Kiki Wong first started on the piano at the age of six, but it wasn't long before she got started on six strings, via a cute bit of family history.
Her mother purchased her father an acoustic guitar for Valentine's Day – a $180 Yamaha Eterna – because “that's how he wooed her back in the day.” Wong was immediately hooked.
“My dad taught me three chords and House of the Rising Sun,” Wong says. “Then he said, 'You're on your own,' I've had no lessons since; I taught myself via the internet in the pre-YouTube days.”
The latter portion of that statement is intriguing, as Wong finds herself in the thick of the post-YouTube days, boasting 655,000 Instagram followers and 1.3 million TikTok followers. But the constant eyes on her movements can be annoying. “The topic of social media is interesting but touchy for musicians,” she says. “It can end up being kitschy and humorous – with a lot of bending over backward to get likes.
“Many musicians, rightfully so, see it as a joke,” she goes on. “That's the thing – social media is kind of like a joke, but it's a joke that can get you out there if you use it properly.
“When I first started TikTok, it was predominately used by kids,” she explains. “There wasn't a lot of diverse content, and most people were just doing dances and lip-syncing. I started doing little covers and mashups. I was being ridiculous and goofy, but it ended up blowing up.
“Do I make ridiculous faces and dances on stage like in my videos? Nah. But people love it, and you can build a dedicated following.”
Through invigorating solos and humorous content, Wong has done just that, logging boatloads of followers along the way. That social media-centric approach, increasingly, seems to be one of the main paths forward for young musicians – now and beyond.
“Social media allows people to see your human side, which you don't get while touring,” Wong says. “Combining them is a winning formula, but you gotta yourself out there. Don't be afraid to put you out there, not just your music.”
A perfect example is one of Wong’s latest videos, where she’s laughing uncontrollably, and caressing the edges of a Jackson shipping container housing her latest score. It's just as Wong described: human. Who doesn't love a blooper-filled unboxing?
Internet fame aside, Wong has lofty long-term goals – such as “world domination” – but in the short-term, she remains measured. “I want to keep spreading the word of metal with my ridiculous videos, and hope I can have a few laughs and jams along the way.”
Can you remember your first guitar?
“Oh man, the first rig I ever got was a Slammer by Hamer. It came with a crate 10-watt amp for like $120. It was a beginner guitar, but I played the shit out of it [laughs]. It was a piece of junk, but it taught me that you can get decent sound without the best stuff.”
Do you still have that guitar?
“Well, once I started listening to Pantera, I needed to upgrade for those Dime divebombs! I sold the Slammer to the drummer in my band in high school for $50, who put a bunch of weird SpongeBob stickers on it and then lit it on fire. RIP, first guitar.”
And how does that compare to what you’re using today?
“I have way too many guitars to count – at least 25 and counting because I can never have enough! As for amps, I have a Marshall JCM 2000 DSL100, a Peavey XXX 2x12 combo, and a little Line 6 Spider III 1x12 amp. But I use a Kemper live with [Wong's band] Vigil of War. We have all our tones dialed it, and it's easier than lugging an amp to a gig.”
So, no effects pedals at all, then?
“To be honest, pedals are not my specialty. I find honing my tone to be the perpetual chasing of my tail – once I feel I’ve gotten close, I hear something new, and it’s back to the drawing board. But since I don’t play live as often these days, I use my Fractal FM3 and the Kemper.
“The OGs will hate hearing me say that, but it works for what I do! But when I spent a lot of time trying to figure out pedals, the loved/hated [Boss] Metal Zone was my go-to. It worked for what I did, and I admittedly like buzzy, old, mean, and disgusting tone live!”
Of those 25 guitars, do you have a favorite?
“Okay, this will sound a little strange, but I have a lot of guitars, like all 25, in my living space. They range from entry-level to expensive. But my favorite is my Jackson Soloist, a mid to high-range guitar. It just sits right with me. You know when you have a guitar that feels like home? That’s the one for me.”
Once you committed to the guitar, who were your greatest influences?
“I remember the first time I got into metal. My brother is 20 months older than me and has always been one of my biggest role models. When I was 12, he showed me Metallica, and I was in awe of Master of Puppets. I hadn't heard anything like it before, and it completely rewired my mind. I knew I had to learn it, but let's just say it took a few more years to get it right [laughs].”
Can you recall your first professional gig?
“My first professional gig was with my band, Nylon Pink. I was in college doing photoshoots for extra money, and I was hired to shoot for a brand called Hello Drama Jewelry. I walked in and saw these two super-hot Harajuku-looking Asian girls that owned the company, and they were way cooler than me [laughs].”
Did you hit it off despite initially feeling different from them?
“Yes! They asked me, 'Do you play guitar?’ and I said, 'Yes.' Then they asked, 'Do you want to join our band?' I was thinking, 'Oh, jams in your garage. Yes, I'm down!' Our first gig was in a small bar called La Cita in downtown L.A., and everyone was going batshit for our music and image. I learned to play my heart out no matter how shitty the venue or crowd is.”
How did you end up with Vigil of War?
“I met Alicia Vigil while we were in the band She Demons, put together by Jerry Only from the Misfits. We toured as direct support for the Misfits in 2015, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Later, Alicia formed Vigil of War, but I took a major break from music to go into the corporate world.”
What lured you back from the depths of corporate America?
“In 2019, Vigil of War was heading on tour in the U.K. and needed a fill-in. I was nervous since I hadn't played guitar in almost three years, but I decided to go last minute with only a few weeks to practice. That tour rekindled my love for music. I have Alicia to thank for saving that part of me, but I'm on a little break since I just had a baby in January, and Alicia is doing a big tour with DragonForce. But I'm working on some original material, so stay tuned!”
What are the most significant challenges young metal artists face today?
“Some of the biggest challenges I've faced are honestly being a woman in the metal scene. Don't get me wrong, there are benefits to being a woman since you get more eyes on what you're doing, but I've faced all kinds of discrimination as a result.
“When we were on tour with the She Demons, one of the openers had it out for us, making snide remarks and just being punks. After our sound check, they went through all our guitar amp settings and jacked them all up, so when we went on stage, we had to switch them back quickly.”
What’s your advice for overcoming that sort of behavior?
“You have to keep your head up and move forward. People will talk, have things to say, try to sabotage or bring you down. Just keep doing you and believe in your craft. People will have no choice but to respect you.”