Paris Strother sounds a little tired. It’s 9 a.m., just two days after KING dropped their long-awaited debut album, We Are KING, and the morning after a live performance in D.C., so it’s understandable. What’s not so understandable for fans who have been salivating for new music, is what the heck took so long for their debut to drop.
After blindsiding the music industry with their 2011 debut EP,The Story, a sonically stunning three-song collection that caught the ear of heavyweights including Prince, Erykah Badu and Questlove, the interest in a full-length project was palpable.
Most artists would’ve used that momentum to push forward with a full-length project. Instead, the L.A.-based group— which was formed in 2009 and is comprised of twin sisters, Amber and Paris Strother, and friend Anita Bias— spent the next five years honing their craft. While they did tour and introduce their sound to a larger audience— including an appearance on Robert Glasper’s 2012 Grammy-winning Black Radio, the time was mostly spent learning each other and further developing their sound.
It isn’t just their music that is other-worldly; it’s their approach to the business.
“We just wanted the album to be as musically perfect as possible and secondly, we wanted to release it in the best way,” says Paris, who plays keys and handles the group’s production. “We went through the process of learning about people and learning a bit more about the business and learning a bit more about ourselves. We really took the time to grow with each other and figure each other out, to figure out our goals and what we wanted to do.”
In essence, they needed time to create and figure themselves out after receiving such a big push out of the gate. It isn’t every group that can say that their very first live performance was in front of an audience of 17,000 at the L.A. Forum with an introduction from His Purple Majesty himself. While Paris admits they were obviously hesitant about the performance, how do you say no to Prince? You don’t.
“There was a lot of, ‘are you sure’?” Paris remembers, laughing. “And he was like ‘yes.’ It was a good way to hit the ground running.”
Since then Prince has acted as a mentor of sorts to the group. His most important piece of advice? Stay true to yourself.
“He heard the album and said don’t change anything about it,” she says.
Sound encouragement because We Are King, released independently on their own label, KING Creative, is the sonic equivalent of walking through paradise where the colors are warm, the air is sweet and love is tangible. Produced, written and arranged entirely by the group– with Paris on keys and Amber and Anita handling the vocals, the record sounds as if it was created in a vacuum, free of expectations and burdensome opinions. And the result is a gorgeous piece of art that’s sure to be among the best releases of the year.
“We wanted people to feel like they were falling into a cloud or wrapping themselves in a warm blanket,” Paris says.
The three songs from the EP— “Hey,” “Supernatural” and “The Story”— act as the cornerstone of the work, and Paris says they recorded about two new songs per year, hence the five year stretch. While the project is rooted in classic R&B stylings, it remains eclectic and ethereal in its delivery. The ambient, airy quality of songs like “Red Eye,” “Love Song” and the lead single, “The Greatest” sets KING in space all their own, just as they intended.
“We were learning more about ourselves, learning more about each other we wanted to push more boundaries sonically and lyrically,” Paris explains, adding that the group’s core foundation is the genuine love and friendship between them. “We got to know each other better both in music and personally. It was kind of a formative time in our lives too, just growing up in the course of five years together. It felt like we were really developing the core of what is KING.”
Paris admits that without the support of one another, it may have been easy to be swayed in directions that weren’t true to their sound — and for that, she’s grateful. Unsurprisingly, they were approached by several labels following the critical acclaim of their EP but ultimately decided that their sound was best served independently, through their own devices.
As for the album itself, the creative process involved not only crafting the songs but spending a lot of time with the music, listening and critiquing.
“We were just chipping away at it to get exactly what we wanted,” Paris explains. “We spent a lot of time with it. The process involved a lot of listening, like, countless hours of listening to it—while we were driving, while we were sleeping. We were feeling what was supposed to be there and what wasn’t. So a lot of the process was fine tuning.”
Paris and Amber grew up in Minneapolis in a household full of music. While Paris says she was always “really musical,” going as far as attending music college after picking up the piano at two, her twin, Amber was content to keep her talents mostly to herself.
“Amber was always musical, she always put me on to stuff and was always singing around the house but I don’t think she thought she’d be doing it professionally, which is so funny because she’s such a great singer,” says Paris, adding that Anita, who was raised in Compton, also was nurtured in a musical household. “Between Anita’s parents and ours, we were always supported in music.”
Now, the goal is simply to introduce listeners to their work. We Are King is multigenerational in its approach—ultimately, it’s an album about self-love.
“Self-love is just taking care of yourself and embracing all that is you,” Paris says, “your creativity and your passions–everything that makes you a whole person, not just parts of yourself but all of yourself.”
They hope the concept follows them as they embark on what will likely be a lengthy journey.
“Always bet on yourself,” Paris says. “Just make good music and the rest will follow.”