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Are you playing your Hamer Newports onstage?
I do have some Newports, but because I needed something with a little more oomph, I bought a 1972 Fender Telecaster Deluxe for playing on the road with the band. It’s really great for what we’re doing. I run it through a Fender Bassman.
Do you use the Bassman just for your Tele or for all your guitars?
For everything except my Adamas acoustic, which goes directly into the house system.
Has your signature model 1581-KK Adamas changed or evolved since it was introduced?
I think we changed the bridge wood, but other than little cosmetic things, nothing major. I usually carry several on the road, but because I’m playing more electric guitar right now, I just bring one with me.
Tell us about your pedals.
My pedalboard is always in a state of flux, but currently I’m using an Ernie Ball volume pedal for swells and a simple Boss DD-3 for delay. I also have a Boss TR-2 Tremolo pedal and a Boss OC-3 Super Octave pedal, and a Fulltone OCD distortion pedal. For weird sounds, I’ll sometimes use my Electro- Harmonix Harmonic Octave Generator.
You have amazingly long fingernails. What’s the story there?
Like many guitarists, I go to a nail salon and get acrylic overlays on my fingernails. The difference is I get them really thick. Thick nails sound different—it’s like a thin flatpick versus a thick one. If the acrylic nail is too thin, it sounds funny. I shape the acrylic overlays myself, flattening out the bottom surface. I grow my thumbnail out because when I pluck a string, my thumb is almost parallel to it. The angle requires a long nail to catch the string. That’s an acrylic overlay on my thumbnail, too.
Who are you currently listening to for musical inspiration?
I’m listening to a lot of Brazilian music: Bebel Gilberto, Virginia Rodrigues, and Rosa Passos. I know it’s not really apparent in my own music, but it’s something I like.
What’s next for Kaki King?
I’ve been on the road for four months straight. In another three weeks, we’ll be done with this tour. Honestly, that’s about as far as I can see.
Kaki King recorded this year’s Junior and 2008’s Dreaming of Revenge at Le Maison Bleu, a studio near Woodstock, New York, that’s owned by Malcolm Burn. While Burn produced both discs and 2008’s Dreaming was essentially a collaboration between King and him, Junior was a band project.
“I think, conceptually, Kaki felt she wanted to make a recording that could be taken out on the road and recreated,” says Burn. “There were a few tracks on the last record that featured a lot of orchestration. To perform them live, Kaki had to get a little five-piece orchestra together to get the point across. Touring is her bread-and-butter, so this time she wanted to record music that could translate easily from the studio to the stage. My only concern going into this project was that her guitar remained central to her music and didn’t get overshadowed by the drummer’s virtuosity. Her guitar is half the reason people buy and listen to her records, so I didn’t want anything to take away from the intricacy of her performances.”
Burn used a dual-amp rig for many of the electric-guitar parts King tracked live with the band. “I ran a Fender Super Reverb, set pretty loud and clean, in tandem with an old Gibson Skylark 1x10 combo,” he details. “I plugged Kaki’s guitar into the Skylark and then ran a jumper cord out from the Skylark’s second input jack into the Super Reverb’s input. For overdubs, we also used an Ampeg Gemini combo.
“I used Sennheiser MD 409 dynamic mics on the amps. To mic Kaki’s acoustic, I’ll typically use a Neumann U 67. On Junior, I mostly used a Neumann U 47 for her vocals, but in the past we’ve also used a Sony C-37A. I generally favor API and Calrec mic preamps, and I’m also a big fan of those funky little Bellari MP105 tube preamps.
“I’m running a Pro Tools HD system, but mentally I treat the computer like a 24-track tape machine with a dedicated hardware channel connected to a respective Pro Tools track. Each track’s output has a channel on my big analog console, which was made by an offshoot of Amek. I try to stay away from the internal processing aspect of Pro Tools—all the plug-ins and stuff. I really don’t have the time, patience, or energy for that—or the gullibility to believe that plug-ins will make my record sound a whole lot better. Apart from the occasional de-esser plug-in, I use outboard effects. I’ll use automation when I have to, but I prefer to mix a song manually. This way, each mix becomes a performance. I think this technique is still valid because it allows you to spontaneously come up with something you hadn’t thought of, as opposed to preconceiving the sonic outcome and just working toward that inevitability. It’s a more painterly approach, I suppose.”