West Coast Sound: Kaki King on Timbaland, Playing Solo and Being Frightened by the Cure

Last week we got an intriguing e-mail from the wonderful guitarist/singer Kaki King’s people reminding us of her show in Redondo Beach last Sunday night. Part of the e-mail contained a funny little anecdote from Ms. King about her to-do list and tour:

Greetings, Comrades!


I’m looking at my desk and on it is a to-do list. It is the most amazing to-do list I may have ever written. And it didn’t even occur to me at the time I wrote it how incredible it is.

To do:

E-mail M. Cho re: lyrics

Confirm flight for Timbaland session

Text D. Grohl and apologize for not making his bday

OK, OK, OK. I know that was a hell of a lot of name-dropping, but that really is my list of things to do at the moment! Friends, fans, family — when those are your priorities, it is imperative that you have something that can ground you and remind you that you’re still the little underdog working musician you’ve always been. This is why I’m launching Part II of my COMPLETELY SOLO GUITAR AND NO OTHER BULLSHIT TOUR.


Now you understand why we were intrigued. So we called her up.

L.A. WEEKLY: What’s up with the Timbaland session?
Kaki King: [Laughs] I don’t know. I went to Miami, Tim’s got time blocked out at the Hit Factory, and I think basically somebody who works really close with him told him, “This is a girl you should check out.” It took a while for it to happen — for me to meet him and play with him — but I think right now he’s just putting together a whole bunch of ideas for various projects. ... He just said, “Come in and play. You be you.” It’s been interesting because for a guy who kinda claims he’s not really interested in esoterica, I feel like my favorite Timbaland beats are built upon these really odd samples he’ll find that are actually pretty complex.

And as far as I know, right now Margaret Cho is toying with the idea of making a comedy album. I really don’t know much more than that — I take it she’s been gathering the “usual queer suspects” to write songs for a crass, dirty album. So we’re getting together in a couple days in L.A. to work on some material. Which is not really a 180 but a completely different tangent for me in general.

Different tangent from Timbaland, as well.
When I booked this tour, which is just solo guitar — it’s not any singing or looping or playing lap steel, it’s just me and two guitars onstage — I was thinking, “Wow, if I ever lose the ability to get onstage and entertain people with just my guitar, the way I’ve been doing since I was a teenager, then I think I’m going to lose everything else.” So I booked this tour because I didn’t want to get too distracted from the very essence, the very basic thing that I’ve always done best. It’s kinda become more important now that all these different projects are popping up — more film-scoring stuff, and Timbaland, Margaret Cho. It’s important to remind myself that I can still play guitar.

And you’re doing smaller, off-the-beaten-track venues.
Yeah, that was intentional. It wasn’t about making a splash. It was about playing to people who know guitar or know this material. We wanted to pick rooms and theaters that catered to more of a listening audience. It definitely feels like going back in time about five years, but it’s also — I don’t know, it’s ridiculous. I find myself saying words like “cleansing,” and it reminds me that this is a spiritual thing for me, even though I feel corny and I would never say that, but I said it, so. ...

Your version of the Cure’s “Close to Me,” from that Manimal Vinyl collection Perfect as Cats last year, was one of my favorites.
Thanks. It’s funny, because my girlfriend wanted me to do that. I said to her, “What’s your favorite Cure song?” She said, “Ahh, ‘Close to Me.’” And then when I was actually doing the song, I didn’t really realize how very disturbing those lyrics are. They’re really scary.

What’s so scary?
It sounds like a person locked in a room having a panic attack. That’s how the lyrics read to me. But you hear, “Close to me” and you think, “Aw, cute love song,” and it’s really not. But in the middle, I was laying down the track and — you sort of do things on the fly — so I looked up the lyrics to make sure that I was getting them right, and immediately I thought, “Oh my God, I’ve done a terrible thing.” And really what I would have done, had I had the time to go back, was to emphasize how very dark and frightening these lyrics actually are.

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