“I just got Marvel Madness, which is a really fun, annoying, hard game. No one ever wants to play with me.”
As one-third of the R&B group KING (along with twin sister, Amber, and musical sister, Anita Bias), Paris Strother engineers kaleidoscopic opulence on debut album We Are KING. Strother, as a producer, is simply a magician able to leap and dabble in diverging spaces with a few keystrokes, a 21st century time traveler equipped with indelible taste and lacking pretension. With joyous lush bops, lovingly stitched to the most intricate harmonies in the game today, KING has already garnered the respect of musical demigods like Questlove, Prince and Erykah Badu.
The pressure of those ears pointed towards their music would have any young upstart feeling angst, but Strother spoke to me with weightless confidence. In a quick 15-minute interview, we discussed the group’s songwriting process, her favorite classic video games and the influence of the inner child on KING’s music.
Something I really appreciate about your music (and you as a producer) is your ability to look forward and backward at the same time. The harmonization is very old to me, but the voice modulation and the silkiness of your sound is very new to me. So, who do you get that inspiration from?
Yeah, we’re definitely inspired by the feeling of old school music. But we’re always looking forward. We’re products of the electronic age, ya know? Growing up with this abundance of synthesizers and cool ways to make sounds. Yeah, we try to experiment texturally. Some of the earlier influences would be people like Quincy Jones, Patrice Rushen and Duke Ellington, even going into the new wave of the ’80s.
KING seems to be inspired by Disney movies, like the childhood aspect. I feel like the uplifting and light music is exactly what we need right now in a world that’s looking a lot bleaker than we remembered as kids. Do you get a sense that your music has become vital now that y’all have been on tour for a while?
It’s really been amazing to see people feeling it and just responding to it in any way. And to know that we’re giving people hope in times like these. To let them celebrate who they are is totally the intention that we had, to get people feeling good and get them vibrating on that energy, not just listening to music that we think is beautiful.
So, how does that come about in the composition process? There are three of you, so how does that happen organizationally?
Well, we all like hanging out. Making music is such a natural part of hanging out for us. So it could be any combination of a way to make music. Like, I could have an idea on the drums or Anita can have lyrics or Amber could have a melody, but we all sit together and keep putting our best ideas forward, so it’s really a layered thing. They’ll sing something, and the part I’m playing is narrated by what they sang. And then they’ll sing something based on what I played, so it’s all very interwoven.
When y’all are making music in-house, that comfortability is sorta built in. But you all have had the privilege of working with a bunch of different artists–y’all just came off a beautiful performance with Corinne Bailey Rae on the Conan O’Brien Show–so how does that process change up when other artists are asking you to provide input on their records?
Well, you always keep it true to their sound. Working with Corinne might as well have been like working with a sister because we just vibrate on so many of the same levels. Her producer, she and Steve Brown produced the music together. So, the three of us sitting together was really just like a meeting of the minds. So, in that case, with that record, I think going into the situation with no preconceived notions and just making stuff we thought would be really beautiful. But she’s just one incredible songwriter. She’s just so musical. Everything she does is music. It was really such a beautiful thing to witness.
So, I’ve wanted to ask this question since I watched the music videos (for “Carry On,” “The Greatest” and “Native Land”). Y’all are really into animation–we talked a little bit about it earlier with Disney–but it seems like y’all are also really into video games. The videos remind me of 80s classics. Did y’all play Super Nintendo?
Ohh. Definitely not past tense. I just got back from the vintage video game store like an hour ago. So, yes.
Oh, this is great. What are some of the go-to favorites?
Well, for me, it’s Mario Kart on any system. I just really got into playing it on Wii U, which is AMAZING. But my favorite, always, is Nintendo 64. I actually just picked up another controller so that we can play on the tour bus. I love all the Mario games, as far as role-playing goes. And the music is so fun and quirky; it’s instant nostalgia, totally transports me back to my childhood. On Sega, it’s Kid Chameleon. Obviously, Sonic. There’s this game called Pitfall that I love.
Oh, wow, I hadn’t heard of that one.
Oh, yeah, it’s awesome. It’s like going through the Mayan jungle. It’s pretty cool. On 64, it’s 007. That might be my favorite game.
Golden Eye, gotta be.
Golden Eye (laughs). Yeah, as far as the original Nintendo, though, I get all the games that I used to have. Like, I just got Marvel Madness, which is a really fun, annoying, hard game. No one ever wants to play with me (laughs).
That’s okay; sometimes you gotta ride solo dolo.
Right? It’s okay (laughs).