If you listen to NPR news shows, chances are good that you've already heard the music of Kaki King. Her rich, distinctive guitar playing is a favorite of the directors of our programs — certainly Morning Edition.
She gets her sound by playing the guitar in a unique and mesmerizing way. Rolling Stone has named her a "guitar god" and called her a "genre unto herself." When she plays, King says, "there's a lot of really strong flailing and strumming and beating."
It's a style she developed over years of practice: King is 33 and has been playing guitar since she was 4. In her early 20s, she started busking in the New York subway. Today, she tours worldwide, does soundtracks and has put out five albums. Her records have run the gamut from solo guitar to playing with a full band to singing. Her latest release is called Glow.
"I wanted to make a solo guitar record really badly again," she says. "But I really didn't hear that in my mind; I heard something more. So there's a lot of color in this record, a lot of added sound."
She teamed up with producer D. James Goodwin and went to a studio in Woodstock, N.Y., with solo guitar tracks that she'd already recorded. The two of them went after that colorful, added sound.
"We really spread it all out — we took all the instruments that we had at our disposal and just made them visibly present," she says. "So there's a Weissenborn guitar hanging out in that corner, and there's a piano here. I brought all my shakers and percussion things, so it was all really ready to go."
King says she was skeptical that she'd be able to get the sound she wanted without the guitar getting lost. But to her surprise, adding layers around the guitar often enhanced its presence.
"I'm really pleased with this record," she says. "There's a lot of magic and mystery in where your ear's going to take you. It's almost like exploring a house — you kind of peer into little bitty rooms. Your ear can just pick out all these little things, but it can also listen to it as a whole, and it's beautiful."