Who knew that R&B trio KING are inspired by video game music?

Jazz, Joni and... The Legend of Zelda


KING and NICK HAKIM at the Velvet Underground (508 Queen West), Thursday (October 13), doors 8 pm. $17. ticketweb.ca.


KING’s musical influences aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a trio revered for crafting traditional R&B. 

Since the February release of debut album We Are KING, critics have viewed their music as a welcome counterpoint to the R&B chimera unleashed by genre-mixing artists like Kelela, Frank Ocean and Blood Orange. While those artists decidedly push the genre forward, KING have been viewed as looking back, breathing life into the more classic sounds of 80s-90s R&B. 

Yet when asked to describe their influences, Paris Strother – speaking to NOW sans her musical partners, twin sisterAmber and close friend Anita Bias – shows a penchant for being equally chimeric.

“Amber and I grew up hearing a lot of jazz, so you have your Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock. People who were big on orchestration and arrangement like Duke Ellington,” says Strother, who produces KING’s songs, while Amber and Bias are the primary vocalists. All three share songwriting duties. 

“In terms of songwriters, Joni Mitchell, but also musicals, the Gershwins, Disney film soundtracks and scores. Video games.”

Wait, come again? Video games?

Turns out KING aren’t as traditional as they’re made out to be. On first listen, We Are KING may seem to share the harmonic structures and lyrical themes – namely love – of R&B, but repeat plays reveal lush soundscapes dotted by heavy synth textures and unconventional sounds.

Enter Nintendo.

“Growing up, we had the first Nintendo, the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis. I still have all of those in my home, and I still play them very often,” says Strother. “I was reading an interview with Koji Kondo, who did the music for Nintendo and Super Mario Bros. He said the challenge was to make something repetitive enough that it could be played throughout but that people wouldn’t get sick of after hearing so many times.”

Kondo’s challenge was Strother’s inspiration. KING approached their album with the idea that new sonic elements would be revealed on every listen. A Berklee College of Music graduate, Strother doesn’t just play video games, she breaks down their scores with a composer’s ear. We asked her to list three of her favourites.

Sheik’s Theme, from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time  

“It’s so simple, it sounds like some kind of electronic harp, but it has kind of an advanced harmonic approach for a video game.”

Drake Lake, from Wave Race 64 

“It sounds a lot like jazz fusion. At that time (circa 96), I was hearing modal changes and different chord changes, and my mind was opening up to more than just major and minor chords, and they had a lot of that kind of stuff in the game.”

Any Super Mario underwater level 

“They always captured that lushness, and a lot of it is nostalgic, too. My siblings and cousins would all get together with the games, whatever we got that year, and we would play like clockwork.” 

music@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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