Interview: 10 Year-Old Guitar Prodigy Nik Kai Talks About Gibson’s New “Firebird X”

By Andrew Bansal

The story of 10-year old Nik Kai is truly astonishing. He’s an LA-based guitarist who has already played with the best in the hard rock world, won awards, and made appearances at high-profile events like Dimebash, Revolver Golden Gods, and the likes. I saw him recently at the Dimebash event, and honestly, I was really taken aback by what he was able to do on the guitar, at such a young age. Besides doing these gigs, he writes his own music and is now the proud endorsee of the new Gibson Firebird X guitar. To know more about Nik, simply read the conversation below. I did this interview with him last month, a couple of weeks after Dimebash. This was done indirectly through his mom, even though he does join the interview himself to talk about the specifics of the guitar. And for even more information, check out his official website, and he also has his songs available on iTunes.

I saw Nik at the recent Dimebash event. What was that experience like for him?

It was absolutely amazing. Nik really looks up to Dimebag Darrell, so to know that he got to have the experience of honoring him meant a lot to Nik. He got to work with a lot of great musicians at that event as well, like Sebastian Bach. Nik was shredding with Sebastian Bach, Steve Stevens, Steven Adler and John 5 back in August, so it was great to see some of those guys again. That was really cool to him.

That’s amazing. So did you two get to hang out with Sebastian or any of those cool musicians at that show?

Yeah, he was mostly hanging out with Paul Phillips from Puddle Of Mudd and Steville Miller from the band Kinda Major . They’re actually really good friends with Rikki Lixx from Rev Theory, who co-manages Nik along with me. So those guys are extremely supportive of Nik and they’re going to be doing a lot of projects with him. But other than them, everybody was spending time with Nik. We had Phil Demmel from Machine Head. We’re really good friends with their manager and we know Robb Flynn through Gibson. Nik spent some time with John 5, and Sebastian Bach of course, who was also extremely supportive of Nik. He was around everybody, really. Everyone was good to him, and they call him the up and coming rock God. They tell him they’re going to hand over the “keys” to him. They’re super supportive because there really are no other Niks out there. But yeah, it’s been an amazing, amazing walk. We’ve met some great people, and we feel really lucky.

The first thing I heard about Nik was that he won the guitarist of the year at the LA Music Awards for 2011. Did you expect that at all?

No! He was nominated back in July, and it was in November when he won the rock guitarist of the year. For us he was a winner just by being nominated. He’s 10, and the youngest in 21 years to be nominated at the LA music awards. So it was super exciting to know that he got that. He will be receiving the actual award in early January. Also, he was with Epiphone and now he’s moved over to the Gibson side, who is the mother ship of Epiphone. Nik is now the new face of the Firebird X guitar. It’s his baby, and it’s an amazing guitar. You can do all kinds of neat stuff with it, it tunes itself, and it was released just a few weeks ago. Nik is promoting that guitar and he’ll be at NAMM from January 19th to the 22nd demonstrating that as well. And I believe we’re going to be at the Key Club again on the 21st doing an industry showcase over there.

Yeah, that’s the show with Bruce Kulick, Tony McApline, Uli Jon Roth and Richie Kotzen. That’s such a great line-up. I’ll be there for sure, and it’ll be great to see Nik also.

Oh yes, definitely!

Nik joins in to tell us in detail about the Firebird X:

Instead of using an amp, you can actually change the effects on the guitar itself. You can basically go on the internet and download stuff off the Gibson website onto your computer, and then it has instructions about the guitar. You can edit the effects for the guitar on the computer. But you also have your pedals, which you can use for a lot of the effects, but you can download effects from the guitar on to your pedal. (More about the guitar will be revealed during Metal Assault’s video coverage of NAMM).

So, when did Nik actually start playing the guitar?

Well, he started playing a year-and-a-half ago, but he’s had no scholastic training. Nobody in the family plays music. Nik asked for a guitar for Christmas because one of my friends had one and he used to play around with it. So I bought him a little Fender package, and he taught himself a few lessons. Within a few months, he was shredding. Dalvin from the R&B group JoDeCi is his godfather, and we were in the studio. He knew that Nik had just started playing guitar, and he started freaking out when he saw him play. I wasn’t really into music myself, so I had no idea that Nik was that good. But they started pushing Nik for me, and they knew he had something unbelievable. Now, Nik is endorsed by some of the biggest companies in the world, and Gibson is one of them. They saw something in him, and now Nik is a very important piece to the company because they see longevity, and they see his determination. He’s performed all over the place, won guitarist of the year, and writes his own music. They also call Nik “Spongebob” because you can put any musician in front of him, and he can mimic their playing. He has the ear, eye, hand and a photographic memory. So you can take him to gigs, he can learn from the show and when you bring him back a month later, he doesn’t even skip a beat. So he has amazing talent, and also recently, he started to pick up on the piano in the recording studio. Literally within two hours, Nik was writing classical music and everybody was freaking out. Nik has already come up with a couple of different songs with Rikki Lixx and Steville Miller, they’re writing music for their new album. So he has the same talent with the piano as he does on the guitar. It’s incredible. But they’re working on his album right now. We’ve been to New York twice, and Nik is going to have a lot of big names on his album like the ones I already mentioned. So it’s going to be amazing.

Besides his own music, are there any other projects he is involved in?

Right now the album is his main thing, plus of course the promotional stuff for the Gibson Firebird X. Besides that, he’ll be doing some stuff with Monster, some AMA bike shows, and he’ll be doing the Las Vegas Rocks Music Awards in August. But in the interim, he’s been working on his album like I said. He did the Revolver Golden Gods with a bunch of guys over there. So he’s been incredible for this year-and-a-half. He is completely soaring, and he has a lot of great support. Nik is also endorsed by the Backstage Artist Lounge. That’s a company that’s involved in a lot of shows. They do every major rock concert. They did over a hundred tours in 2011. We’re also going down to the Musicians Institute later this month as they’ve invited him over there. And besides, Nik also has a merch line coming out, called Street Famous Clothing Line.

One final thing I wanted to ask you, is that Nik is so incredibly young. Doesn’t all this spotlight overwhelm him at times?

Nik was clearly born to be a rockstar, and the kid is truly unbelievable. I was personally never into metal, and didn’t go to shows as such. So this is a whole different world to me. Nik is like a 30-year old man in this 10-year old body. Even if it involves getting up early in the morning, whenever there’s a gig, he’s up for it and ready to go to work. He’s like a businessman in that sense. Gibson is just amazed at how he self promotes. Even at Dimebash, there were guitars of other brands on stage in the background somewhere, and he didn’t want them there because for him it has to be only Gibson. I mean, those are all of his own little thoughts, and this is his dream. He has performed in front of 30,000 people or more, and he wants millions. This is all he wants. Besides, he is very compassionate and caring, which is very important to me because I want him to always be grateful for his gift. Nik has written many songs for the law enforcement and the military. He wrote songs like “Call To Arms” and “Purple Heart” for the vets. He wrote another song called “999″ for law enforcement officers. So whatever money is made from that will go to their families. He wants to go to the inner cities and help the kids. He’s also writing a song for the soldiers called “Ace Of Hearts” for the military’s Ace program, which is for soldiers who commit suicide. There are more soldiers committing suicide than getting killed out there. So Nik heard about that and started writing the song. It’s amazing that he wants to utilize his gift for the sake of others, and I think that in itself is the biggest gift.

That brings me to just one more follow-up question. You said you were never into metal, so then how did he get into it?

I don’t know! That’s the most unbelievable thing. I’m a single mom, was never into rock or metal music, and I’m not around anybody that blasts metal music. My elder son wasn’t into it either. There is really nothing from me, and I don’t know where it came from. When he started writing classical stuff in the studio, we just couldn’t believe it. I know that there must be some kind of connection between classical and metal if you really learn music, but I don’t listen to classical either. I can’t figure it out (laughs). It’s angelic, and there’s no reason or explanation to why or how he does it.

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