Guitarist Kaki King has packed a lot into her nearly 15-year career. The musician and composer has released eight full-length albums, toured with Foo Fighters, contributed to film and TV soundtracks, and performed at Carnegie Hall.
But the artist Rolling Stone once called a “guitar god” struck a new kind of creative gold in 2014 when she partnered with visual performance company Glowing Pictures (Beastie Boys, David Bowie, Tiësto) on a multimedia production.
Both the name of her now long-running show and the 2015 accompanying soundtrack album, The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, has proved to be a turning point for the instrumental artist.
The constantly evolving multimedia performance uses projection mapping onto an opaque guitar, King is in costume, and another, bigger screen sits behind her.
Sometimes the images on the guitar are at odds with the ones on the screen, and sometimes they dovetail. But it is all carefully orchestrated so that the music, images, King - all of it - works in conjunction with one another.
The show has not only helped to redefine King’s longstanding role as a solo guitarist, but it has inspired and infiltrated her creativity moving forward.
While she recently released a new album - recorded live at Berklee College of Music with an orchestra - The Neck has inspired the renowned instrumentalist to push the visual component of her work even farther.
PACIFIC recently spoke with King from her home in Brooklyn ahead of the guitarist’s sold-out performance at Carlsbad’s Museum of Making Music on Saturday.
PACIFIC: You played the Belly Up a lot in the early 2000s. Do you have any memories of that time?
Kaki King: Yes! I opened up for so many people at the Belly Up. I opened for Los Lobos, Keb’ Mo’ and pretty much every jam band that ever existed. And then I would stay down the road in Encinitas. I’d go to Swami’s in the morning - they have the one smoothie in the universe I like. And I hate smoothies. But they make the best one. Like, if I’m on I-5 and I’m going anywhere past that strip, I will be at Swami’s getting that smoothie (laughs). I probably played there 20 times.
Has The Neck is a Bridge to the Body changed your creative process?
The Neck started as a music show with projection-mapped guitar. It has become a multi-media performance art piece. Not exactly, but it’s changed enough where it’s now mainly performed in theaters where we can be really specific with the lighting, and the little touches really come out - the costuming, my ability to silently interact with the audience, the crowd and the guitar.
Moving forward, it’s really given me a lot of confidence that what comes next doesn’t have to be another guitar-based album and tour. I feel like I’ve really opened the door for myself to do anything. But I’ll never stray all that far from the guitar (laughs). That’s my comfort zone, the thing that I love, and the thing that I do the best.
But yes, it has absolutely burst open the world of possibilities for me in terms of making more theatrical and performance-based work. And I feel so lucky to have discovered it when I did in my career. I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for so long, I feel like I was in danger of becoming a nostalgia act. I’m still a young man! And to feel like I can do anything, or try anything, at least, is wonderfully refreshing.
You released a new live album. Is that the yin to the yang of The Neck?
That came from Berklee College of Music. So when they call to say they want to do an album with you, they want to pay for it, they want to use their students, they want to provide all of these things - you don’t turn that down.
And really, it was the perfect project for me at that time. It was also hugely challenging. It was also something I had never done before. So even though it didn’t exactly seem like a further trajectory of The Neck, it was new, difficult, and, in my mind, the same kind of thing.
You have a guitar named after you. That seems like it’d be a made-it moment.
There is no made-it moment. There just isn’t - especially for someone with my temperament. I can tell you solemnly faced that I’ve never done anything I wanted to do. And that’s because it’s not the next thing. It’s not the next project. It’s not the next skill set.
For me, it’s as if the past ceases to exist. I can never comfortably rest on my laurels. And that comes from thinking that it means the end. Safe. Comfortable. Mainly, I’m totally unsatisfied. You can say that flat out as a person. I have a wonderful life. I have a wonderful family. I have friends that love me. I have everything you could ever want. But I’m still a foaming-at-the-mouth dissatisfied person. I’m just so anxious to always do the next interesting thing.
I remember Laurie Anderson speaking about how she told Lou Reed before he died that she was so sad she had never learned German. I mean, it’s Laurie Anderson! She was distraught. And I get that. I will probably never learn German. And it destroys me (laughs). There is no made-it moment. And I’m glad that there isn’t.
What can you tell me about the Guitars & Things with Kaki King videos online (available on King’s YouTube page)?
That was born from people asking me for years to do master classes or some kind of teaching component to the shows. At first, this terrified me. I thought ‘I can’t teach.’ And I thought ‘this is where guitarists go to die.’ And that is completely, absolutely, one-hundred-percent false.
It is so unbelievably gratifying. And it is such an incredible way to examine what you do. I have learned more about how it is that I work, and what it is I’m doing, and the connection between songs - even two that sound nothing alike - through teaching. It’s been amazing. Being able to pass it on is so important. The knowledge is kind of pointless if it’s kept just inside me. Guitars and Things was a way for me to try and spread that knowledge around.
I’m also working on an instructional book as we speak. I just think it’s so important to be a teacher or educator in some way - because I had that. I’ve had little snippets of information given to me all along the way.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a new multi-media show. To me, it’s very compelling. I have a collaborator and it’s in the early stages. I know I’m being vague.
But I think The Neck was an experiment. And if I had more advance knowledge and a lot more time, it would’ve come out quite differently. It’s beautiful and has evolved into a show I’m extremely proud of. But it could definitely go a lot further. And that’s what I want to do. We shall see.
7 p.m. Oct. 21, Museum of Making Music, 5790 Armada Dr., Carlsbad
Sold out, museumofmakingmusic.org