Kaki King is sleepy. She’s only been in bed a few hours after a gig the night before (in Freiberg, Germany), but she has to wake up ridiculously early to field interviews from the Australian press about her new CD, Junior. But buoyed by a great run of shows with her trio, who are really in their groove at the moment, King is in as chirpy a mood as one could possibly summon at such an ungodly hour. “We were having a good time last night, we all tied one on and, my god, I probably didn’t got to bed until three hours ago!”
Much has been made of the pessimistic theme running through the album’s song titles:The Betrayer, Falling Day, My Nerves That Committed Suicide, Death Head. “There’s no lyrical theme at all, but there’s a theme within the titles,” King concedes. “During the making of Junior, I was pretty physically and mentally depressed, and I was physically sick and I didn’t know it. It was really, really dumb – I had an undiagnosed sinus infection and it could have been very easily cleared up, but I had crap coming out of my ears, I had headaches, migraines, couldn’t work some days, and I was emotionally upset about a break-up I’d been through. This was the second time in two years going to Malcolm Burns’ house and working on an album while suffering through a break-up. It was like, ‘This is crap!’ I just couldn’t believe it. It was utterly gutting, like, ‘Is this going to be the cycle for the rest of my life?’ It was unbelievable. So the titles of the songs reflect some of that darker feeling and darker imagery. Some of the songs are deeply honest and open about my personal life, and others are just ‘we wrote a song!’”
“Every record I’ve done has usually been myself and a producer making every single noise we can make, then hiring people to come in and make the noises that can’t be made [by us]. This time I’d written with the trio, I’d recorded with the trio, and the same trio is on the road now. Although the songs have changed slightly, some of them greatly in their form onstage, when I titled the album I really recalled the guys coming in and recording, really, the fundamental aspects of everything we needed to do, and we worked all day, so we did it in about three days! So had I not experienced a lot of physical breakdown I would have been able to finish the album in a much shorter time. So when I thought about a title I thought of something that reflects the way we just got in there and made the record. ‘Junior’ wasn’t mean to sound juevenile – and it doesn’t, the record really doesn’t – it’s more like, I just felt like an underling again, making my first record.”
Long known for her innovative two handed tapping technique on acoustic guitar, Junior marks a departure for King. The album is largely performed on electric guitar, and aside from one little moment, her right hand never finds itself on the fretboard at all. “In truth, the whole tapping thing was always a vehicle via telly or radio where that gets the most… well, it’s like a comedian telling their biggest gag at the outset. It’s like, that’s what draws people in. But if the comedian tells their biggest gag over and over again it gets incredibly boring, and I knew that. I knew that very well, and I knew people would get very bored thinking that that was the only thing that I did, and therefore I didn’t want to do it all the time! I wanted to do multiple things. I wanted to write slow, beautiful songs, songs that had nothing to do with technique but were just lovely in their form… I paid a lot of attention to a lot of things, and I think the greatest fans I’ve had have followed me throughout so many different types of music I’ve done, and the best fans have gone ‘Alright, she’s going to surprise us with something new, so let’s see what that thing is!’ They don’t worry about ‘Is she going to prove her mettle as a bad-ass guitar player?” And the odd thing is, I’m having more trouble as a guitarist than I’ve ever had because all of a sudden I’m doing radical guitar solos and all these different things that i never, ever would have done. No-one notices but that’s a challenge for me because, at the ripe old age of 30, I’ve never played a guitar solo in my whole life! And now I’m in the midst of them. The fans I do have are extremely giving, and they’re extremely open-minded.”
The conversation drifts to self-limiting systems by which creative potential can be unleashed by, ironically, restricting the creative pallet. “Self-limiting systems are extremely useful. When I found out about them on my third record I thought I was like a mad person! I thought I could do anything! Self-limiting systems are very useful in writing a song, making a record, whatever you’re doing, the challenge you bear up to during that phase… like, I could say to myself “I’m going to write every song in standard tuning.” And that would be a crazy self-limiting system to me! It would be so crazy! But it says ‘you have your limits, so you can’t go in a million directions – you can go in the set direction.’ I’ve always been a big fan of them.