When you can do something as well as Kaki King can play a guitar, there's just no telling where it might take you. She's been doing it for a while and she's widely admired for the way that she does, but it's even more impressive when you realize just how many different ways Kaki King can play a guitar. She can be mesmerizing and precise, all by herself, on a pure and unprocessed acoustic. But she can also drive a band, and drive it hard, with delay and distortion and who knows what else all over her dream-woven electric. In a series of fan-favorite albums over twelve or so years, she's never stopped discovering new ways to discover the guitar.
With her latest album, she's found yet another new way to do what she always seems to do -- to find great music in a guitar and play it like very, very few people can. This time, though, there's something else. Her latest album isn't just an album, it's also a carefully imagined multimedia performance. In The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, King makes her way calmly through eleven tracks of showcase quality composition, but for those who see her perform it live, there's even more. On stage, all of it is framed in additional new dimensions of light, projection and picture.
For a musician whose music has always been so complete in itself, that might sound like something of a departure, but it's not. Although she's doing some things she's never done before, you still couldn't call this an artistic departure. She's always been so imaginative, and so unwilling to do only what she's already done, that to find her finding something new isn't really that surprising.
Still, you could probably call it a departure in a different sense of the word. If you think about that really big board they have at the airport, the one where they list all the departures and all the arrivals, you could say it's like that kind of departure. Kaki King is off on an adventure -- as soon as she began putting The Neck is a Bridge to the Body together she was off to parts unknown. You could just as easily call it an arrival though, because what Kaki King went off to discover is very much what she brought back home.
"I had this idea in my head to write a projection mapped guitar show," King explains, "and then I would write music." She began by putting together simple demos of each of the songs for the project, with the idea that the music would just be King on her acoustic guitar. "I would send that to the collaborators, and then they would send stuff back to me," she recalls, "sometimes just internet photos, like do you like A or B, or which look are you trying to go for more?"
It didn't just involve refining the imagery, though, it changed the music and how she thought about it. Eventually, the whole story, musical and visual, became one inseparable adventure. "Because I had this new imagery coming at me," King says, "I would write music to fit that, I would shape the music I had already written to fit in more."
It led to new challenges. Like anyone out exploring the Great Changing Unknown, King found that new discoveries need new approaches, that what you always used to do may need to change. "For me, the biggest change was that in the past, if I had been playing electric guitar with a band, I would add a lot of effects, and I would have a lot of pedals," she says. When she played her acoustic though, it was very different. "If I was playing acoustic guitar, there would be no frills, almost like a martial artist trying to perform at their most concentrated, peak performance. It was like the acoustic was sacred."
It was an approach that served her well on her many crystal-clear acoustic tracks, and in her widely respected solo performances, but she found that it was something that would have to change if she were going to find her way through this new world of colors and images. "Again, it was that the visuals were speaking to me," she says. "They were saying you're not going to be able to pull this off with just one guitar and no other sounds, you really need to let go of that." So that's exactly what she did, and that's what you hear (and see) for the first time in The Neck is a Bridge to the Body.
"I decided to put together a brand new pedal board, with lots of different effects," she recalls. The musical impact of that decision was multidimensional. It allowed King to fill a set with music as rich and textured as the projected images that fill the stage. It also allowed her to craft an album that, quite remarkably, plays just as completely without its multimedia portion.
Maybe that's why the end of Kaki King's adventure seems so much like a beginning. She may have found a whole new world of light, shape and color, not just to accompany the music but to actually become part of it, but it's still very much what it began as. It never stopped being music, even though now it's music in new dimensions.
The Neck is a Bridge to the Body is a riveting live show, but it's also an album that begins and changes and develops and completes itself as only exceptional albums can. "The reason that it feels like there's a beginning, a middle, an end, a journey" King explains, "is because I wrote a script. The guitar goes on a journey, and all the pieces are about a guitar, or music, or something emerging, learning about itself."
It just goes to show that when you can do something as well as Kaki King can play a guitar, there's just no telling where it all could lead. So where does The Neck is a Bridge to the Body lead to? "By the time you're at the end, you've gone through so many different sounds and ideas and emotions and feelings," she says, "that the end feels like a very final, serene ending." That's true, but once you get an idea of how creatively Kaki King can discover new music, that still sounds like it might be just the beginning.
Kaki King will be at The Jazz Cafe in London on November 18