Making Strings Sing: An Interview with R.D. King

Instrumental music can be a sinfully underrated way to take in emotional, introspective music. What is often times seen as background music at a dinner club or someone with less of an appreciation for the thought and heart that goes into these arrangements might consider “hard to follow because there are no words” is a beautiful and inspiring way to portray your feelings or experiences when done right. R.D. King is an artist who does it right.
I first caught King at a small Gallery show in Cambridge a while back and his playing style and penchant for flair and lightning quick fretboard work left me with my jaw on the floor. It was spirited but controlled. Beautiful and classical in nature but somehow totally rock n’ roll…on an acoustic guitar. There was just something about his playing and his songs that transported me in a way that I frequently find it hard to experience with a solo instrumental musician. Those who have that ability and few and far between so when one comes along its all the more impressive and you can’t help but take notice.
R.D. King has a brand new (debut) release titled Vs. Self is set for release on Thursday, April 27, 2017 at the Rockwell Davis Square Theatre in Somerville and King will be joined by Jenee Halstead (another favorite of ours). The show is sure to be a good one, so get your tickets early and find a new favorite in one of the most promising young players in the Boston area today.
We caught up with R.D  to talk about the record, his writing process and the struggles of fitting into a community of primarily lyricist type songwriters and finding your niche while remaining true to the art that you want to create. Check it and give the new single “Heartstring” a listen (or 12).

RLR: I feel like as an instrumental artist you are often times at a disadvantage. People love a guitar solo, but we are constantly bombarded with music with words, be it truly emotion-driven and introspective folky stuff or repetitive pop catchiness on the radio waves. I can personally attest that you are one of the special ones when it comes to instrumental artists, but is that a struggle that you deal with often when booking shows or fitting into a bill?
RD: It’s definitely tough finding venues for instrumental music. A lot of venues just aren’t interested in instrumental music. But any venue where the audience is really into the music tends to be a good space for me. Fitting on bills isn’t quite as much of a challenge. I rarely look for other instrumentalists (of which there are few) and instead focus on musicians who write thought-provoking, introspective music. And there’s a lot of those artists in Boston!
RLR: Same topic, there are few artist I have come across who perform instrumentally that I truly “get” when they name a song, say “Mount Washington” and listening I am like “holy shit, yeah I totally get why a place like that would inspire this song and it totally transports me to that place”. How difficult do you find it to arrange and create music on just your guitar that can truly translate to a very specific idea or place or thing? “Lightness of Being” has this cascade of notes that really engulfs this feeling of floating or being light, airy. Really, how do you go about accomplishing something like that?
RD: I always start with a feeling. Sometimes, I can visualize specific imagery, but other times it’s more abstract. I actually try not to think too much about how to represent the ideas on the guitar. The conscious mind gets in the way. I try to just close my eyes and listen to what my ear is hearing, which isn’t easy (at least not for me). Sometimes it takes me just a few hours to write a piece, but it often takes weeks or months, experimenting with a variety of ideas. Often I’ll try a dozen different ideas for a section of a piece that won’t feel quite right. Eventually I’ll have a “That’s It!” moment where the pieces fall into place. 
The naming process comes afterwards and is a real struggle for me. By nature, the ideas and feelings I attempt to express are not easily put into words — otherwise I would be better off writing a poem or a novel! So coming up with a short title that encapsulates the piece is often the hardest part for me.
RLR: Vs. Self is a really intriguing title for a record and I could come up with my own interpretation of what that might mean as an artist, but why don’t you enlighten us a bit about what that phrase means to you and why you named your record it?
RD: I am fascinated generally by “self-experience,” by the nature of one’s relationship with oneself. And although sometimes we make peace with ourselves, is anything more fundamental to the human condition than self-conflict? The universality of it intrigues me because although we all experience tension between different parts of ourselves, each person does so differently. This album is deeply personal to me, although there are no lyrics describing details of a heartache, a breakdown, etc. But the conflicts I explore in this album are all real, and I’ve experienced every one of them.
RLR: How about the recording process for Vs. Self? Where did you make this album and tell us a bit about the arrangements you chose and such.
RD: It’s tough to imagine an easier recording process. I recorded at Woolly Mammoth Sound in Waltham, MA with Dave Westner, a great sound engineer, using one guitar and one microphone.  So we had one microphone setup close to the guitar, and blended that with the sound of the pickup inside the guitar (which itself has both a microphone and a transducer pickup). I had a specific sound in mind for the album and we worked hard to get something that was both faithful to the original acoustic guitar sound without sounding small.
RLR: We are big on community here on RLR and know you are embedded in an up and coming set of artists in and around Boston. How important has that been to your own growth as an artist and performer?
RD: Being a part of the music community in Boston is really inspiring; there’s a lot of artists putting out really great work. I draw inspiration from many different genres, so I particularly enjoy the diversity of sounds in this community. And there’s tons of people that are so supportive of the community. At the end of the day it’s comforting to know that there’s so many people going through the same struggles, both as creative artists, and as musicians trying to make things work.
RLR: Favorite spot to catch a show around the area?
RD: I currently live right around the corner from the Burren, so I find myself there most often. It’s great spot to catch local music just about every day!
RLR: If you could collaborate with anyone (living or dead), who would you collaborate with and why?
RD: That’s a really tough question. I would probably say Leo Kottke, a pioneer of fingerstyle guitar the ’60s (he still plays today). Though it might be less of a collaboration and more just educational for me!
RLR: So, whats next for R.D. King?
RD: Right now I’m totally focused on the upcoming release show at the Rockwell on April 27. After that I’m actually going to start writing again. I’ve begun to have whispers of the next album, but it’s hard to begin a new project when the first one isn’t out the door yet! I’m working on a few music videos that will be coming out over the next few months, and I’m currently setting up a few shows for the late summer and early fall.