Into the wild

Singer-Songwriter Issue: Kaki King dreams in guitar and goes from there

I first heard singer-songwriter Kaki King when a friend returned from a three-month stint traveling in the Pacific Northwest with her third CD, ...Until We Felt Red (Velour, 2006). She accidentally left the disc at my apartment and for the next few weeks before I, ahem, remembered to give it back, my world was filled to the brim with King's ethereal, rhythmic compositions, all centered around her virtuosic guitar playing.

King, who turns 29 Aug. 24, made a name for herself as a solo guitarist on 2003's Everybody Loves You (Velour), impressing guitar geeks with her unusual technique of picking the strings with both hands. On her next three albums, King gradually incorporated additional instrumentation, including her voice, into her empyrean sonic quilt-work. This year's Dreaming of Revenge (Velour) is perhaps her most accessible recording yet.

"I've always been writing vocals into songs," King said from her parents' home in Atlanta. "My first two records were instrumental guitar because that was kind of a discipline, just something I had been trying to accomplish."

While King's sings more on Dreaming than ever — on almost half the tracks — the album remains grounded in her work as an instrumentalist, with her voice often figuring as just one more layer in a lush cosmic soundscape. Everything she writes, she explained, "has fundamentally to do with tuning up my guitar and working from there."

Other musicians have been converted to King's music. Recently she has played on albums by the Foo Fighters and Tegan and Sara, been showcased in the 2007 film, Into the Wild, and gigged as a hand double in August Rush (2007). But King insists that she did not imagine herself paying the bills as a full-time musician until just before she recorded her third album. "I always thought, 'Oh, I'll do another record and then I'll go to grad school,'<0x2009>" she said. She always assumed she would take over her parents' law firm.

The songwriter will play Outside Lands with a five-piece, although lately she has been yearning to return to her solo roots, which she plans to do on her fall tour. "I'm doing a show that's going completely back to just me on guitar, what I was doing when I was touring the first time," she said. "I have lost just a little bit of my chops because I haven't played guitar at that level in a while, so I'm basically rechallenging myself to go out there for 70 or 80 minutes playing just guitar — no looping, no bands, no cutesy chit-chat. It feels almost like a cleansing thing."

KAKI KING performs at 4:30 p.m., Sat/23, on Outside Lands' Presidio stage, Lindley Meadow.

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