In 2011, Los Angeles-based trio KING independently released their three-song EP The Story to thunderous acclaim. “Initially we put it out for our family and friends to listen to,” says lead singer Amber Strother, a Minneapolis native. “We knew that they might like the songs. We did it for fun … out of our love for music, and it just took off ”
The mid-tempo, synth-heavy tracks “The Story” and “Supernatural,” along with the gossamer, hauntingly beautiful piano ballad “Hey,” captured the palpable creative synergy of the trio, which also includes Anita Bias and Amber's twin sister, Paris. While the songs were clearly R&B influenced, they contained otherworldly qualities that could not be strictly described as R&B.
Within weeks of being posted to their SoundCloud page, the inventive, evocatively penned tracks commanded the attention of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (The Roots), Erykah Badu and Soulquarian affiliate Phonte Coleman (The Foreign Exchange/Little Brother), who collectively spread the ladies’ gospel by social media word-of-mouth. The next month, they received a one-sentence email from Prince, asking if they would be “interested in meeting.” They memorably opened for the iconic, fellow Minneapolitan during one of his “21 Nights” dates at the Forum — and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the five years since this seemingly magical chain-reaction of events occurred, the ladies maintain that they’ve gotten better acquainted with the music business, themselves and one another. They've stayed visible by releasing exceptional singles (“Mr. Chameleon,” “In the Meantime” and a Fela Kuti cover, “Go Slow,” included on the 2013 compilation Red Hot + Fela), touring both nationally and internationally, and collaborating in the studio with like musical minds (they co-wrote and sang on “Move Love,” from the Robert Glasper Experiment's Grammy-winning 2012 album, Black Radio). All the while, they've been concocting the sonic goodness that listeners will hear on their long-awaited full-length debut, We Are KING, out this Friday, Feb. 5 on the trio's own label, King Creative.
Paris Strother, the group’s pianist and producer, says of the forthcoming project: “We kept working at it until it was exactly what we envisioned for it. The three of us are on the same wavelength so we knew how we wanted to work … it’s been a really great journey getting to that point.” Bias, a Los Angeles native and Berklee College of Music-trained contralto, says of their process: “We happen to generally like each other’s ideas, but now we have arrived at a place in our songwriting where we can almost finish each other’s sentences.”
The 12-track labor of love explores the themes of love, growth and self-discovery — all of which were explored on the first EP and inform the women's lives right now. “For us, love plays such an all-encompassing role in our lives,” says Paris.
Judging from the album trailer and lead single “The Greatest,” We Are KING will likely garner a response similar to that of the first EP. It features extended versions of the three songs from that EP, subsequent singles “In the Meantime” and “Mister Chameleon,” and seven new tracks including “The Greatest,” a Muhammad Ali tribute.
“That one was really important to us,” says Paris of the lead single. “There’s a lot going on in the world. There’s a lot out there that if you turn on the news, you can see how little people value your personhood. It’s a fun and uptempo, upbeat song, but underneath is the message, ‘You are great’, especially speaking to young people of color … and Muhammad Ali, with his unwavering confidence and not being afraid of anybody, his politics and his statement … that was really inspiring to us. We hope that any young person listening would just internalize that like, 'I am the greatest' no matter what anybody says, no matter what is happening.”
In January, the ladies kicked off their national 2016 tour in New York at Winter Jazzfest, and will return to Los Angeles on Feb. 19 for a homecoming performance at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. After that they're off to North Carolina, Atlanta and then back to Cali for San Jose Jazz Winter Fest. Their sole concern now, Bias says, is simply “staying out there” and performing the new music for their fans.
“We’ve been looking forward to performing these songs out live … they’ve been cooking for a while,“ says Bias. She and Paris nod in agreement when Amber says, “We have the best fans ever. They are so wonderful. It’s cool 'cause we go to these cities, like L.A. for instance, and we look out into the audience, and we feel like we’re looking at ourselves. Not just because of color or gender or size, but a different level of connecting with people. It’s like us seeing them in their authentic states and them seeing us in our authentic states.”