Word going around says Kaki King has fully "reinvented" herself on Junior — the Brooklyn musician's newest release and fifth studio album. Only trouble is, that's what people said about her previous LP, 2008's Dreaming of Revenge and the one before that, 2006's ...Until We Felt Red. This prompts the question: If an artist's identity has always been rooted in change, is it really accurate to say she's "reinventing" herself?
"I just like to do different things, really" says King, 30.
To be fair, King's nonchalant assessment of her creative left turns almost contrasts with the messages in the music itself, specifically Junior's leadoff track "The Betrayer," in which she sings, "I have become someone else, someone new." On the surface, it's a song about a secret agent turned double agent, but King admits it might apply a little bit to her ever-evolving musical persona too.
"Even though it's very much me up on the stage, it's also a slightly different version of me," she says. "At the very least, it's a me with my hair done and eyeliner on."
Working a bit out of sequence from the typical "alternative" act, King first attracted attention back in 2004, when she inked a deal with Sony to release her second album, Legs to Make Us Longer, an acoustic, instrumental record that showcased her impressive, Preston Reed-style guitar chops. Rolling Stone took notice, making her the first woman ever to be officially christened a "Guitar God" in its pages. Dave Grohl became a big fan too, eventually inviting King to play on the Foo Fighters song "Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners." But the record company didn't think Legs had shown any legs as a marketable product, and King's major-label days — and her identity as an "acoustic guitarist" — were over in a hurry.
"It was kind of completely ridiculous that someone like me got a major label deal," says King. "Back then, even in 2004, it was like no one got major label deals. It was unheard of. And the kind of money that we got at the time, which we spent so recklessly, was just fucking insane.
Naive as she may have been in some areas, King responded to the Sony fallout swiftly and fearlessly, releasing 2006's ...Until We Felt Red on an indie label and stunning fans by plugging in both her guitar and a microphone for the first time.
"For me, adding lyrics and vocals was just using another ingredient from the same pot," she says. "It was really not some big deal. But a lot of people went apeshit, like, 'Oh my god, Kaki King opened her mouth!' But thankfully, my fans are really big fans of music above all else, and they appreciate good music whether there's no vocals, all vocals — it doesn't matter."
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