IN 2003, WITH Everybody Loves You, Kaki King was introduced as a force to be reckoned with in the world of finger-style guitar composition. This changed when ...Until We Felt Red was released in 2006, leaving fans to process the recorded debut of King's somewhat coy, girlish vocals, which accompanied her signature acoustic guitar flutterings (while she also dabbled in electric guitar on a few songs).
According to King, though, her lyrics and voice were always there; it was its quietus, in favor of traditional instrumental guitar, that proved the true challenge, and thus became a conscious undertaking. And once she felt she had accomplished what she set out to do—having contained her prowess on two successful records (Everybody and its 2004 successor, Legs to Make Us Longer)—King slipped back into her familiar songwriting habits. "Once I made those two records, I decided to do what I used to do when I was young and in bands; for instance, there's a song on my third album that I wrote when I was 15," says King.
Since then, King has waded deeper into experimental instrumentation, while continuing to explore her voice as a supreme tool of evocation. Epitomizing this is Junior, her most recent and courageous release, which is almost entirely electric and alternatively inspired. The album's repertoire ranges from post-punk reverie in "Spit it Back in My Mouth," the near-grunge rock rendition with the schizophrenic "Hallucinations from My Poisonous German Streets," until finally landing on a simple folk song, "Sunnyside," which features a particularly lovelorn and vulnerable King. Here, her desolate voice is accompanied by occasional sighs, and by the time she sings, "When you get the courage/You'll swim beyond the waves/And the stillness of the ocean/Will make all fear go away," you're already making your way to the coast.
And herein lies the axis of Junior, the point which everything revolves around. "The record's main victory, for me, was just seeing it through and trusting myself. I wanted to call it quits so many times and was in a bad headspace throughout the whole process that when it was finally done, it was a huge relief to not have given up on it all," explains King. This tortured sense is apparent throughout the record; it is not a project fueled by personal triumph, but rather, a body of work dealing with complicated emotions the best way a girl knows how—with words.
However, it is not recommended that you mention anything gender-related with Ms. King. This could have something to do with the fact that she is the only goddess on Rolling Stone's list of "guitar gods," and thus leaving her touted as the best female guitar player around. Understandably, this gets under her skin. When asked how she felt about such a title and its gender designation, she simply states, "I hate it and it's not true." Fair enough.
But alas, only time will tell what kind of impact Junior will have on King's continually developing music career. For now, King and her band are flying high on the positive response they've been receiving from fans on the road. "It's still pretty new in the US, but so far, everyone has really been relating to it. The response is better than I could have ever expected."