Paris Strother of KING talks early influences, Prince, Pharrell, and more

An interview with Paris Strother of KING

13895146_10107489070893759_3958000430626572864_n By Andy Goh
October 18, 2016

How many artists, working on their very first project of any kind, could record just three tracks on an EP, self-written, self-produced and self-promoted, and have it gain such fervent notoriety that its praises are sung by Questlove of the Roots, Phonte of Little Brother and the legendary Prince?

Certainly not many. However, that was the story of KING, the R&B trio hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota and Los Angeles, California. The group, consisting of sisters Paris and Amber Strother and Anita Bias, blends neo-soul, jazz and 80s synth pop into a wholly cohesive sound, one that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Their 2011 EP “The Story” contained just three tracks, but the strength of those tracks carried them all the way to the stage of the LA Forum, opening for Minnesota’s favorite son, Prince. Their dreamy blend of three-piece harmonies, intricate and layered production and bold, unashamed lyrics quickly made an impact on many artists considered to be at the peak of their genres.

With fans and peers alike clamoring for more content, KING would go silent for more than five years while they worked on their follow up to “The Story.” However, that wait came to an end in January of 2016 as their long-awaited debut album, “We Are KING” finally hit the shelves. Fans were far from disappointed as “We Are KING” picked up right where “The Story” left off in terms of silky smooth production (handled by Paris), seamless vocals (primarily Amber and Anita) and a playfully mature sound that harkens back to the days of Sade, Janet Jackson and “Ain’t Nobody”-era Chaka Kahn.

Don’t let the brevity of their catalog fool you, as there is very little material that isn’t pure, genuine and concentrated soul.

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Left to Right: Sisters Amber Strother, Paris Strother and musical sister Anita Bias. Photo: Alex King

In the fall of 2016, KING now embarks on a headlining world tour. KING makes a stop in Charlotte this Saturday at the Neighborhood Theater. CLTure was able to catch up with Paris for a quick interview before their show in the Queen City.

CLTure: Let me first ask you to describe your music a little bit. I know you handle the production and the arrangements for the group so for our listeners and readers who don’t know much about KING, can you tell me a little bit about your music?

Paris: Yeah, KING is me and my sister, my best friend (vocalist Amber Strother), we just make the music we’ve always wanted to hear. So the three of us (along with vocalist Anita Bias) write together, I do all the music and I’ve heard it described a few different ways. I’ve heard dream pop, I’ve heard future soul, I’ve heard someone call it “LSD R&B”. It’s rooted in soul music but it has influences from all over the place.

Full audio interview:

Full transcript of interview: 

CLTure: Talk about your musical influences growing up. You and your sister are from Minnesota, right? Minneapolis?

Paris: That is right.

CLTure: Talk about your musical beginnings and influences, were y’all in choir, what sort of music were you listening to and when did you start producing music yourself?

Paris: Growing up we listened to a lot of jazz and a lot of gospel around the house. Again, with the pop music, just kind of like 80s and 90s R&B, our parents loved it. We all started off with piano lessons [when we were] really small, but I was the only one out of me, my cousins and all my siblings who kind of stuck with it forever. Amber never really sang professionally until KING so she always had this brilliant voice, and this great ear for music and she was always putting me onto stuff.

Really young, it was Stevie Wonder who was a huge impact, Duke Ellington, we listened to a lot of that together. Getting a little bit older, getting deeper into jazz, it was Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans and then exploring folk music, it was Joni Mitchell, you know it was all over the place. We were just lovers of music, we loved film music, video game music, soundtracks, so we were always influenced by everything around us.

CLTure: Talk about how KING came together. How did y’all hook up with Anita Bias?

Paris: I met Anita briefly at Berkley College of Music. I only heard her sing for a couple of seconds and I was completely blown away. After finishing school, I moved out to LA and randomly bumped into her at a jam session. We started hanging out just as friends, but because we are all so much into music, songwriting became what we did for fun.

CLTure: I want to talk about the music itself for a little bit. For an R&B group, a female R&B group especially, I feel like your music is very unique, especially when compared to contemporary R&B. The vocal harmonies are very even. There’s not one voice that always dominates the record. You share the harmonies and the leads very equally. You also handle all of your production and your arrangements, which is very different because a lot of R&B artists will try to get the big name producers and songwriters in there to do that dirty work for them. Talk about the songwriting process for a little bit and how you come up with your music.

Paris: All three of us contribute to the songwriting, but it’s really multilayered. It could start with a melody or the drums or with lyrics, but it’s always the three of us brainstorming our best musical ideas. The vocal will be based on the musical part that came right before it, and the next musical part will be based on the vocals that were recorded and it’s all just layered on top of each other like that.

I think that we’re really moved by the song being sonically whole. We never wanted to sound like someone singing over a track, or someone making a song around a track that already existed, so the song always goes up together, both parts of it.

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Left to Right: Sisters Amber Strother, Paris Strother and musical sister Anita Bias. Photo: Alex King

CLTure: The three track EP y’all came out with in 2011 called “The Story”, there’s obviously a gap between that and the album that came out in January titled “We Are KING”. Why the long wait?

Paris: There was a lot of learning. It was really just the three of us making the record so we had to learn how to do everything on our own, which was, in the end, a wonderful and eye-opening experience to be able to say we made it exactly the way we wanted to just based on our musical taste. Likewise with the music, there’s also the business side and wanting to put it out in the best way possible and aligning ourself with people who understood the project, and being able to say no to people who didn’t quite align with what we were trying to do.

CLTure: So the original EP in 2011 was written and produced in your home studio in Los Angeles, correct?

Paris: That’s correct.

CLTure: So the new album, was that recorded in a more traditional recording studio or was that also in y’all’s home studio?

Paris: That was still in the home studio.

CLTure: I like it! Staying true to your roots. With the new album, did y’all end up on a label?

Paris: We started a label called KING Creative for this record.

CLTure: After the EP came out in 2011, you had a lot of word of mouth publicity from some of the biggest names in hip-hop, ?uestlove of the Roots, Phonte from Little Brother (a North Carolina artist), and even Minnesota’s most famous recording artist ever, Prince. Y’all actually got to open for Prince on one of his tours a couple of years ago. Describe how that meeting came about.

Paris: He, like so many others, heard the EP from word of mouth, so he had his then manager reach out to us and he flew us out to North Carolina, actually. Our first meeting with Prince was right after a show in North Carolina. He sat us down and talked with us and told us he wanted to help in any way that he could, and then invited us to open for him before a show in LA. So we opened for him on the last night of his 21-night stand at the LA Forum. We rehearsed for a long time getting ready for the show and it was really incredible to get to know him. From then until, unfortunately, his untimely passing he was a mentor and advisor for us. It was a really tough year but we’re really happy to have known him.

CLTure: You mentioned Prince as a mentor, what are some of the things you learned from Prince?

Paris: He was just really adamant about us being ourselves and not changing for anybody. I think that he understood that it’s really easy to get swept up into the mainstream. He thought that the message we were putting out was so strong on its own that he just wanted to make himself available to make us comfortable continuing on the route that we started with the EP. He was really serious about ownership and not giving away your over over your masters to anybody or any corporation. It was all really good advice to get from someone who really has been there and done everything.

CLTure: Was that part of the inspiration for creating your own record label, then?

Paris: Yeah.

CLTure: What year did you open for Prince?

Paris: We opened for Prince in 2011. It was the first show we ever did as KING.

CLTure: That’s quite a high bar to set for your first show!

Paris: Yeah, it was pretty crazy.

CLTure: It seems that with this tour y’all are currently on, that you’ve already exceeded that bar. You’re travelling all over the world, not just the United States but in Europe as well. What does headlining a world tour mean for you?

Paris: It’s really an amazing feeling to connect with so many people who felt the music and who show us so much love in every city. It’s a really, really cool feeling. We’ve had so much support from people and it’s kind of like going out there and meeting different versions of yourself. It’s finding out you’re vibrating at the same frequency as the people who love the music and it’s been completely wild to heard full crowds of people singing along to the music.

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Left to Right: Sisters Amber Strother, Paris Strother and musical sister Anita Bias. Photo: Alex King

CLTure: The music industry is notoriously fickle. What are your feelings on the state of the music industry today?

Paris: On the one hand it’s still very much the music industry and on the other hand, the internet has leveled the playing field for everybody. So it’s a really interesting time for everybody because instead of having to rely on the big businesses to get your product out there, you’re able to reach fans directly. Talking about the state of the industry, it’s going to be really exciting to see where it goes over the next few years.

CLTure: Your music is very direct and there’s no pretense. I think that’s summed up in the name of the group, KING. Can you tell me how you came up with that name?

Paris: It was the first and only name that came up to us. It just exhibited the strength of us. “We’re just going to go over here and do this on our own.” It was very much an independent endeavor from the beginning, but it was also supposed to challenge the notion of what people thought about when they think of who’s in charge. People are still like “Hey, who’s your producer?” Like, no we do it ourselves. The name really speaks to fact that we are three young women that are governing over this musical kingdom.

CLTure: Talk about what’s next for KING. You’re on this world tour right now, after the tour do you plan on going back into the studio?

Paris: We’ll just be recording more and making more music. We’re really excited that we’ve laid the groundwork for making more music and now we can just do it at our leisure to put the records out. It’s a very freeing feeling and we’re just excited to make more music and do more shows.

CLTure: I lied, I’ve got one more question too. You’ve collaborated with a couple of great artists as well, most notably with Robert Glasper for the song “Much Love” off of his Black Radio project which won a grammy. Who are some other artists that you’d like to collaborate with in the future?

Paris: Pharrell. I’d love to collaborate with Pharrell. I’d love to work with Stevie Wonder. Any of the greats. It’d be insane to work with Joni Mitchell, it’d be really cool to work with Herbie [Hancock]. We’re also looking forward to new ways of presenting KING music, like maybe KING with an orchestra. Just blowing out any kind of boundaries and getting to know each other more musically it would be an amazing continued collaboration.

Full audio interview:

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