?If you ask members of Utah’s King Niko the derivation of their name—and over whom their namesake ruled—you’ll get a different answer, depending on not just who you ask but when you ask them.
Vocalist Ransom Wydner (yes, that’s his real name) at first offers a history lesson: “King Niko, formally King Nicholas the first, was the only king of Montenegro. Described by contemporaries and historians alike as a warrior poet, King Niko had the strength of a bear and the voice of an angelic bird of some kind.” Guitarist Ben Moffat, on the other hand, goes the pop culture route, singing “Robert Goulet!”
Later, perhaps hungrier, Wydner might tell a more gustatory tale: “Niko is also the name of a local taco vendor who produces what can safely be called the king of tacos in the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area.” Still later in the evening, Moffat’s appetites turn from carnitas to the carnal: “Coincidentally, King Niko was the title of a ‘skin flick’ that made a very lasting impression on my young adult life. King Niko of Salt Lake City is a different kind of king entirely. We’d like to think of ourselves as king of all media but Howard Stern copyrighted that, so we’ll settle for king of making out with ridiculously hot chicks!”
But if they can’t get their stories straight about their origins, musically they are completely in sync. Their hookladen rock with indie and emo (in the sense of “emotionally moving”) vocal and guitar touches have a common thread—as their MySpace page proclaims: they’re “committed to making young girls dance.” The beat is infectious, placing them on the map somewhere between a peppier version of the Shins and The Hold Steady or maybe mid-period Spoon.
But they’ve made a study of local sounds since childhood. Wydner remembers, “The first local band that really blew me away was Form of Rocket, but I was also really into The Brobecks growing up. Bands like Broke City and Neon Trees are not only influential musically, but for what they are doing for the Salt Lake scene, bringing more attention to it. Monarch was one of the first bands I ever played a show with and really shaped the way I perform.” As far as national bands go, he says Cold War Kids, Kings of Leon and TV on the Radio have had the biggest influence on his songwriting.
Moffat recalls, “The first local band that I identified with was called Better Way. One of their guitarists, Gentry Densley, basically made me want to start playing the guitar and start a band. I can still remember them playing a show at Classic Skating, and absolutely killing it. I must have been 14 at the time.”
Flash forward, and King Niko played the biggest show of their six-month career, opening for actor Jared Leto’s band 30 Seconds to Mars Nov. 30 at the X96 Nightmare Before Xmas concert. The national band made a big impact on them in person. Wydner notes, “We were backstage when someone told us that Jared Leto was talking about my boots on the radio and then, as if by magic, he was in our green room giving us high fives and those fist bones and saying ‘bones’ as he did it, all in his sleeping clothes. Definitely a true rock star.”
King Niko just released their first EP produced by local studio whiz Mike Sasich, titled Gorgeous and Gory, after a line from their song “Katrina Sleepover.”
“The EP is made up of six songs that we feel make up a good King Niko microcosm,” explains Moffat. It’s a fine opening album of songwriting salvos.
As for future plans, they‘ll consider about anything. Wydner leaks: “A theme park hasn’t been ruled out. An elite group of female assassins who are also world-class models and can turn into wolves is patent-pending.”
The Urban Lounge
241 S. 500 East
Monday, Dec. 21, 8 p.m.