Kaki King brings groundbreaking guitar show to Lowell

By Victoria Wasylak

Kaki King is one of those artists who’s behind some of your favorite film scores (Into The Wild and August Rush), but you might not recognize her if she grabbed a smoothie next to you at the local coffee shop.

And that’s just fine by King, who lets her guitar do all the talking.

The 36-year-old Brooklyn-based musician — hailed by Rolling Stone as a “Guitar God” and “a genre unto herself” — brings her fierce fretwork to the Hi Hat lounge at Mill No. 5 on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m.. The guitar whiz will also share her distinctive techniques and style tips in a workshop from 2:00-3:30 p.m., courtesy of Liz Lawrence’s Root Note Studio.

Taking a break from her busy schedule, King (whose been strumming a guitar since age 4) spoke with HOWL about how workshops impacted her early years of pickin’, and what she hopes to pass along to guitarists of all levels during her Lowell stop.

HOWL: What do you plan to teach at the workshop at Root Note Studio?
Kaki King: I have been really enjoying teaching over the last couple of years. I started to accept invitations to do master classes and things that were sort of low-pressure. Then I needed to buy a house this year, and that was very unexpected, so I needed money and I started teaching for a brief period of time. But I really, really enjoyed it, and I think I found some strengths that I can provide to people that no one else can really, because I’m teaching technique based on my own composition, so it’s very special. I’m not really teaching beginners. But what I think a beginner could learn from what I do is that I break everything down to its fundamental idea. So even if what I’m doing on the guitar looks or sounds really complicated, there’s always something that is “here’s the most basic A section, the most basic B section” and the movement of the hand, finger, whatever it is, can always be boiled down to what I call the “Chicken McNugget” — what it is that’s fundamental to this technique or this song. So that’s kind of what I try to get to, then I build from there so anyone at any level can come and learn something that I’m doing, and then we kind of increase in ability from that point.

HOWL: Did you ever take workshops when you were learning how to play guitar?
Kaki King: I did! It’s funny because people say, “well, you’re self taught.” And that is not true. You learn from people and their records, and the things they’ve said in interviews. You’re always learning. I did go to a master class with Alex DeGrassi up in a place in California when I was 19 or something. Prior to that I went to a week-long gathering in North Carolina called the Swannanoa Gathering, and they do a lot of, sort of old-time music and other things, but they had a guitar week, and I went there when I think I was 17 and 18, and really learned a lot but also got encouragement because here were all these other people playing solo guitar, teaching solo guitar, and sort of recognizing me as someone that was pretty good. That was really impactful for me, so even though it wasn’t someone guiding me through everything over a period of time, (all of the different experiences) had a huge impact. I feel firmly that most of my guitar playing experience has been someone telling me a good idea, and me then taking that idea and running with it for the next three years. And so every three years I borrow another good idea and I do everything I can with it.

HOWL: How does what you plan to play in Lowell differ from your regular tour?
Kaki King: Unfortunately, due to the setup and some other things, I won’t be able to bring the projection-mapped guitar and do the whole projection-map show. Really, it will just be me onstage with a guitar and just going through some of my old catalogue. It’ll be good, it’ll be fun, it’ll be exciting. I will put on a show and be entertaining as always.

HOWL: What are three things that you always bring on the road with you?
Kaki King: Tweezers, postcard stamps, and Tylenol.

HOWL: What’s one memorable experience from when you’ve shared the stage with another big artist?
Kaki King: Well, it’s hard to top Dave Grohl and an arena full of Australians — like, that’s just hard to top! 

HOWL: If you could tell David Bowie one thing, what would you say to him?
Kaki King: I would just say, “thank you” and “can I have one of your outfits? My friend, she did the outfits for Beyoncé in the “Single Ladies” video and I know she can alter it, David! I know she can make it fit me.” And he’d have to say yes. A no to me is like a no to Beyoncé (laughs).

See Kaki perform live Sunday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for 2-3:30 p.m. guitar workshop,$40; tickets for 7:30 p.m. concert, $20; Package deal for both workshop and concert, $55. Contact rootnotestudio.com or call 978.905.6962 for more information. Learn more about Kaki King and her music here.

About The Author

Victoria Wasylak
Music Editor

Victoria Wasylak is the music editor at HOWL. With a knack for pumping out reviews, whether it's a local gem or a chart-topper like Neon Trees, she's on the list. Her hobbies include obsessing over Lady Gaga, studying counterculture, and taking selfies with her grandpa. Vicki is also an editor for The BU Buzz magazine and a DJ on "Rock This Way," WTBU 89.3 FM.