King Crimson interview with frontman Jakko Jakszyk: “New stuff is being written all the time”
Pioneering English progressive rockers King Crimson are currently in the midst of an extensive European tour. Guitarist and lead singer Jakko Jakszyk took some time off from his busy schedule to talk to SoundReview about playing with the legendary Robert Fripp, his own solo work and all things King Crimson. The frontman reveals that the band may have another studio album up their sleeves, which is an exciting prospect.
Jakszyk joined King Crimson in 2013, when the current seven-piece line-up was formed. He’s since appeared on six King Crimson releases. Prior to joining the group he collaborated with founding guitarist and band mastermind Robert Fripp. The pair worked together on A Scarcity of Miracles, a 2011 studio album released under the name Jakszyk, Fripp & Collins. Jakszyk also has extensive solo releases to his name along with several years of performing and recording with former King Crimson members in the 21st Century Schizoid Band.
Jakko Jakszyk on playing with his childhood idols
What’s the single standout moment of your time in King Crimson?
“I think it may well be standing on stage at the end of the band’s first appearance in Albany in upstate New York. Having just sung and played ‘Schizoid Man’ standing there next to Robert, Mel and Tony, 42 years after seeing the band play the same number at Watford Town Hall as a 13-year-old. I had chills running though me. A pretty extraordinary moment.”
Was it intimidating at first working with Robert Fripp, ie a man generally considered to be one of the greatest guitar players of all time?
“Er… Yes. Especially playing some of his parts, which have been diverted to me due to Robert’s change of tuning in the 1980s. After day two of the original rehearsals Robert took me to one side and asked me to pay more attention to Tony and him the next day. ‘Am I really not locking in with you guys?’ I said. ‘No, no,’ said Robert. ‘If you listen, you’ll hear that we are making infinitely more mistakes than you are!'”
The band is currently playing theatres, music halls and auditoriums. Why is the band playing these venues rather than club shows or more typical rock venues?
“Robert has said that he doesn’t want to play in front more than 2,500 people in theatres. Any larger indoor venue has an impact on the sound and visibility for the audience, and can also affect the band. Demand is such that we consequentially play more than night.”
Is another King Crimson studio album in the works?
It’s been 13 years since the last King Crimson studio album (The Power to Believe). Is the band considering hitting the studio again at any point?
“New stuff is being written and experimented with all the time, whether this material will end up on a ‘studio’ album or not is not my call.”
What else is the band planning once the current tour is done?
“There’s more rehearsal, writing and touring planned.”
What has the crowd reaction been like so far on the tour?
“Pretty amazing actually.”
How much practice is required to wrap your head around a King Crimson set? What kind of preparation is needed in the lead up for the tour for you personally and with the band?
“You try to get to a place where it all falls under your fingers without struggling to recall what comes next. There’s currently 3 1/2 hours’ worth of repertoire so I have to practice the stuff out of the set in case it comes up. For me personally I need to practice constantly ahead of the tour to get up to speed, a bit like an athlete might.”
What’s your favourite song in the King Crimson set at the moment and why?
“Well, that changes all the time. I like doing the new things we’ve added. It’s also a blast to sing (David Bowie cover) Heroes. I love to sing Epitaph and The Letters. But it keeps changing.”
Jakszyk on handling vocal duties and prog rock riffs
How challenging is it to play the guitar parts in King Crimson while also attending to vocal duties? How did you start becoming comfortable with it?
“There are some difficult moments and lot of exposed ones where it’s just me singing and playing, where there are challenging parts with singing at the same time, it’s just practicing and knowing the bits individually to the point where you can put one up against the other, I guess it’s like an independence thing. Thinking of two separate activities as a whole.”
To my knowledge King Crimson has never had a seven-piece line-up until 2013. Why is the band playing in this format now?
“It was Robert’s vision. I think it gives the band a more egalitarian vibe. More so than the singer down the front and the rest of the band behind him.”
The band obviously has an enormous back catalogue to choose from. How did the band decide on what to play in the set? I noticed that the set is very broad and covers the entire history of the band.
“Robert creates a new set list every show day over breakfast and sends us his selection for comment.”
Is another solo album on the cards for you at any point?
“Well, in theory. But it requires more time and single mindedness than I possess currently. Plus my priority is writing for Crimson, but it’s in my head and mind to do it.”
Stunning live cuts from European tour already online for free
A number of shows on the 42-date European tour have already sold out. Popular demand saw the band booking two dates and sometimes even three per city. If you want to hear King Crimson in action, the band has already uploaded free MP3s of the first seven shows on the tour (there’s a charge for FLAC downloads). As the recordings prove, the seven-piece line-up is in cracking form. The seven songs and 50 minutes of material already hosted on the site basically constitute an excellent live album being given out for free.
Guitarist and founding member Robert Fripp ensures the setlist is constantly evolving from night to night. The band are performing songs from their classic 1969 debut right up until their most recent recordings.
Interview with drummer Jeremy Stacey in the works
SoundReview has also organised an interview with King Crimson drummer Jeremy Stacey. He joined the band in March 2016 following a sabbatical taken by longtime sticksman Bill Rieflin. Stacey has acted as the backbone for a huge number of high profile acts including Joe Cocker, Sheryl Crow, Eurhythmics and more recently Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Be sure to check back to hear what Stacey has to say!
*Header image credit: Dean Stockings