Laura King didn't love playing the bass as a kid. By the time she turned 11, her father finally understood that she needed a new hobby.
"He picked me up from school one day and was like, 'All right, Laura. Let's go get a kit,'" she says.
It proved a pivotal moment: At 39, her collection includes five full kits, including her striking translucent red, white and blue main rig. Since 2011, its primary job has been on records and the road with Flesh Wounds. The rowdy three-piece serves up fast, 'tude-loaded garage rock tunes that pack a wallop. A lot of their power comes from King.
Flesh Wounds issued their first record, Abrasions, Abcesses, and Amputations, via cassette in 2012. An explosive, gnarly nine-song romp that didn't break the 20-minute mark, it was enough to capture the attention of Merge Records, which released a three-song single by the trio last year.
Though Flesh Wounds delivered a second full-length on its own Snot Releases last summer, the Merge connection has held up. The trio turned into the backing band for Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan, as he's toured in support of his solo LP,Non-Believers. Flesh Wounds pull double duty as openers.
King seems surprised at how the band has found some success during the past year. She partially credits Geoff Schilling, who replaced original bassist Dan Kinney last year, with the outfit's improved dynamic. For her, that chemistry makes Flesh Wounds feel easy.
"When we started this band, we were like, 'Hey, this is just for fun,'" King says. "'We're just going to be a local band.'"
But on a clear, sunny fall afternoon, King sat behind the drums just hours before Flesh Wounds added two more items to their résumé—playing their first show at Cat's Cradle while opening for local legends Archers of Loaf.
LOCATION: In the living room of the Carrboro apartment she shares with her partner
INFLUENCES: Small bands from King's teen days in Baltimore left the largest impact, like Candy Machine's Lyle Kissack and Plow's Chris "Batworth" Ciattei.
KNOWN FOR: Once the power behind the duo The Moaners, King's beats now anchor the wild songs of Flesh Wounds.
SEE HER: Flesh Wounds play The Pinhook Friday, Oct. 23, with Wailin Storms and Gross Ghost at 10 p.m.
This is the newest addition to King's kit. She got it about three months ago to replace the 20-inch Zildjan she long used. Fellow Carrboro drummer Tom Simpson introduced King to the brand when he loaned her his own cymbal at a show the two played together. It allows her to handle and harness volume.
"I just wanted something bigger. We're a loud band, and I needed something that fit better," she says. "There's a lot of control with it. You can make it really washy or really bring it in tight."
As she demonstrates that control, you get the gist of why she can't practice in her apartment very often—the sound is huge and tremendously loud.
There are all sorts of sticks, but King prefers the classic Vic Firth model with wooden tips. The 5As are a little slimmer than their 5B counterparts and have a coating that makes them easier to hang on to. She played with nylon-tipped sticks for the first few years of her drumming life, but the tips popped off too frequently. The wood sticks stay in shape.
As with many young drummers, King's parents banished her noisy instrument down into the basement. The setup, however, allowed her to listen to LPs and do what she pleased.
"I would basically just play records and play to songs I liked, and then I would record them on the boombox across the room and listen back," she says. "I thought I was so badass—'I can play this song!'"
Entirely self-taught, King joined her first band, Pedg, when she was 14 and quickly ingrained herself in Baltimore's club scene. Watching other bands had the biggest effect on her own work.
"Whenever drummers are fresh and new, they see drummers and they get into what they're doing," she says. "They take a thing from a drummer here and a drummer there to make their own style."
King's gleaming floor tom, rack tom and kick drum are the main pieces of her current rig. The bodies of the drums are mostly clear acrylic; in the warm light of her living room, they seem to glow. King first fell in love with Vistalites after hearing a friend's kit in Baltimore. Hers come from a larger five-piece kit she bought on eBay in 2001—she could never find them in stores, she says. The distinctive red, white and blue color scheme caught King's eye immediately.
"I'd been interested in Vistalites, but I'd only seen solid colors," she says. "I saw this one and was like, 'Holy shit, I have to have that.'"
In the years since she first bought it, King says she's used it on just about every recording she's done. It also made an appearance onstage with King and 13 other drummers at Hopscotch 2014, when King participated in a massive experimental percussion-and electronics ensemble called IIII. The Vistalites deliver a "loud, boomy" sound, she says, that accommodates her hard-hitting style and maximizes her oomph.
King worked briefly with the area institution Southern Culture on the Skids. Dave Hartman's Supraphonic snare caught her ear. Before that, she used a Ludwig Acrolite snare. Though that piece is still part of her collection, King finds the Supraphonic more satisfying for her main kit. She's found that acrylic snares, like the one that came with her toms and kick drum, lack that same tight snap that she prefers with the drum's metal counterparts.
King doesn't remember when she added these to her arsenal—she's had them more or less forever. "Cymbals usually last a long time—unless you hit them wrong, then they tend to crack," she says.