by A. Scott Galloway
For the past several years, We Are KING (twin sisters Amber and Paris Strother, formerly known as KING) have been building a fan base with their loving homage to rich vocal harmony, vintage keyboards, synthesizers and rhythm machines via inspired original material and choice covers. Their fan base includes Erykah Badu (like a big sister), Stevie Wonder and the late, great Prince who sent them a one sentence email invitation to come play in the sunshine with him at his world-famous Paisley Park recording and rehearsal complex.
Currently Los Angeles residents, the Minneapolis-born duo are performing at the Ford Theatres on Saturday, October 12, with a show that blends their love of synthesizers with live strings. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that the sisters are proud to have happen at the Ford due to their deep abiding affection for the venue.
“This will be our first show playing with an eight-piece orchestral ensemble with live strings and a harpist,” Paris enthuses. “Not only have we been rearranging some of our older songs for strings, people can expect to hear a few new songs from our upcoming second album. We want to make sure everyone has a lovely evening. The Ford is such a beautiful space…one of LA’s prettiest places to enjoy live music and dance.”
We Are KING’s sound is a warm, soothing and affirmatively uplifting amalgam of classic soul, smooth jazz and contemporary gospel that is spellbinding, pulling inspiration from respected `70s bands such as Mtume, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan and Steely Dan, family groups DeBarge and the Clark Sisters, super woman Patrice Rushen, and such self-contained masters as recently departed Prince and Kashif, and Stevie Wonder.
Key to the We Are KING vibe is multi-instrumentalist Paris Strothers’ passionate embrace of vintage keyboards, synthesizers and drum machines. “We built an analog synth studio in our home,” Paris shares. “We have instruments dating back to 1957 – some very old and now-rare stuff. The oldest piece is a drum machine from this company called Maestro – we have eight of them in a series including the one that Sly Stone used [on Sly & The Family Stone’s turning-point 1971 LP There’s a Riot Going On]. Those fun little rhythm boxes that sat on top of organs that people would use to accompany themselves sound really cool when you use them in a contemporary context. So, a lot of our sound comes from this room with our massive collection of old instruments – from Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos to more obscure drum machines like the Linn.”
The route from Minneapolis to Los Angeles was a fortuitous one for Paris and Amber. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Paris came to Northern California for an internship with the Monterey Jazz Festival. Wanting to delve deeper into her love for film scoring – her major at Berklee – Paris reached out to artist/composer/producer Patrice Rushen for career advice. Rushen advised her to move to Los Angeles. So, she did – sight unseen and with sister Amber in tow. “I wound up working with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz while simultaneously starting to create music with my sister. We put it together while both working other jobs.”
The sisters stress that Minneapolis lives on strong in their hearts. “The Minneapolis sound was a huge influence,” lead vocalist/co-lyricist Amber insists. “Prince was everywhere – part of the very fabric of living there. We also loved [super producer/songwriting team] Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Mint Condition, Sounds of Blackness…tons of really strong music coming out of our town. We definitely see ourselves as a part of that. It’s an honor.”
Their long incubated 2016 debut We Are KING arrived to a hot house sauna of passionate embrace by instant-fans that flocked to their DreamyFunkySmooth strains like soul moths to a torch for yesteryears. This writer personally witnessed the group back in 2016 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, where they stood bathed in fluorescent light before an adoring crowd that filled the fabled room with unconditional support. Their success led to recording collaborations with the chameleonic Robert Glasper on his GRAMMY®-winning Black Radio and a Miles Davis remix project Everything’s Beautiful, soul singer Eric Roberson, pianist Devin Morrison and a song they produced and co-wrote with singer Sam Sparro titled “Outside the Blue” for his upcoming album.
Paris and Amber promise that their new music – which they’ve been organically shaping since coming off the road in early 2018 - will take everything fans have come to love about them up several notches. “The new album does not have a title yet,” Paris teases. “Lyrically, the songs touch on experiences all of us have as humans on this planet - everything that it means to be here now.”
We Are KING’s concert at the Ford promises to be a spellbinding evening of new music and elevated spins on favorites of old.
We Are KING presented by Mixed Feelings and KCRW 89.9 FM takes place Saturday, October 12, tickets and info here.