with a metal spoon.


Ms. KING: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Wow. I'm so proud of myself for having gotten that right. I was, like...

Ms. KING: Yeah.

SEABROOK: ...she's going to think I'm an idiot.

Ms. KING: No.

SEABROOK: It sounds like a fork.

Ms. KING: It's a giant fork played with a spoon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I want to play another track. It's called "Montréal."

(Soundbite of song, "Montréal")

SEABROOK: It's got this meditative feel to it.

Ms. KING: And then the drums kick in.

SEABROOK: And then the drums kick in.

(Soundbite of song, "Montréal")

SEABROOK: I read that your first love is drums.

Ms. KING: My first unrequited love, yes, is drums. That's actually me playing drums.

SEABROOK: I was going to ask that. That was my question.

Ms. KING: Yeah. It's interesting. I think I always wanted to be a better drummer than I was a guitar player but I always was better at guitar.

SEABROOK: Why? What does it tell you?

Ms. KING: No clue. I have no idea. I think I just, because I never really practiced guitar too much, then I became just better at it and things came more naturally. But I really, really tried at drums. And honestly I'm a pretty competent pop drummer but I can't really go much further than that.

SEABROOK: You know, from watching your guitar playing I would guess that it's an unrequited a love, the drums, but you never broke up with them.

Ms. KING: No. We're still, I call them up every now and then, reminisce about how it could have been.

SEABROOK: Yet you've been on Rolling Stone magazine's guitar gods list.

Ms. KING: I don't care. I wanted to be on their drum gods list.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I mean, it seems like there's so much about your guitar playing that is drawn from the drums.

Ms. KING: Yes, but deceptively so. I think that for many, many years I was asked this question and people would say, oh, you use your guitar like a bongo and therefore you are obviously a drummer. But really what makes sense to me is when you're learning drums, you have to become ambidextrous. And the instinct is to hit things at the same time. You know, playing the high hat and the snare and the kick drum. And all four limbs have to become independent of each other.

So I realized that, yes, it's true. While drums have influenced my "percussion guitar play," it's really became my left hand can do something by itself and my right hand can do something else. I mean, a lot of guitar players would, you know, fret a chord and strum it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KING: That's a horrible sound because I'm not in the right tuning. And so the right and left hand are working simultaneously. But just because my failed attempt at becoming the greatest rock drummer ever. My left hand can sit here and do a little bass line and then my...

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KING: ...my right hand can do something else. That is how I became the guitar player that I am. Not just because, yes, there's a little bit of tapping here and there. But it's more that, you know, right and left hand are separated.

SEABROOK: Your earliest albums were almost all instrumental. Your albums sort of step into the voice. Getting back to this melodic idea. How did you work on finding your voice?

Ms. KING: Well, for the last record until I felt (unintelligible), I knew I wanted to do something very different in a lot of ways, which I did. And one of those is I thought, you know, I've written these songs, I should sing them. But I had this super infatuation with shoe gazing music, like really ethereal sounding vocals with lots and lots of delay and reverbage. I was sort of enamored by that.

And on this record I started to just sing in, you know, what my singing voice is.

SEABROOK: Your song seemed to sort of exist in this space between major and minor, between happy and sad.

Ms. KING: Yeah, melancholy. That's what that's called.

SEABROOK: Yeah. It reminds me of - you're going to hate this - Morrissey.

Ms. KING: I love Morrissey and that's the greatest thing you could've possibly said.

SEABROOK: Oh, good.

Ms. KING: I'm a humongous fan.

SEABROOK: Oh, good.

Ms. KING: And in fact, life what it is, we all do have revenge, is a quote from Gougan(ph). But the reason that I use it in the song and titled the record and, you know, is because it reminded me of something that Morrissey would sing.

SEABROOK: Would you play it for us?

Ms. KING: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Guitarist, songwriter, musician, Kaki King. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. KING: Thank you so much for joining me.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KING: (Singing) He put a note in my pocket, said be good to yourself, that was all...

SEABROOK: Guitarist Kaki King and trumpet player Dan Brannigan are on tour right now with the Foo Fighters. They just finished up in Australia. They're on their way to New Zealand. Kaki King's new album is called "Dreaming of Revenge." Our studio session and so much more are at NPR.org/Music.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KING: (Singing) ...life being what it is, we all dream of revenge. Open your eyes for a second, just roll them at me. I stare straight into the sun, don't think you (unintelligible). If you turn it on you'd find I'd written you a thousand signs. You would do anything, you'd give up everything for God knows why, I just can't stay 'til you're gone, I won't wish you well, I won't see you off, I won't try to call if I see you in my mind. I'll say to you it's not your fault.

You said I'll see you in September but that's not long enough for me. You put a note in my pocket, read to take care of me, but was all.

SEABROOK: Kaki King here in NPR Studio. The song is "Life Being What It Is."

Parting words tonight come from another great guitarist - the legendary Andres Segovia. He said the guitar is a small orchestra. It is polyphonic. Every string is a different color, a different voice.

Segovia also said listening to the guitar is like listening to a small mysterious orchestra as if one were hearing through the wrong end of the binoculars.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. May the force be with you.

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