Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy
Elle King On Self-Love & Individuality: "You Don't Get What You Don't Ask For"
Roaming backstage at the Austin City Limits Festival, wearing a big cowboy hat and an even bigger smile, Elle King's energy is contagious. It's the same blend of confidence, character and creativity that launched her into the budding star she's become since releasing her 2014 breakout hit "Ex's & Oh's," which earned her two of her three GRAMMY nominations. With a new album, Shake The Spirit, on the way and several sizzling new singles teasing what's next, King is primed for a full-blown gritty pop rock takeover.
The singer/songwriter sat down with us backstage at ACL to talk about her latest single, recording her new album in Texas, what she loves to do outside of music, and much more.
Your latest single, "Little bit of Lovin'" came out just yesterday. Tell us a little bit about how that song came together.
It's my favorite song with the [new] record. It has like some of the most meaning to me and I wrote it on the first night of recording, actually. I stayed up late, and the guy who runs the studio in Texas, he let me stay up late, and I was really going through a lot. Somehow this song just like came through me, and it was the first song that I really thought about, like, what message I'm putting out into the world? I was really struggling with a lot of things personally. I had no idea or concept of what like self-love was, and for some reason there was just this message that had to come through me.
And I'm really glad that it did. And I had no idea that I could write a song like that… I'd never been like, "Let's write a universal song about self-love and blah, blah, blah." And I just probably would have laughed at an idea, a song like that. But it came through me and it was a beautiful moment and that song made me snap back into my body, you know? It's kind of because of that song, which is how we got the title of the whole record. It's just a special, special thing and I hope that one person can hear that and be like maybe I should think about the way I feel about myself, and I should love myself. So it's an important song, I think.
Speaking of the new album, where were you able to take this project musically that was a new place for you, considering all the success of "Ex's & Oh's" and Love Stuff?
The special thing about "Ex's and Oh's" and Love Stuff was that, it really, it gave me a really magical platform. It gave me some say so on my own ideas, and I had no idea that I would be able to produce something, or make a record and have it be [my vision]. I didn't know that I had any kind of sonic vision at all. And so, I just asked my label, "Just let me make this with my band." And they did. You know, you don't get what you don't ask for right?
And so to go through all of this and have people around me, you know, men surrounding a woman and listening to her ideas and having really great support and not just musically, but emotionally and everything, I made this tangible thing that was such a cathartic process that is so me in every sense of the word. And there was so much freedom in it and it was just a really incredible experience.
You've been such an impactful artist in today's industry and society on issues like gender equality, authenticity and self-love. "Naturally Pretty Girls" is a bold, empowering example of that. How does it feel to have had that impact on music and on culture, all stemming from trying to write a song that mattered to you personally?
I never, ever, set out to be like, "I'm gonna make a difference," and "I'm gonna do something," but I knew that I would be a different type of person. Because there really is only one me. There's only one of every type of person. You know? And that's what's beautiful and we should celebrate individuality in every sense of the word. So I never set out to do anything like that, all I did was wanna play songs and you know, it took a long time for people to listen to me. So I fought louder and I sang louder and played harder, and then this theme came up with like people being like, "I agree with you." And like, I was singing about things, even on the first record and to now, like I sing about things that not a lot of people want to sing about.
When I see people come let loose at my shows, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. And it's great, and you know people should be able to do that. People should celebrate themselves and their individuality. I don't want to sound like anybody else.
Before the interview, you mentioned you went hiking earlier. What else do you like to do outside of music?
Over the last like year and a half I've really had to find something other than music. Because, you know, music is a hobby, it's my "jobby." [laughs] It's like everything, you know?... But there can come a time in it where like, "Oh well this isn't gonna be a hit," and I don't want to finish writing a song. And there's like all this pressure that I was putting on myself and so I would go out to the desert, and it was very like healing for me. And then I got really into stones and I really like rock hounding. I'm not like a physically fit person, but I like to be out in nature, so I'm really into hiking and looking for rocks. I got a rock in my pocket right now. I found a really cool agate at Pedernales Falls, and I found some really beautiful agate, feel that, it's really soft. It's a healing stone. It's a grounding stone.
You've traveled and lived all over. What is different about Austin as a music town? And maybe specifically ACL, what sticks out to you?
Well, this is my first time playing ACL, so I don't really know anything about it yet, all I know is that like, like I've never played it in the past, because only the cool people played it in the past. So now I'm like, I'm playing ACL. I feel cool! But I love Austin, my music broke here, and so I owe so much to this town. I think that you have to be cool for Austin to like you. And you have to be [yourself], like keep Austin weird and everything. There's a really big celebration of individuality here, when everything is super, super special. And so, for someone to just show up in Austin, like me, and stick out and have people kind of gravitate towards me, that was a very, very cool thing. And so I've always felt very at home here. And I love Austin to death, I really do.