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Progressive Rock Interviews

TheKI

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Roxie Sakura and Lucas Francis of TheKI from 2015
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Roxie Sakura - I began singing at five at an LA conservatory where I got to sing everything; jazz, opera, musicals, standards. It was such a wonderful introduction to the world of music. I loved all of it, and I loved getting to share my voice with an audience and connect with them.

Lucas Francis - I started piano lessons on a Casio keyboard I got for Christmas in 1993 that I still have. I was the big kid. With my two-foot edge on my classmates I was able to get around on an upright bass in fifth grade. I played in jazz bands and orchestras, and was listening and playing rock, soul and funk on my own, and I was always composing in every genre. Because I loved jazz, funk, rock and classical equally, I was always most interested in finding ways to bring them together in my writing.

Roxie Sakura - Musically, we shared very similar backgrounds and both had a desire to create timeless, beautiful music that was also modern and immediate. From the beginning, theKI has been a constant experiment of fusing elements of jazz and classical with roots genres like rock, soul and blues. The binding thread has been our lyrical themes around the exploring dualism of unity and connection with inner struggle.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Roxie Sakura - Our purpose with theKI has been to use our music for greater good in any way we can; for the last few years we have played almost exclusively benefits and awareness events. If the musical portion was removed from that equation, I would continue work with a human rights organization, like the UN Women, whose events we have performed for on multiple occasions.

Lucas Francis - The same is true for me; I’ve always been interested in alternative renewable energy, I worry about the direction the environment is headed in and the long-term consequences that will have for human and animal life.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
Roxie Sakura - We formed theKI conceptually as a way to use music to support unity and tolerance for one another. My mother was raised in Japan, and I spent much of my life there, in Japan “Ki” is the universal energy that connects everyone and everything. So “KI” for us is a fitting concept for conveying unity through universal connection.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?

Lucas Francis - Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Return To Forever, Weather Report. The Russians really have it on lock: Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky. Vivaldi, Corelli. James Brown, the Beatles. I always thought MJ was progressive in his genre-bending for such a typically rigid pop industry.

Roxie Sakura - Sade, Billie Holiday, Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spaulding, Erykah Badu, Corrinne Bailey Rae, Little Dragon.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Lucas Francis - In January we are beginning our official radio campaign that will target college and non-commercial stations. We are working with the Planetary Group in LA and are also submitting to additional stations on our own. We will also be shooting our first music video next year.

Roxie Sakura - After we promote, we are really looking forward to going back to songwriting and more live shows, which we haven’t been able to do much of while also promoting as an indie group.

MSJ:
I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

Lucas Francis - Jazz, rock and soul are the primary influences on the album, although there are electronic, ambient and world elements embedded. Sade was Roxie’s main influence, which created an emphasis on melodic beauty and arrangements that had depth but maintained an almost meditative simplicity. With James Brown, Miles Davis after he went electric and Herbie Hancock as my main influences, I’m always trying to raise the groove factor in anything and also add the grit of older roots genres like soul and blues. So our influences coming together resulted in an album that can sound like the bands of Sade and James Brown finding a way to coexist with each other on stage with some jazz cats added to the mix to boot, as unorthodox as that sounds.

MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

Roxie Sakura - We both really appreciate what Janelle Monae is doing, and would love to be a part of her collective. She not only has such a great grasp on all the roots genres, but she can bring them together in a really appealing, modern, and powerful way, especially in support of her themes of social acceptance.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Lucas Francis - Illegal downloading lately seems passé and arguably pointless, when there are so many streaming options combined with constant availability through mobile devices. Meanwhile there is a growing trend to phase out hard drives in favor cloud-based services. We think streaming is the inevitable future, and depending on which part of a musician’s career you are talking about and the kind of career you are pursuing, streaming right now both helps and hinders, but in different ways. The opportunities for exposure provided by streaming are undeniably superior to physical distribution. However, it seems to us that musicians are disturbingly under compensated for streaming royalties, with the bulk of it going to the streaming companies and the record labels. No musician can live off streaming royalties right now. The percentage needs to be boosted. Perhaps the streaming subscription fees need to be raised as well. Charging $9.99 a month for limitless access to the entire history of recorded music is the best deal for music fans ever; how did we go from paying $17 for a single CD to $10 a month for all music ever at your fingertips 24/7? As great as this is from the consumer perspective, I support streaming fees being raised. While the argument is that the exposure from streaming fuels ticket sales and merchandise at shows, not every musician’s path is to frequently be on the road as their primary income.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
Roxie Sakura - I feel honored when someone digs what we’re doing enough to record it at all, and if they take the trouble to upload, I feel even more flattered. For me, I see it as free promotion, extra exposure, and public validation. All are pretty valuable! 
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Lucas Francis - That’s a very interesting question. Maybe the rappers that insult me as I listen their song about how I’m not as rich, successful or appealing as they are. When did that become a thing? Am I supposed dig that and say, “Yeah, I suck!”?

Roxie Sakura - If this was a comic book, Sade would be my former best friend who betrayed me by only releasing 1 great record every ten years. And I would be very angry at her.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

Lucas Francis - Damn. Jaco Pastorius on electric and Stanley Clarke on upright with Thundercat in between them, Lenny White and Billy Cobham each on drums, Don Alias on percussion, John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola on guitar, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea each with a few synths and a grand, Toots Thielemans on harmonica, throw in Stan Kenton as a co-arranger for the show’s set and have him on stage directing his big band. Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter up front with Yo-Yo Ma and Niccolo Paganini…

Roxie Sakura - …and Esperanza Spaulding and Flora Purim on vocals.

Lucas Francis - It would be a big band. And a good show!

MSJ:
If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Lucas Francis - These questions get harder. Assuming everyone’s alive and available, Miles Davis, Return To Forever, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, Stan Kenton, Bird, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, The Beatles and Stones and Eagles and Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Sly and The Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Prince, Michael Jackson, Sade, Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, and throw in the Berlin Philharmonic. This list is several times too short.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Lucas Francis - Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, played by the Los Angeles West Coast Get down collective of musicians, is just staggering in its scope, depth and musicianship. I would call it a masterpiece. I studied with Miles Mosley and we would always catch them live in Hollywood. I’m so happy for their success this year, they really deserve it. Kate Boy’s new One album is a great rush. It’s an all-anthem only album, apparently.  

Roxie Sakura - I’ve had Jessie Ware’s second album Tough Love on repeat for much of this year. Adele gets all the attention, but I think the voice on Jessie is just as special and rare. I love that her production experiments with bringing together traditional genres and really forward-thinking approaches to arranging, vocal harmonies, sound design and drums.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?

Lucas Francis - Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything was a major paradigm shift. It functions as the answer book to life, and it explains when, who and how we figured out everything we know.

Roxie Sakura - The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor was really great for explaining the psychology behind happiness, why it matters, and how to realistically find it and sustain it in a meaningful way.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Roxie Sakura - We saw Little Dragon live at a secret show in LA announced to fans. It was in a tiny art gallery in Eagle Rock, and somehow we ended up standing in the front row about five feet from the band as they played a free show. They have such incredible chemistry, and they totally immerse themselves in the moment to create an incredible and hypnotic experience. We love the tribal-rock synth spaciness of it all.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Lucas Francis - “Birdland”, but only sometimes. The rest of the time I don’t like it! Very fickle with that song.

Roxie Sakura - Sarah Vaughan, Songs of the Beatles. Especially the bossa nova cover of “Something”. I feel very guilty about that one

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Lucas Francis - Playing live improvised dubstep on my upright bass with a bow, about a dozen effect pedals with most of then on, a 400W cabinet at max volume, and a backing beat playing out of speakers of my SUV with all four doors and the back open, in an abandoned parking lot, late at night. That’s probably a very good example.

Roxie Sakura - Basically the same thing: using too many effects at once and throughout my first show with my TC-Helicon VoiceLive Touch when I first got it.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

Roxie Sakura - Buddha, John Lennon and Sade. It would be a great conversation at the intersection of spirituality, philosophy and music, and how they relate.

Lucas Francis - Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea. The stories between the three of them…It would be like having an omniscient narrator fill you in for a lengthy period in jazz and fusion history. I would love to hear their insight on many topics beyond story-telling, of course.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Roxie Sakura - Sushi.

Lucas Francis - What she said. And some fine bourbon and craft beer.

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Lucas Francis - We just wanted to thank Music Street Journal for this opportunity and for your having been a great resource for prog since the late 90s! 
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2016  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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