New York guitarist Kaki King once famously stated as a music student to one of her professors that she wanted to be either a vagabond street performer or a sassy bar rat.
These days, the 27-year-old musician is all that, and a lot more. She scored her initial break playing in the Manhattan subways in the weeks after the September 11 attacks and, more recently, has played at Carnegie Hall as well as alongside such headliners as Marianne Faithfull and David Byrne.
But King appears to eschew any grandness on the topic of where she performs. On the eve of her first Australian tour, which takes in an eclectic range of venues including The Famous Spiegeltent in Sydney, The Clarendon in Katoomba and the Bangalow Catholic Hall in Byron Bay, the young lesbian guitarist says she is happy to play any place people want to hear her music.
She also admits she has never played for an all-gay crowd. I have never played a lesbian club, and I really don’t give a crap, she says from her apartment in New York’s Brooklyn. I just play for whoever wants to come.
I don’t know anything about the places I am playing. I have played Carnegie Hall and I have played dirty old rock clubs, and I have always enjoyed the fact I have gotten to do both.
I enjoy being versatile and that I don’t play just one kind of hall. I feel lucky.
King’s debut album, Everybody Loves You, was born out of her time in the subways. Struggling to earn money while the city was in the midst of chaos, she decided to take her music into the subways to make a living.
When a number of commuters asked if she had a CD to buy, King realised it was the next step of becoming a successful musician and so recorded an album to sell while she was playing.
That same album has since been picked up and released by the Velour label.
It is the same album I recorded to sell myself that led me to getting a record deal, she says. What I did was purely out of personal necessity as I did not have a job, I had no money and, at that time in New York, no sanity left.
I needed something to do and playing in the subways seemed to suit the city and myself as well.
While King is also accomplished on the drums and piano, she says guitar continues to be her first love. Her girlfriend Kelly is also a guitarist, but won’t be joining King on this trip.
She says it is the guitar Australian audiences will be hearing her play during her upcoming shows.
There are things I feel I can do with the guitar, maybe because it brings about melodies and harmonies, she says. I am always excited about doing that, as both bring about a certain amount of pleasure.
Kaki King plays 6 January at The Clarendon, Katoomba (bookings on 4782 1322), and on 10 and 11 January at The Famous Spiegeltent at the Sydney Festival (bookings on 1300 888 412).