faders—and every one is different. So if I
want to hear a little more guitar 30 seconds
into the song, he has to reconstruct an
entire mix. It’s a dangerous game, so I have
to live with some things I might prefer to
hear a bit differently.
Describe how you wrote the songs for
It was a bit unusual, in that I wrote almost all
the lyrics and many of the vocal melodies in
the studio after we’d laid down the rhythm
tracks as a trio. We came in with grooves and
arrangements, which had evolved from ideas
I’d brought to the band, but the songs themselves took shape as Malcolm and I worked
on them after tracking with the trio. Every
night, he’d give me a mix of what we’d done
musically—a little compilation of soundtracks,
basically. I’d take them home, stay up late
and write lyrics, and then try them out during
one of the next vocal sessions. Some people
keep notebooks full of potential lyrics, but I
never found that to be very helpful, though I
do keep a journal. Occasionally, when something brilliant comes out of someone’s mouth
or I hear something I want to remember, I’ll
jot it down. But for the most part, I prefer to
react spontaneously to the music we’ve just
recorded. Sometimes Malcolm would set up
a mic and I’d sing some lyric fragments, and
we’d develop the ideas right there.
Open and altered tunings have played a
central role in your previous records. Was
this also true of Junior?
Every song except “Sunnyside” was in an
open tuning of some sort.
Were these favorite tunings you’ve used
before or were they discoveries you made
while writing for this album?
Some are favorites, but often I’ll think, “Let’s
see what happens if I lower this string here
and raise that one there.” I often find my
hands can get locked into formations they’re
familiar with. When you tune your guitar differently, all of a sudden your fingers and your
mind have to be creative again because you’re
not relying on shapes and places that sound
good or feel familiar. You have to explore the
fretboard to find new fingerings and sounds,
and that leads to new discoveries.
How do you keep track of your tunings?
Now that I’m playing with a band and everybody has to be in tune with each other, I
actually have a guitar tech, Anna Morsett, and
she does all my tunings for me [laughs]. If you
want to know what they are, you’ll have to
ask her. [See “Charting Kaki King’s Tunings”
on p. 129.] It’s especially important when
we’re switching tunings from song to song. If I
retune the same guitar to something radically
different onstage, I can just feel the audience energy start to taper off and off and off.
When Anna hands me a guitar that’s already
tuned up, we can keep the momentum of our
performance. It’s a big improvement.
How many guitars does it take to stay on
top of all your tunings?
Right now we’re doing a two-hour show and,
not counting the lap steel, I use four guitars.
Do you use more than four tunings? Does
Anna retune some of those guitars while
Oh yeah—I use lots more than four tunings.
Probably ten per show.
Are you playing your Hamer
I do have some Newports, but because I needed
something with a little more oomph, I bought
a 1972 Fender Telecaster Deluxe for playing on
the road with the band. It’s really great for what
we’re doing. I run it through a Fender Bassman.
Do you use the Bassman just for your Tele
or for all your guitars?
For everything except my Adamas acoustic,
which goes directly into the house system.
Has your signature model 1581-KK Adamas
changed or evolved since it was introduced?
I think we changed the bridge wood, but
other than little cosmetic things, nothing
major. I usually carry several on the road, but
because I’m playing more electric guitar right
now, I just bring one with me.
Tell us about your pedals.
My pedalboard is always in a state of flux,
but currently I’m using an Ernie Ball volume
pedal for swells and a simple Boss DD- 3
for delay. I also have a Boss TR- 2 Tremolo
pedal and a Boss OC- 3 Super Octave pedal,
and a Fulltone OCD distortion pedal. For
weird sounds, I’ll sometimes use my Electro-Harmonix Harmonic Octave Generator.
You have amazingly long fingernails. What’s
the story there?
Like many guitarists, I go to a nail salon and
get acrylic overlays on my fingernails. The difference is I get them really thick. Thick nails
sound different—it’s like a thin flatpick versus
a thick one. If the acrylic nail is too thin, it
sounds funny. I shape the acrylic overlays
myself, flattening out the bottom surface. I
grow my thumbnail out because when I pluck
a string, my thumb is almost parallel to it. The
angle requires a long nail to catch the string.
That’s an acrylic overlay on my thumbnail, too.
Who are you currently listening to for
I’m listening to a lot of Brazilian music:
Bebel Gilberto, Virginia Rodrigues, and Rosa
Passos. I know it’s not really apparent in my
own music, but it’s something I like.
What’s next for Kaki King?
I’ve been on the road for four months
straight. In another three weeks, we’ll be
done with this tour. Honestly, that’s about as
far as I can see.