Five years ago, R&B/soul trio King casually put their first EP up on SoundCloud. Written and recorded entirely by themselves, twins Amber and Paris Strother and Anita Bias, weren’t thinking that anybody except family and friends would even care. Then came Questlove, Erykah Badu and, of course, the late Prince, all championing the group’s vocals, production and artistry.
Earlier this year, King finally released its debut full length, We Are KING. It’s a gorgeous, lush garden of a record that’s almost entirely smooth, sublime jams. Dense and meticulously crafted, it flourishes with an exquisite vision that’s as deeply connected to something vintage — the ’80s were a beautiful time for R&B — and thoroughly modern (they write everything themselves, and Amber and Bias share lead vocals, while Paris plays everything herself and produced the record, too).
CBC Music spoke with Paris while King was in Vancouver about being championed by Prince, playing Conan and keeping everything under their control. Below, five things you need to know about the trio.
1. Beautiful things take time. Let them.
“There was always kind of like, ‘gotta get the record done,’ like daily, wake up, go on Twitter, and people are like, ‘Where is this record?!’ But preparing it music-wise and also figuring it out business-wise and learning about the industry, what you do and don’t want to be doing…. It was really liberating [to take our time]. We’re really grateful for that early decision. Of course life is full of compromises and you will find yourself compromising, but one of the non-compromisable things was the music. We knew it was music that we wanted to be able to live with forever, and it was music that I wanted to revisit and no stone was left unturned, and we did everything we wanted to do with the music. And I think when we put that kind of care and attention to it, and intention into it also, I think that’s what speaks to a lot of people who love the music.
“I remember one person saying to me, it was Thelonius Monk Jr., I was telling him, this was before the EP was recorded or anything, I worked at the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz, so I would see him every once in a while, and he was like, ‘Make sure you like all of it!’ He was kind of just joking, but he was like, ‘Make sure you like every second of it.’ I think growing up into that, I learned that the songs you’ll be playing for the rest of your life on tour, the music you’ll want to rework and that people will want to cover eventually will be something that you want to love. Being able to put that kind of care into it was really special to us and it felt like a real opportunity.”
2. On doing the work and taking the credit.
“We’re growing up into the reasons why it’s important, too, [for women to take credit as producers]. Initially, when you grow up into realizing that space isn’t reserved for people, that this position hasn’t necessarily been taken too much. There’s some really amazing music out there with this story, it was really incredible to be doing it now in this generation. We’ve been doing it for so long, it seems like it’s second nature, people just know who we are, but we have a lot of new fans coming to our concerts. I think a couple days ago, one of our friends was on the road with us, and was like, ‘I just got the best compliment! Someone asked if you guys have the same producer who produced all of your music?’ and he was like, ‘It’s so cool that people can hear all your songs have a common thread,’ and I was like, ‘It’s so weird that he didn’t assume that the person onstage with 50 instruments, making all the music, didn’t make the music!’ [Laughs] Like, what is that? But it speaks to this climate right now that a lot of stuff isn’t a machine or a microwave, and it’s a high compliment if the same people even worked on the whole record, which, to me, seems like a foreign concept. To me a record is a record of the time and place you were. Of course, working with a whole bunch of different producers can produce beautiful results, but it just seems to me that we had the foresight and the, just, willingness, 'cause it was hard [laughs], to make a whole record by ourselves, but I’m really glad we did it.”
3. The power of sisterhood and family.
“We know each other. We know each other well, and it leads to a lot of synergy. Having the same kind of common background and knowing what someone grew up with, knowing their situation and how it might dictate their feelings, knowing whether or not there’s a band you will always be blood-related. It might even be extra special because we were in the womb together. [Laughs] But it’s always going to be a sisterhood.
“My dad plays, but it’s not his profession, but he had every musical instrument around the house and I was just always trying to do what he did. His brother was a prominent blues musician, so growing up, it was like a legacy. We went over to Japan and they were like, ‘We understand your uncle is Percy Strother.’ He’d developed quite a legacy before he passed. He’d played with Bonnie Raitt and all these people. Being able to grow up into that, I wasn’t very close and able to see his path while he was here, but now that I’m older, being able to revisit these cool things in his career and relate to it through my dad is really a cool thing."
4. Prince: 'Don’t change anything. It’s perfect.'
"Morris Hayes, [Prince's] longtime MD, told me he was really happy to see the album come out. I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him after it came out, but of course he had the earliest renditions in 2012, and he was getting all the new songs as they were being developed. I know that he loved it. His one sentiment was, ‘Don’t change anything. It’s perfect.’ I recently found a conversation — like, when he calls, you’re not going to record it, but I was madly trying to transcribe everything he said because I wanted to remember every word of it, and because I was having to tell Amber and Anita later, which was weird: ‘So, Prince called and he said.' But he was saying, you know, ‘Don’t worry about it. The longer it takes to put out, the more people will be in your corner by the time it comes out.’ And having that confidence from him, when everything else in the world is kind of, like, ‘If you guys don’t put it out now, your hype is gonna die!’ Fine, sure, like, music industry stuff, but it’s not true to our intentions, either. Putting out stuff any sooner, I don’t know that the sound would have been what it was. I don’t know if the world would have been ready for this particular sound. It just seemed like it all happened when I was supposed to."
5. Stevie Wonder and Corinne Bailey Rae love King, too
"This summer in London opening up for Stevie Wonder, Pharrell and Corinne Bailey Rae. Stevie Wonder is just the author of my life. He actually came to our show in L.A. in February and loved it and was like, ‘We should work together!’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m dead.’ And Pharrell, like when he first came out, he was the first person we all heard who was like, taking all these crazy principles and like, ‘No, this is popular music’ and he changed the game. Corinne Bailey Rae, it was the first time a major artist was performing a song that I wrote with her. I got to go out and hear it. Just, wow, this is crazy. The whole day was incredible. She’s less of a friend and more of a sister. We have our Thanksgivings together. For some reason she loves L.A. in November, so we always just have holidays together."
Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner