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Kaki King dreams of another brilliant year
Out musician talks about her new album, gay groupies and missing Angelina Jolie

by David Stout . Q-Notes staff

I’m always the first person in the room to take my shirt off, whether it’s for a photo shoot or not.
The last year has brought one professional highlight after another for acclaimed musician Kaki King.

Rolling Stone placed her on their list of the all-time greatest guitarists — the only woman to make the cut. Foo Fighters invited her to record on their Album of the Year Grammy nominated “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.” She also received a Golden Globe nomination for her contributions to the “Into The Wild” movie soundtrack.

To fans and critics alike, these moments offered definitive proof that the out lesbian is one of the most important artists working outside the pop mainstream. The next chapter in King’s captivating story will do nothing to dissuade anyone from that assessment.

“Dreaming Of Revenge” is the 28-year-old’s fourth studio album. Produced by Grammy-winning musician and producer Malcolm Burn (Emmylou Harris, Peter Gabriel), “Dreaming” picks up where the last album left off, continuing King’s transformation from acoustic instrumentalist to full-fledged, multi-faceted songwriter.

Previously, her whispery, ethereal voice was used as mainly another element in her sonic arsenal. This time around, the Atlanta resident has put more effort into both her vocals and lyrics, resulting in her most accessible record to date.

On the eve of her upcoming spring tour, the super smart (and surprisingly playful) King beguiled us with thoughts about her musical evolution, her gay groupies and her sadly missed encounter with Angelina Jolie.

The songs on this album are kind of mesmerizing. They’re very moody and meditative. Are you that way in real life?

I think there’s always been a pensive melancholy to a lot of the songs I do. There’s a darkness sometimes. They’re not rock and roll feel-good songs. I don’t think of them as depressing, though. They’re more cathartic.

I have to say, in person, you’re quite bright and lively. A little mischievous, actually.

It’s because I put the darkness in the music. If you were trying to pick out the kind of person I am by listening to the music, you’d be dead wrong.

Okay, so let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth. What kind of person are you?

A really hot nerd [laughs].

You kinda are.

That’s how every girlfriend has described me.

How are you a nerd?

I just get excited about esoteric stuff. I would say I’m a David Lynch-type nerd, not a “Star Trek” nerd.

Let’s talk about the hot part. The photos for this album are very sexy. Love those pics of you in bed.

I’m always the first person in the room to take my shirt off, whether it’s for a photo shoot or not [laughs]. No seriously, the album is called “Dreaming Of Revenge,” so I thought the bed scenes were appropriate. I know some people might look at them and think that I’m showing a lot of skin, but I’m definitely not selling sex. I think of them as really beautiful artwork. Besides, they definitely wouldn’t be as captivating if I was in my pajamas.

Back to the music: how is this album different from your last one?

The last record was beautiful and lovely and unchaotic. I had a lot more personal chaos going when I was writing this new record. And then I came into the studio with the songs all written, and my producer said, “To hell with the demos. We’re going to write music every day.” It took me a while to get used to, but I ultimately had such fun being creative in the moment.

So what kind of chaos were you going through when you were working on this album?
I was in a relationship and it ended. You can put two and two together.

Okay, we’ll put that subject to bed — no pun intended. Most of your songs don’t have vocals. How do you title songs that don’t have lyrics?

I do it at the 11th hour right before it’s time to print the artwork. You just kind of find little experiences that apply to the songs.

Tell me about the title, “Dreaming Of Revenge.”

It’s from a quote by Gauguin: “Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge.” It’s so entirely tongue in cheek, yet it’s so horrible and cynical. But I think it’s totally true; if you exist in the world, you’re going to be vengeful. Although I have to say, I’m the least vengeful person on the planet. I never hold a grudge.

You got a ton of coverage in the gay and lesbian press for your last album. Do you sense an increase in your gay fanbase as a result?

I think there are definitely lesbian fans who heard about me for the first time through the gay press, but I think they came to my shows because they wanted to hear the music, not because I’m a lesbian. Ultimately, whatever reason they come, I’m glad they’re there. But I hope it’s for the musical aspect, something that holds your interest beyond the hot photos [laughs].
Do you have groupies?

What are groupies? People that are really into my music? I guess. They’re all so lovely, though there are some who feel really possessive of me. They feel like they can critique my work because they’ve been there since the beginning. I’ve also had guys propose to me. They don’t know I’m gay — I guess they don’t do their research.

You were nominated for a Golden Globe for your contribution to the “Into The Wild” soundtrack, which is an amazing accomplishment. How did you end up writing music for the film?

The sound editor had used some of my music for the film, just as temporary placement. Sean Penn [the film’s director] heard it, liked it and called me. He said he really loved my work and he wanted me to come out to the set in Southern California to meet everyone. After the film went through the editing process, they brought me in to write some new music. I had to compose it on the spot in front of a whole bunch of people. It really taught me how to work under pressure.
And how did it feel to be nominated?

It felt awesome. Then the fact that the awards didn’t happen [due to the writers’ strike] was so uncool. I really wanted to be in the same room as Angelina Jolie. But for the rest of my life, people are going to put the words “Golden Globe nominee” next to my name. That’s pretty cool.

— Peter Galvin contributed to this piece.

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