For fans of her music, it may not come as a jolt that Williamsburg-based guitarist Kaki King has just released another terrific new record called Glow, and is currently on a national tour, stopping at Glasslands this Sunday. What is surprising is the fact that King contemplated quitting not too long ago after a career that included her recording five full-length albums and garnering critical acclaim by the likes of Rolling Stone. King’s feeling of self-doubt came after touring for her 2010 record, Junior.
“[The tour] was huge and really exhausting and really physical,” she tells me. “I think that maybe I was trying to burn and kill myself. And I got through it and got through the tour and I realized that I was over 30 and not dead. So I had to figure out, ‘Now that I have crossed over, what do I do now? What do I do with life?’ I didn’t know if playing guitar–especially coming off of that tour–was something I wanted to do forever.”
“My entire identity was wrapped up in being a guitarist,” she continues, “and being a musician and [with] no skills in any other field, I’m totally unemployable. I think I was trying to kind of say ‘What am I doing?’ ‘And what do I like to do and ‘Is this it?’And the answer was, ‘Yes. This is it.’ I love playing guitar and I had to reconnect with it. It took some time, I didn’t panic, I didn’t freak out, I didn’t make sudden moves. But I just took a pause.”
Fortunately, that didn’t last long with the release of Glow. Her first all-guitar record with no vocals in quite some time, Glow truly lives up to its name because it really shimmers. One can feel the warmth of King’s always-unique guitar playing. According to King, some of the songs from Glow were born out of her recent Traveling Freak Guitar Show tour. “It was a touchstone,” she says of that experience. “It was a place of familiarity and comfort …’ I know what to do here, this is my little realm,’ and I felt safer and more free.”
Certainly one of the standout tracks on Glow is the dramatic “Great Round Burn,” which features the contributions from the string quartet ETHEL. For that song King got more involved with the use of the strings on this record compared to past efforts. “I played with Ralph Farris, the musical director of ETHEL, and we just jammed in my living room. We played “Great Round Burn”…it was totally collaborative. And then we actually rehearsed it with the entire quartet and me before we went to record it. So again we were able to make more changes to the arrangement and discuss how things were going. It was really collaborative, which I think you could really hear.”
On this tour, King is performing solo onstage. “I have this fabulous guitar tech who allows me to make all these things come to life,” she says, “because I’m constantly changing tunings and all the guitars need a lot of maintenance. It’s just me and the sound of me playing guitar. That’s how this record was written and even though the songs have so much added to them, they’re really standalone guitar songs and they’re fine just that way.”
Thankfully having moved on from that period of doubt following Junior, King will be marking her foray into the world of classical music via a Bach presentation with ETHEL and a work for a Carnegie Hall program administered by composer David Lang. “I have never touched [contemporary classical] as close as I have these days,” she says. “I think it will be a really great learning experience and a chance to go back and complete a lot of musical education that I never really felt.”
These are busy times for King not just in music: The guitarist had recently tied the knot with her partner Jessica. Originally, the two had planned to get hitched in December, King says. “I realized that if I didn’t get married before the tour, I would just sort of be uncomfortable. I would have just wanted to get home and get this done. And frankly this is an election year and gay marriage/same sex marriage/marriage equality—this is my life. We just decided to go through with it early because it just felt right and made the most sense. It left me with a much bigger sense of security. So I got married, put out a record and went on tour in the same week.”
In addition to being immersed in her music and side projects, King is approaching a special milestone next year—it’ll be the tenth anniversary of the release of her debut record Everybody Loves You. Did the time seem to go by fast for her in those 10 years? “It’s like touring,” she says. “I can’t believe that I was in southern California like a week and a couple of days ago…and yet it does seem like the last 10 years have gone by fairly quickly. But that’s life, that’s what everyone says.”
Kaki King will be playing Sunday at Glasslands Gallery, 289 Kent Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 8:30 PM, $18 advance; $22 day of the show. Her new album, Glow, is out now.