Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brad Kopplin
Once there was a time when Kaki King was a silent being. She existed as this sexy little pixie who did things with a guitar that most normal people don't do. Most can't do the things she does with a guitar without looking like a trainwreck, like someone trying to be clever and failing. All of the percussiveness in her movements, in her slaps and taps and bangs and plucks and sliding hands made the sounds coming out of that hollowed body seem alien-like. She was - if conventions are to be held - supposed to be writing songs about tiger-lillies and teardrops on her guitar, being the cutie with the instrument (girl or boy, it doesn't really matter) that's been known to spill with terrible poetry and stinky, melancholic drivel when in the hands of the wrong person.
King is not even close to one of those wrong people, but a form of innovator, that person who takes a tiny bit of direction and flies it off its handle, making it form a different bird altogether. Back before, when King chose not to open her mouth so much while she played, she said so much about the mysterious wilds of sound than she could have, discussing them with a spark, some momentum and a thesaurus. She went out of her way to do things differently, to think about the structure of songs in a method that a drummer or Danger Mouse or a hip-hop artist would think about them - with two ears plugged directly into the feeling of their progress, of their point.
There are so many people out there who don't listen for the words in songs, just feel and sense the general pattern, the action and the flow of the music played behind (sometimes in front of and alongside) the words that are supposed to be important. They can feel as if they "got" the song without having the faintest idea about what they were supposed to lyrically digest. They just sway their bodies, close their eyes a little bit and let their insides react to the emissions. This model of listening can also explain when words that mean nothing in songs aren't detriments to selling hundreds of thousands of copies, they're just extra layers to mess around with, a cherry on the top of a whipped cream foothill.
What all of this is saying is that the listening and feeling is often that much more important than some words, believe it or not. For some people, this is terribly wrong, but they likely don't have many arguments to destroy the inference. Kaki King must have the ticks of a woodpecker inside her head when she's bringing her guitar closer to her mechanical hands - the ones with the hardened, vulture-like press-on nails. It's a head bobbing into the material that it's looking to get something out of, finding oneness with an unspoken drumming, humming, rhythmic propulsion.
King doesn't make trifles, but instead untamed madnesses that break people, strings and code. They are songs that clack by like railroad trains that never stay on the tracks, pulling up and taking to the air, scaring tree limbs and hawks and derailing elegantly, off and into the bushy weeds. She conducts the songs through the weeds, into windows, past the drapes, around the heating ducts, through the walls and bounces them off the floors to the ceiling, chipping the light fixtures and still making the craziness feel gentle, yet booming. She expresses her feelings and what she's trying to let loose, letting it all ride on the bumpy trails that she plots. She sings now and not much has changed with her interpretation. It's always still thrilling to hear her shroud the details and give us the blank easel to let our own hands and imaginations fly like those wildbirds that make those cocky noises when we're not looking.