Whether she’s incorporating both lights and sounds into her performances, creating songs for the movie Into the Wild, or getting props from Rolling Stone, Kaki King has made her mark as a guitarist. By integrating innovative techniques and one-of-a-kind instruments into her solo acoustic guitar work, she has created her own unorthodox approach to composing and playing.
Kaki first started playing guitar when she was four years old. “It was just part of growing up. I took classical guitar lessons and I played with my Dad,” she said. “I don’t really have a memory of not knowing how to play guitar.” Along the way, she’s also taken in inspiration from many different performers, especially Bjork and PJ Harvey.
“I still point to those two women as being profoundly influential as musicians,” she said. “Nothing else was required. The costuming, the characterizations—all of that was extra.”
Kaki has released nine albums over the past 14 years, collaborating with the likes of Eddie Vedder, the Foo Fighters, The Roots, and The Mountain Goats and presenting work at the Kennedy Center, MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This summer, she makes her Bandshell debut, which as a Brooklynite for 17 years, is especially exciting. “When I see the lineup, I’m always like, ‘Oh it’s great!’” she said. “I’m honored and it really is a special event that is so beloved by Brooklyn and I’m thrilled to be doing it.”
Kaki also works as a multimedia artist, notably on the 2014 project that premiered at BRIC: The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body. In this piece, everything revolves around a projection-mapped guitar, where there is light mapped to project on the exact contoured surface of her guitar, and then there is a separate projection on a screen behind her. “I’m in between these two big pieces of light and I take a supporting role,” she explained.
While Kaki is currently developing that show into a full theatrical production, she has also expanded her work into producing as well. Her friend and collaborator Treya Lam will join her on the Bandshell stage, shortly after her debut album, Good News, comes out on Kaki’s record label in early June. They will be opening for a screening of the classic anime film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on Saturday, July 28, and Kaki said they are planning a performance that will relate to the film in some way.
In addition, Kaki will also be playing some of the unique guitars from her personal collection during her concert at the Bandshell. As part of building her studio, she has been curating an assortment of guitars tailored specifically for her, including commissioning specific instruments and finding pieces that are ideal to write on as well as perform with.
“A high-strung, 12-string is one of my favorites,” she said. “A guitar where I permanently install a strange-sounding pickup so it makes certain overtones. I look at these guitars as compositional tools; they are not sound effects. They have the ability to have a very extended lifespan from a compositional aspect. That’s what I go for.”