KING: Heartwarming Soul From Bizarrely Nonsuperficial L.A. Trio
With only a three-song EP under their belt, soul trio KING somehow went from unknown to Twitter-almost-famous one evening in early March. The originator of the buzz seemed to be Phonte Coleman, an influential rapper/singer/talent arbiter. "#FISHGREASE," he exclaimed, tweeting about the group's just-released The Story EP. As in ... boiling, sizzling hot.
Before long the Roots' drummer Questlove co-signed them — as would Erykah Badu — and by the end of the night KING had tripled their following. Their snowballing online buzz somehow got the attention of Prince, who, three months later, had the local threesome open for him at the Forum before 17,000 people.
That's crazy. But what's most odd about all of this is that KING is hardly motivated by fame and wealth at all. Their story keeps going back, weirdly, to their music.
The women of KING beam so brightly they almost glitter. Anita Bias, who is 22, and twins Amber and Paris Strother, 25, defy Naomi Wolf's notion that women are positioned to be competitors. This is a one-for-all effort, and they smile as if it's the only shape their mouths can make.
Meeting up at a Silver Lake coffee shop, Anita, the most reserved of the three, is dressed simply in jeans and a T-shirt. Paris has a polished appearance and tight, shiny curls. Wearing skinny dreadlocks, Amber radiates an earthy, new age vibe.
They all share a beguilingly positive outlook on life, as evidenced by Amber's doodling. Into the lingering foam along the rim of her near-empty coffee cup, she etches, "I [heart] U" with her spoon.
None of them can believe how quickly so many boldface names have coalesced around them; in fact, Badu asked to meet the act when she was in Hollywood recently. (She gave off a "big sister vibe," Paris says.)
But when you unwrap The Story, it's no surprise the soul community has flocked to them. On their EP, which they made in the twins' bedroom, their sound shimmers and undulates, like how water must feel when sunlight spills into it. Their delicate instrumentation — soaring synths, drums that pitter-pat lightly — weaves together with the vocals so well that extracting the individual threads seems impossible.
The EP's standout song, "Supernatural," is lushly layered; Paris' jazz-accented track opens with Anita and Amber's a capella harmonies. On "Hey," Anita and Paris' lyrics go beyond love's first flush. "Happily after only happens in fairy tales, daydreams are never/But I wished hard on the stars, now here you are shinin' through the sky, light in my dark/Even stars burn out but you held a spark."
Their compositions are subtly intellectual. "While it seems simple, it's a lot more complex than it lets on," Coleman says.
In addition to her production duties, Paris also plays most of the instruments, but none of the members really outshines the others. It's a big part of their appeal, and it makes one expect big things from them.
Coleman recalls: "When I first heard them, I thought, 'Why are you not rich? Why are you not bigger than you are?' "
To be honest, such considerations don't even seem to be on their minds. What's been great about watching their renown spread, Amber says, is simply seeing the delight of her cohorts. "All I wanna do with KING is make Paris and Anita happy, and express the joy that we have working together."
Call KING the anti-Dreamgirls. No internal drama (apparently) and no industry machine, just a whole lotta love. In fact, the word "love" is almost always on their tongues. All three of the EP's tracks are love songs, and they constantly reference the word in conversation.
"Love is our main focus," Anita says. Adds Paris: "People ask, 'How are you so positive?' We don't really know any other way to be."
Coleman starts laughing. "Let them get inside the game a little while. I remember being that way before this shit ripped my heart out and made me colder than a motherfucker."
The twins grew up in Minneapolis and now live in Studio City. Paris started playing piano at age 2 and was taking lessons shortly thereafter. Amber, on the other hand, has only been singing publicly for a year. Before that, she was so shy that if her parents walked by her bedroom while she was practicing her vocals, she would stop.
Anita, a singer-songwriter from Compton, briefly met Paris at a recital while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 2008, Paris moved to L.A. on a whim, and one day she participated in a jam session at the now-closed jazz bar Cozy's in Sherman Oaks. Anita walked in.
"She said, 'Do you remember me?' I told her, 'I could never forget your voice,' " Paris recalls. The pair began writing music together and, in 2009, Amber visited from Minneapolis and really never left. "I met Anita and it was an instant bond. I moved out here within a week."
They began working on the three-song EP in 2010, strumming out songs on guitar and improvising lyrics. With no management and no promotion, the girls believed that simply making music for music's sake would be enough.
Still, interest from the industry followed the Twitter shout-outs, and A&R types wanted to alter quite a bit about them. They were told to change their images to fit the girl group mold (a "sexy" member, a "sporty" one). They were told they had too many chord changes. They were even told to feminize their name. "We always thought of ourselves as in charge of our own musical kingdom," Paris says by way of explanation for their moniker.
"One guy said of our music, 'It sounds like a woman made it,' " Paris says, strangely unperturbed by the memory.
Their tracks were sufficiently compelling for Prince, in any case; he emailed them after hearing them online and invited them to open for the last show of his 21 Night Stand at the Forum. Perhaps naively figuring they were well on their way, they all promptly quit their day jobs.
The concert was a predictably unbelievable experience, and since then their desire to maintain their integrity has only grown more firm. Paris decries those who would alter their sound, "instead of making stuff out of love and what's really in their hearts.
"That's why I decided to shut everybody else out except my sisters," she concludes.
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