The Rock: Karl Denson


Karl Denson is a San Diego staple. The musician and (reluctant) singer has made America’s Finest City his home for two decades now, and he’s contributed to a wide variance of stellar musical projects for the entirety of it.

He brought boogaloo back with The Greyboy Allstars and helped Lenny Kravitz Let Love Rule. He’s joined forces with fellow San Diegans Switchfoot and Slightly Stoopid, and for the last few years, been the touring saxophonist for The Rolling Stones.

Through it all, Denson also has worked diligently to make his namesake outfit, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, into one of the very best live bands. Period.

And now, alongside DJ Williams (guitar), Chris Stillwell (bass), Zak Najor (drums), David Veith (keys), Chris Littlefield (trumpet), and Seth Freeman (slide & lap steel), KDTU is set to release a new album and tackle an ambitious tour in 2018.

Denson’s band closed 2017 with a New Year’s Eve show opening for My Morning Jacket in Denver. PACIFIC recently spoke with him from his San Diego home before the tour picks back up at the Belly Up on Friday night.

PACIFIC: Pretty sizeable tour this time.

KARL DENSON: It is, actually.

And you guys have a studio album coming…

Yes. It’s still being worked on. But we are very close to being done. I’m going into the studio next week with a vocal producer to get the background vocals done and also work on mine. After that, all we’ll have is a couple of horn things and then it’ll be done. We’re talking to an engineer right now about mixing it, so we’re probably looking at sometime in the spring to drop it.

Four years in the making. Must feel good to get this one out.

Yeah! Finally. I make records really slowly. But I feel with this record that I’m learning a lot. I’m learning both about my band and about writing songs. And I’m really looking forward to working with this vocal producer and getting some more knowledge about my craft. Writing vocals has always been a pain in the ass. It’s definitely not my natural bend. But taking it on is something I need to learn to do and this record is definitely getting me closer to understanding the overall scope of it.

Is the live band the same one that’s on the new record?

Yes. And we really are a live band. So whenever a record comes out, it’s generally going to be a document of what I’m doing at that moment. And this record is definitely a document of what’s going on with this band right now — where we want to go, and what I want to do musically.

Things still going strong with Greyboy Allstars? Slightly Stoopid? Rolling Stones?

Pretty much. I haven’t played Slightly Stoopid dates in a couple of years because I’ve just been so busy. But the Greyboy Allstars are just about done with a new record and the Stones are going out this summer again.

Does KDTU mean something more because it’s your namesake project?

For sure. This is my main focus. This is what I put all of my time and energy into. The Greyboy Allstars is one of my favorite things to do, in terms of just playing saxophone, but we only play 20 shows a year. It’s super easy and those guys are super fun to play with. But my band is really where my intellectual focus is. And playing with the Stones is like… periodic vacations.

Do you have any projects outside of music?

No. This is what I do. But a friend and I are working on a sci-fi movie script.

If it got made, would you want to do the score for it as well?

Probably not. I worked on a couple of them with the Allstars and that’s what Mike (Greyboy Allstars’ guitarist Elgin Park) does for a living. It’s definitely a skillset I don’t have. I could do it very slowly, maybe on a John Carpenter-style. But I probably wouldn’t (laughs).

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe w/ Organ Freeman

When: 9 p.m. Jan. 12

Where: Belly Up, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach

Cost: $25