At the age of 13 I received my first musical instrument. I had decided I wanted to start with bass, mostly because I had several friends who played guitar and I knew that we needed to start building a rhythm section. We didn’t have the cash for formal lessons, indeed my bass itself was quite modest, so I decided to teach myself how to play. When I was in college, I decided it was time to invest in a guitar, as it was clear that I would never be part of a band. Transferring between instruments wasn’t fundamentally challenging, but incorporating bass techniques had some interesting results. My real interest in alternative playing techniques came when I was booking concerts for my university, and I was able to interact with a number of talented guitar players. My friend Jordan suggested I watch the following video, and it changed my philosophy toward music forever:
After seeing Kaki King’s video for “Playing with Pink Noise,” I went on a spree, picking up her current albums and tracking down every live performance I could find. I spent hours studying her percussive style, trying to emulate it, and experimenting with alternate tunings. Her debut album, Everybody Loves You, was nothing short of revolutionary. While she was certainly not the first to incorporate fanning, tapping, or even using the guitar as a percussive device, she is still a pioneer in musical expression. The ways in which she blends these styles into a cohesive musical narrative is mind-blowing. The album incorporates rhythms reminiscent of jazz and blues classics, while maintaining an acoustic purity that is absolutely sublime.
While trying to get friends to listen to the album, I came across the constant criticism that the album “just sounds like noise.” I came to understand where this came from, as there is a quality of her playing style that can only be appreciated when one is familiarized with the challenges of guitar playing, and the wide array of techniques and history behind it. King herself seems aware of this perspective, as her intense style is offset in the album by more traditional sounding riffs. She incorporates fun, poppy tracks that would certainly have garnered her a number of tapping feet during her days in the New York subways.
If you happen to make the time for Everybody Loves You, pay special attention to “Steamed Juicy Little Bun,” “Happy as a Dead Pig in the Sunshine,” and “Close your Eyes and you’ll Burst into Flames.” These stand out tracks are characteristic of her range, incorporating the intensity that she has become noted for, as well as providing some upbeat tones and tempos that will have you skipping as you walk, if you get caught up in the moment. Unquestionably, her particular style and the sheer rawness of her debut album are not attractive to every listener, but with her recent acclaim, it is most certainly worth the effort to listen to her earliest works.