Kaki King is conjuring up some mind-blowing sights to go with the amazing sounds she coaxes out of her instruments with her latest tour and upcoming album, “The Neck is the Bridge to the Body,” which comes to World Cafe Live Jan. 31.
The out and highly acclaimed guitar virtuoso said she is bringing new lighting elements to the show in an effort to revamp the stage atmosphere.
“I made a record called ‘Glow’ that was centered on just playing solo guitar and me re-upping my game,” King said. “For years I toured very under the microscope; there was nothing else on stage except for me and a few guitars. As time went on I thought I needed to add something. I need to give the audience a little something more. I started this journey off figuring out what I could do for lighting and stage setting. I really fell into a rabbit hole. The result was I discovered what projection method was and how it was used. At some point I had this moment thinking what would it look like if I did it on guitar while I was playing it. Once I discovered that, everything just took off. This show became much more than just lighting that accompanied my already-planned-out stage performance. I treated it like that and I wrote a script and made this piece.”
King added that performing outside the context of a band makes her a better guitar player.
“The shows prior to ‘Glow’ were all big, loud rock shows,” she said. “They were very fun and they were very challenging in totally different ways. But nothing is going to make you the guitar player you are supposed to be more than going up on stage by yourself. It’s just a totally different experience for the audience and for me. In that context, I am the best guitar player I can be. Now, with a band I’m a better performer, singer, all those things. But straight-up guitar play with no frills and no effect, it’s like a discipline and it’s challenging. I like being the only one responsible for any mistake; I hold myself to a very high standard. That is where I feel my expression is the most true.”
We asked King, who married her wife in 2012, if married life has inspired any of her recent songwriting.
The answer was a quick and decisive no.
“I think she keeps wanting me to write a song about her but I’ve just been doing so much instrumental stuff lately,” she said.
With the light show augmenting the music, King said her shows have an added visual narrative element to which the music acts as a soundtrack.
“It’s totally abstract and hopefully by the time we get to Philly, we will have a digital playbill so that you’ll be able to understand a little more about what is happening,” she said. “But I think that even without knowing the storyline, the piece feels very much like there is a beginning, a middle and an end. Something happens and a journey is taken. So it’s not just random light and random songs. It’s set up in a way that you feel something has been accomplished by the end of it.”
Even though the performances tell a story, King said the interactive nature of the light show means she can switch up the songs and change the show whenever the inspiration hits her.
“Several of the pieces are sound responsive, meaning when I play, when I tap on the guitar, I’m actually triggering the visuals myself,” she said. “So I am in full control and I am using the guitar as a paintbrush. There are a couple of pieces where what is happening with the lighting is being performed by my visual performer, who is up in the booth. So she is listening to what I’m doing and I’m watching what she’s doing and we are playing off of each other. So there is improvisation built into a lot of what you see. I still have liberty to change the music to fit what I’m feeling that night.”
Because the surface of her guitar is used in the light show, it has to remain stationary for the performance on a stand.
King said performing with a guitar that doesn’t move along with her took some getting used to.
“It’s different,” she said. “It’s tricky. I’m used to it now. The most important thing is getting my position correct because I always assume that I am more upright and kind of away from my guitar than I need to be. I do need to be wrapped around it so we really haven’t nailed my position but we can’t change it once I’m up there. It’s funny because when you are playing the guitar, your left hand is supporting the weight of the guitar neck. So I removed this need to support the weight of the guitar that way and it’s strange because it’s actually a lot more difficult. I’m so used to having that necessity so it’s strange. It’s almost like if I let my hand go, I feel like I’m jumping out of a plane. I forget that I have a parachute and the guitar is not going anywhere. It’s so instinctual for me to want to support the guitar.”
King’s “The Neck is the Bridge to the Body” is also the album’s name, which she anticipates releasing soon.
“It’s done,” she said. “It’s been done for a long time. We don’t have a proper release date yet, but it’s definitely going to be out in the next few months.”
King added that, while the record won’t have the light show to go along with it, the experience should be just as satisfying to listeners.
“There’s plenty of really great songs on the record that pretty much stand alone. There is a larger story and things were composed together and inspired by each other. I would rather people experience the whole show, obviously, but I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed in the soundtrack.”
Kaki King performs “The Neck is the Bridge to the Body” 8 p.m. Jan. 31 at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. For more information or tickets, call 215-222-1400 or visit www.kakiking.com.