King to shoot for 10.0 with ‘guitar gymnastics’

Matt Peters

Kaki King’s apartment is so sparse she can only afford to use record albums as her carpet.

Credit: Matt Peters

Quick — what are some names you associate with guitar gymnastics?

While speed demons such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani come to mind, Kaki King might be the one who best fits this description.

That’s right, in a genre generally relegated to male egotism and an “I know you can, but I can faster” ethos, King is an up and coming force who does guitar gymnastics with an acoustic-instrumental flair. She is currently touring off her latest album Legs to Make us Longer, released in October, and will be playing at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland.

While the most visually stunning riffs King pulls off are tapping and percussively slapping the guitar, such as on her single “Playing with Pink Noise,” Legs to Make us Longer includes everything from pedal lap guitar to King playing four guitars tuned to different chords on the ethereal album opener “Frame.”

The video for “Playing with Pink Noise” — which is more impressive than any talk of her playing abilities could ever hope to be — is already starting to receive acclaim on an Internet message board near you.

Beyond all the vaulting and cartwheeling over the fret board, perhaps the most stunning fact about King is she’s signed to a major label, Epic’s Red Ink imprint.

“My A&R guy was just really into guitar players like Satriani and Steve Vai, and then he kind of heard about me and said ‘Oh, that’s right up my alley,’” King said.

By now, she’s already foregone the idea of fitting in. That might lead to an explanation of why her own Web site is divided into two sections: angel and devil.

“Maybe there is a little angel and a little devil in everything that everyone does,” King said. “A lot of people initially came away with this, ‘Oh, she plays acoustic guitar and she likes these old acoustic guitar players and how new age that is.’ Really that’s not me at all. I’m kind of a punk sometimes. Both of those sides are a part of who I am and what I put in my music.”

In just her mid-20s, King seems like she’s already had a lifetime of experience. She transplanted herself from Atlanta to New York City and attended college at New York University, eventually graduating with a humanities degree.

She’s also had stints in her performance career by playing a Chapman stick in Blue Man Group’s New York productions. The shows were a long way from her start playing in the city’s subways, which actually became quite profitable.

“If you’re making $20 to $25 cash then yeah, it is pretty profitable,” King said. “It really just depends on how long you can stay down there. If you can stand to do it six or seven hours a day, you can make a ton of money — and tax free, too.”

Now, King gets to enjoy clubs. She’s built part of her tour around residencies in New York and Philadelphia on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

King, who cites Bjork as a source of inspiration, believes great artists find ways to evolve.

Even though she’s managed to create illustrious acoustic instrumentals, it is hardly the end of the line for King. Her main challenge is to not repeat herself.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to play anything the normal way, but (I want to) move beyond what I’ve done,” King said.

“I never want to hear the same thing twice really,” she said. “I think the challenge is to always be different but always have a quality of goodness and uniqueness to your music. It’s a challenge, but one I look forward to.”

Contact Pop Arts correspondent Matt Peters at [email protected].