Imagine putting our a small collection of your songs with little fanfare and within a week having everyone from ?uestlove, Phonte, Talib Kweli and even Prince singing your praises? That’s what happened to King, the Los Angeles musical trio of sisters Paris and Amber Strother and singer Anita Bias, whose 2011 EP arrived seemingly out of nowhere to international acclaim. Hot off the heels of their new single “Mister Chameleon,” New York’s about to get a double shot of King this Thursday, August 14th at Le Poisson Rouge and this Sunday, August 17th at Brooklyn’s Kings Park as part of the MoCADA Soul of BK Festival. We spoke to King about establishing their kingdom seemingly overnight and the importance of being themselves.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that the name King stems from having complete control over what you do. Has the meaning of that name changed for the three of you over the years?
Paris: I would say the meaning has changed. King was the only name that occurred to us because we knew what we were doing with all our stuff. We wanted to be the rulers of our own musical kingdom. But as time goes on and, even still now, the meaning of the word is still revealing itself to us. There’s a lot of decisions you have to make and remind yourself why you named yourself King. It’s what we wanted to be and what we needed to be as far as originality goes.
Paris and Amber, you’re both sisters and have been your entire lives. How did you first meet Anita?
Paris: We first met really quick for like five seconds at Berkley. It was actually a rehearsal for a mutual friend of ours who had asked both of us to play. I remember when I asked her to sing alone, I stopped everybody and asked her to sing again because it really spoke to me. It was a year or two later when I moved to Los Angeles that we started hanging out and music was born from our hanging out. Amber was here for a visit, and that was the start of everything.
What was the inspiration for your new single “Mister Chameleon?”
Amber: I guess it comes from experiences that we all have in life with people that change a lot.
Anita: Can’t quite put a finger on them.
Amber: Right! We all go through experiences whether a love, a friend, communication isn’t always there and you can’t tell where they’re coming from. We wanted to tell that story and kind of keep it fun and light because everybody changes. It was fun to talk about it from our perspective, saying “It’s cool you’re changing, but we can’t be around for that.”
You released a live performance of “Mister Chameleon” before you put out the official single version, which is pretty sonically different. Do you find it a challenge to recreate the feeling of playing live in the studio, or are those entirely different entities?
Paris: I feel like they’re almost a different animal. With recording, we spend a lot of time meticulously going over it and making sure the song speaks to the instruments we’re using. With that [live] video in particular we had different keyboards and vocals and it made it organic in a different way.
Not including your recent collaborations, “Mister Chameleon’s” the first King track we’ve heard since 2013’s “In the Meantime.” Were both tracks from the same sessions?
Anita: The recording of the album actually spans from about the EP until maybe a year ago, so they’ve all kind of been in the same family and we’ve been working on all the songs at the same time.
With the time you’ve spent working on this new album, which was announced in 2013, has much changed about it in the past year?
Paris: Yeah, we’ve actually added a few more songs to it to really give people a full picture of who we are. We’re really excited to give people the full scope of what we do.
Your free 2011 EP took off as something like a phenomenon. Was there a moment when you realized how much that EP was catching on?
Paris: Day one was actually pretty incredible. Day one, ?uestlove and Phonte had reached out. The next day was LA Weekly. When we put it up, we know something was [very] different. I can never compare anything to that time. It was really incredible.
Amber: People received it so well. We originally put it up for friends and family. We didn’t have a big PR campaign to go along with it. We were just putting out music that we really dug. It was a very full circle that something you really enjoyed making with persistence was put out in the world with no real expectations from it, it’s really amazing. For all of us, if it would have just been one person expressing that the music helped them smile or laugh or love someone or appreciate something in their life, that would have been enough. To get that from so many people is nothing but amazing. An incredible experience.
Is there any particular response you recall that really stands out?
Paris: A lot of people have said that “The Story” was the catalyst for them to make some big life change. People saying they decided to move from the east coast to the west coast following your song, that kind of stuff’s incredible to get back from listeners. That’s the whole reason we do it, to inspire people. For them to follow their heart is incredible to us.
Anita, you’re originally from Compton, and Paris and Amber, you’re from Minnesota. Now that you’re all Los Angeles based, has it shaped or change the way you make music?
Amber: This is the interesting thing. I think we’re all the sum of our parts, and I think the seasons in Minneapolis and the cultural things happening in Minnesota are always going to be with us, but L.A. is totally different and amazing and it probably furthered our sound a little bit. But, listening back to our music, I can hear our childhood in it.
Paris: Yeah, I think the L.A. vibe here has definitely played a part. It’s been really cool to come out here and experience even climate-wise and nature-wise a totally different thing. That in itself and being near the ocean has been inspiring to us. But, like Amber said, wherever we are, we’re drawing from what’s around us.
How did you first link up with Prince?
Paris: During those first initial weeks after releasing the EP, we got an email asking if we would be interested in opening for him at the LA Forum. That was our introduction, he wound up inviting us to a show in North Carolina where we had a great sit-down with him and got to meet him and chat. He’s been awesome.
What’s something you learned from working with Prince that you may not have expected from him?
Paris: I would have to say almost everything was new because, growing up and watching an icon like Prince, you’re not really sure what he’s going to be like personally. But, getting to know him, everything you’d expect and just a little bit different. He’s super cool and super awesome, which you would expect. Very open and warm, kind and supportive. When we first came out, he told us we didn’t have to change anything and that it was totally cool to be ourselves. That was advice that we stuck with. It’s super helpful knowing someone like Prince supports you being as authentically you as you can be.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 13, 2014