Music to Purge the Voices | Little King [Musician Interview]

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Who inspired you to make music?

Good morning! Thanks for the chat…

I always point to the members of the group Rush as primary influences in my formative years as a music fan and then as a writer. Neil Peart is certainly among the greatest musicians of the last 100 years, as his approach to drumming was unique, compositional, innately complex and yet wrought with feel (at least for me.) When you add the fact that he was an incredibly erudite lyricist who turned me on to a whole host of different authors, philosophical treatises, and how to effectively use lyrics to paint pictures, the man was and will always be at the top of my list. Geddy Lee as a monster bassist who had to also sing incredibly complex lyrics at the top of the scale while doubling and tripling keyboards and foot pedals is equally awe-inspiring. And Alex Lifeson‘s spontaneity, technical wizardry, brilliant use of space and open chords to push and pull in his space within a trio probably shapes my idea of how a guitar fits in a rock band more than anyone else.

While Rush definitely planted the seeds, as I got older and my influences expanded, I took to people like Roger Waters, Donald Fagen, David Byrne, and some heavier groups like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and later Metallica and Megadeth. Love West Coast hip-hop from the ’90s and reggae as well, so special mention to Tupac, Snoop, Dre, Cube, and Peter Tosh.

Also should be said that my older brother had a profound influence on me as well. He was a huge Zep and Floyd fan growing up, and most of us look up to our older brothers, so I split time playing sports and emulating Michael Jordan and George Gervin and listening and trying to emulate Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen. My poor parents! Either a basketball was slamming against the garage or guitar solos were bouncing around the house. PTSD for the parentals, I imagine!

What is your creative process like? Do you start with lyrics? Instruments? Concept?

Most definitely the music. Even though I am a trained writer with a degree in Creative Writing (fight on, UTEP Miners!), I still consider myself a guitarist first. In addition, Little King has always been a trio live and in the studio as its basis, although we tend to bring in the odd additional guests like Dave Hamilton (cello), Christina Hernandez (violin), and Monica Gutierrez (vocals) on the last record and the upcoming one. But as a trio, I have to make sure I can play the songs with my eyes closed before I even start to fit words to music. Little King songs are difficult, typically, to play and sing. So I need to make sure that I have them nailed down pat!

I always have a concept for each of our records. The last one, Occam’s Foil (2019), was a play on the theory of Occam’s Razor which is a medieval philosophy that basically states that the simplest answer is almost the correct one. I pilloried that! Not a fan, because I think it really gives one a pass on closer examination, entertaining divergent opinions, and taking time to think more deeply. So every song on Occam was a reference to how that theory pervades modern society, even though good Father William of Ockham is about 700 years old! Should be said that all of Little King’s other albums are similar – only Time Extension from 1998 was a true concept album with a linear storyline, though. The rest are more songs that are touching on a general concept and how it moves me.

The new album, in the works, as we speak, will be titled Amuse De Q.  Like most of the rest of the world, I locked down hard in March. As a single dad, a business owner of an event planning company based in Silicon Valley, and as a musician with an album out who was planning to tour for a good part of 2020, my world was rocked hard. So I sat on my bed watching the world fall apart through the usual digital windows, and I was inspired to write music and words. The title refers to the Quarantine, of course, but there are some other Q references as well. The subject matter is heavy – isolation and mental sickness, the BLM movement, sobriety, uprooting (again) and moving 2112 miles away, and domestic violence, which is a pandemic in and of itself. The Muse of Tragedy is a lovely lady named Melpomene, and she makes an appearance or two as well. In fact, I was driving with my mom yesterday about a mile from her house, and lo and behold we crossed Melpomene Drive. The universe got jokes!

What do you feel is the best song you have released/written and why?

I get this question often, and my first response is always, “You’re asking me to choose my favorite child? How Could You!?” But in retrospect, I always come back to “Happy Home” from OD1 (2014) and the follow-up to it, “The Skin That I’m In,” which was released on Occam’s Foil in 2019. I wrote, “Happy Home” at my mom’s house, where I am sitting here talking to you today! It was a very difficult period in my life, as I was moving to Delaware from California at the behest of my second wife, who I knew damn well didn’t want me and was setting me up. Sure enough, when I arrived, she dumped me on my ass! We have a son together, and he has chosen to be with me now back in Arizona 6 years later, so all has worked out, but I knew I was heading into a hornet’s nest of deceit and angst, and I did it anyway. Something about Jewish guilt, methinks!

So “Happy Home” reflects that period quite well, and it is still tough for me to listen to, but it does resonate with our fans and that’s what it’s about, right? I do love the recording, too. It fits the mood.

Fast-forward 5 years later, and I was in Delaware and living a successful and fairly happy existence. My biz was thriving, my son and I were safe and productive, I had a nice life with a house and some toys (all meaningless a year after, but 2020 has been a fickle b– for all, so no complaints.) In any event, “The Skin That I’m In” was my sort of “marked safe from crisis” response to the previous song, and the ending line, “And I wanted you to know I’m at one with the skin that I’m in” really was written and recorded in triumph! I also think that the string arrangement, vocals, drums, and epic self-indulgent guitar solo make that my favorite Little King song of all time.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

I don’t know about that…tough question. I have a mentor in the music business named Paul Holbrook, and he encouraged me to learn the business side of things in the late ’90s. That was pretty good advice that has carried over to 2020. Also, and I don’t know if it was explicit, but my parents both encouraged me to tell the truth all the time. Lying is a fool’s game…it almost never works, and so I have become this brutally open and honest person that may sometimes need to shut up but is always someone you can go to for a straight opinion. I think my kids and my friends and family value that. I ain’t always right, but I’m always righteous!

If you could be any kind of cookie, what would it be and why? (Most important question)

I’m a chocolate chip guy, and if it’s chocolate chocolate chip, we are friends for life. All the chocolate! My mom absolutely smashes the cookie game. I’ve lost 30 pounds in the last 8 months, and she is threatening that. Discipline. But yeah…cookies…clearly a major weakness for me.

How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?

It’s made the live performance all that much more important. You can download or stream anything anywhere, and a good song is a good song. But you can play it over and over and over again in your car or on a mountain or on an airplane. That’s different than when I was a kid. So the magic of standing in a club or arena with 120db fully blasting your face along with a couple hundred or thousand people is something that NO STREAM will ever be able to replicate. Sorry, but I am not the artist playing online concerts. I am sure it works for a lot of musicians and fans, but it’s not a medium I can imagine embracing. The live show is to be experienced live…not digitally.

The internet, of course, has changed the way we promote, and in a sense has levelled the playing field. For a very little amount of money, almost anyone can record and distribute their music all over the world. You have to think that’s a positive development! But it also raises the level of sh– one has to sift through exponentially in order to find the quality stuff. I come from the f–ing era of paper flyers on windshields in parking lots…we had to send phat a– press kits all over the country to get tours and radio play. Now it’s a point and clicks. So while it’s easier and perhaps “fairer,” it does require a bit more work to hunt diamonds.

If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

The obvious answer is that we all need to tour. Like NOW. I am very fortunate that I have a career outside of music that allows me to pay bills and raise a teenager. So many of my friends and colleagues in the biz don’t have that! They literally rely on the demand for live music to feed their families.

How will this come about? I think the combo of new and better COVID therapies, a host of vaccine options, awareness of social distancing and the need to protect the most vulnerable among us, and just a general heightened understanding of how the awful bug affects us will get us where we need to be by next year. I am NOT gonna doom and gloom all year long. Instead, we are putting our head down and making a record. And when the time comes, hopefully for festival season in the summer of 2021, we will have 2 new releases (Occam’s Foil and Amuse De Q) to bring to our fans. I choose to look at that as an amazing opportunity, not a terrible situation.

What is the most useless talent you have?

I can spin a basketball on my finger for as long as I please. I get bored at about a minute, but with a tiny bit of practice, I could probably go for an hour. Before guitars, it was all hoops all the time! So yeah…I was born with a basketball in my hand.

When you’re done with music, what do you want people to think when they talk about you and your work?

Let’s just say that I will never be done with music. I can’t imagine a time where I won’t feel the need to create. Never mind my legacy, which is so important to me that I wrote an entire album about it (Legacy of Fools, 2008).  Writing music and lyrics is my outlet for purging the voices in my head that never quite go away. At least they have an avenue for release when I’m writing music. I am certainly a happier person when I am working on an album.

I would like the respect as an artist who took a ton of time and care perfecting every aspect of my craft. There are no shortcuts, really, in Little King. Sure, mistakes get made and oversights happen. I can name plenty from my body of work! But I don’t think anyone can listen to my art and say that the proper amount of time, care, and effort wasn’t expended in the creative process. I CARE a lot, and I think our fans appreciate it. These songs are my legacy, and when my great-great-great grandkids wanna know what that crazy bald ancestor was about, I take comfort in knowing that the closer they examine these records, the more they will know. That brings me solace, for sure.

What is your most recent project/upcoming project?

As I described before, Amuse De Q is in the works right now! I just left El Paso, where our drummer/engineer Eddy Garcia owns a studio. This is the 5th record I have made with him, and the 4th he has played drums on, so we have a very cool synergy and dynamic. He has no problem telling me when something sucks, and I appreciate that sentiment and honesty beyond measure. He’s also a f–ing beast on the skins, so that helps.

This is also the first time in the 23-year history that I have kept the entire lineup intact from one record to the next. Eddy on drums, Manny Tejeda on bass and backing vox, and the aforementioned David, Christina, and Monica will all be back. And as an added bonus, my son has a little piano line on the new tune “Set It Down” which will definitely check a box for me as a major goal…to have my offspring contribute to my art is a big deal. Bass, drums, and about 90% of the guitars are in the can, so I am back home composing the vocal melodies and a few guitar solos and touches that will happen in the next month or 2. Album is set for release in early 2021.

Please do follow us in you’re so inclined! Our web site at www.littlekingtunes.com is constantly updated, as are our IG and FB pages @littlekingtunes. Photos, interviews, song clips, and humor all make frequent appearances, although not necessarily in that order. We love the FOLK (Friends Of Little King) and they seem to care a lot. We do, too!

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