Kaki King is regarded as one of the greatest creative minds working today as far as the old six-string is concerned. Across a 15-year-plus career, King has scored the praises of everyone from Eddie Vedder to John Darnielle and back again. Her most recent work, however, may well be her most ambitious and impressive yet. For the last four years, King has been on the road with a stage show entitled The Neck is a Bridge to the Body.
The show is an audio-visual spectacular, in which King’s compositions are complemented by a stunning set of lights and visuals, projected directly onto her signature guitar.It’s unlike anything she’s ever done before—and yet, she dismisses any notion that she was bored with the traditional set-up of a solo guitar performance.
“I was enjoying what I was doing—I had gone back to being a solo performer after many years,” she explains. “It literally just came up one night when someone suggested I try out lighting design for my shows. Just because it seemed like it would be nice, y’know? I had no idea where to start—I literally googled ‘lighting design’, that’s where I started. Through a bit of research, I discovered projection mapping. When I read a bit more about that, I started to wonder whether or not I could use projection mapping by projecting onto my guitar. Once I had the logistics in order, I knew that I had to make a show around it.”
King collaborated with Glowing Pictures, a production company that is no stranger to forward-thinking musicians—its collaborative alum include the likes of David Byrne, TV on the Radio and the Beastie Boys. The performance premiered in 2014, and has taken King around the world a couple of times now. It’s a performance that she is still very much enamoured with. “There are definitely times where I still catch myself in awe of seeing the guitar lit up,” she says.
“Every night, you’re literally seeing the guitar in a new light. Obviously it’s already a 3D object, but the projections obviously add another dimension entirely. There’s such a vibrancy to it that I’m still so drawn to, even after doing this performance for years now. I’m playing a guitar that has never looked like any guitar ever has before it... it’s amazing to me.”
Since its debut, King has likened performing The Neck... to second nature. Its one-of-a-kind nature, to her, cannot be overemphasised—and nor should it. As the show has developed, so has King’s performance – proving that, even as a guitarist with over 30 years of experience, there are still things to learn. “Midway through the first tour, we started to play more theatres and performing arts centres as opposed to clubs and the kind of places I usually play,” she says.
“These spaces were a lot more accommodating to the nuances and the needs of the show we were doing. It helped that I had a video engineer out on the road with me – a guy named Max Bernstein. I feel like, since he came on as a part of the show, he’s really helped to make The Neck... a lot more lively and a lot more performance-oriented. It’s a solo show, but with Max it felt like he was performing with me the whole time. It became so much more tight, and the transitions became so much quicker.”
In August, King returns to Australia for the umpteenth time as a part of the Sydney Guitar Festival, with headlining shows around the country booked around it. This possibly spells the end for The Neck... before King goes to work on her next show, so seeing the show now means Australian audiences will experience the best possible version of it.
“I don’t worry at all when I go out there now,” says King. “When I first started doing the show, I was so stiff and worried that everything would just go wrong. Now, I feel like it’s in a place where it’s really loose and I can explore a lot more.”
The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body is out now. Kaki King is touring Australia in August, including performances at both the Sydney and Adelaide Guitar Festivals.
Image via Simone Cecchetti.