Photo by Jacklyn Krol for The Recording Academy
King Princess Talks Working With "Master Of Sound" Mark Ronson & Remixing Meryl Streep's 'Big Little Lies' Shriek
If you haven't heard of King Princess, aka 20-year-old Mikaela Straus yet, it's a great time to get to know the rising pop singer/songwriter/producer. Her debut album, Cheap Queen, is due out this fall on Zelig Records, Mark Ronson's label, and she was featured on Ronson's recently released breakup album, Late Night Feelings. The child of engineer Oliver Straus (Melissa Etheridge, P!nk), King Princess practically grew up in the studio, and as a result is learning to trust her intuition when it comes to her own work.
Working with Ronson, the seven-time GRAMMY-winning superproducer, has been a major confidence-booster, too. "[I've learned] that my instincts are probably right," she exclusively tells the Recording Academy before her Thursday night Lollapalooza set. "I think that [Ronson] is really respectful of the fact that I have the perspective of a young, queer woman and I'm a young person. That meant the world to me."
Below, King Princess sits down with the Recording Academy to chat about her forthcoming debut, recording at Rick Rubin's famous Shangri-La studio, her love of crafting dance tracks from all kinds of strange sounds (one of the most recent is Meryl Streep's now-iconic Big Little Lies shriek), her dream collaboration and more.
Let’s go miss Lolla <3 wearing a custom lil fit based on my parent 92’ Lolla shirt pic.twitter.com/qoaWARkflo
— King Princess (@KingPrincess69) August 2, 2019
You're about to perform here at Lolla. How are you feeling?
I feel really good. I've been playing shows a f**k ton this year, and it feels like these moments like Lolla, Coachella, Gov Ball, just like really make me emotional. Because these are the big ones. You dream about this, and you hear about your parents going, and my family's from up in L.A., so Coachella for them was a huge deal. Gov Ball was huge for me. It's really like, those are the moments you're like, "Oh, man."
That's awesome. Living the dream.
No, it's truly, truly living the dream. I have amazing slots, and the stages have been great, and everything's great.
What are you most looking forward to about the festival?
I am most looking forward to my show, and then probably walking around and seeing some other people. Because I love to have those moments after your show where you're like, "I did it, bitch. Let's go walk around, take a breather. Enjoy the festival.
You also performed at a Lolla Aftershow last night, correct?
I did a venue show at Thalia Hall. The sound was amazing, and the kids were like f**king losing it. It was just so much fun. Cautious Clay opened for me, who I'm a huge fan of. I was just like, "What a great way to kick off the weekend." Pretty much a practice for what's going to go down on stage.
Do you have a different approach for a festival stage versus a more intimate venue?
Yeah. I feel like any time you play something like this, you just have to account for the fact that you're outdoors, and you're at a festival where most people are drunk, and moving around. It's a different energy you really project, in a way outside, that you don't even have to in an intimate space. Because people are paying to watch you, they're paying to stand there at your specific show. It's more like you're winning attention at a festival, which I like because it's a challenge. It's a challenge to play really good and have your band be really tight.
What's your biggest hope or vision when you come off the stage in a few hours?
Just that, like, everyone who watches it, whether it's on the internet, or live, is just so thrilled to have seen it, and like they saw a great show that day. Because it's like the worst when you want to go see someone and then you don't feel compelled. I love my band, and I love the way we play live. People seem to be really like happy and pleased to have seen us afterward. That's all I care about it. I just care that they like it. That's all I care about it.
I really liked your feature on Mark Ronson's album. What was it like working with him, and on that project?
Him and I have a really interesting relationship, because I think he probably thought that I was more of an artist and less of a producer. It turns out I'm probably more of a producer and less of an artist. I think my brain functions in the studio like a producer's. It's just like working with him, is like sometimes we butt heads, and sometimes we clash because I'm like an apprentice producer under him. That's kind of like our relationship.
He's a master of sound. So, we get in these weird tiffs about how long he takes to get the perfect sound. I'm just like making everything so fast, and he's like, "No, b**ch. You have to wait, get everything right." Which I appreciate because it teaches me how to slow down and really take time to make something because then you get a record like his record that sounds tailored.
So, that song that we wrote ... I wrote a couple songs, and he was like, "They're not good enough, not good enough," and I'm like, "F**k you." Then I sat down, it was like 3:00 am at [Rick Rubin's] Shangri-La, and I wrote that song with my engineer, Mike, on the piano, in this big white room. I wrote it, and I was like stoned as balls. I was like, "Mark, I think I got it." I played it for him, and he was like, "Yep." That was the biggest challenge, just being like, you know, "It is your record, you produce it."
What was the biggest thing you learned from working with Mark, so far?
That my instincts are probably right. It's like I think that he is really respectful of the fact that I have the perspective of a young, queer woman, and I'm a young person. He's just always been like, "That's the sh*t that people listen to." People listen to "1950" because you feel like you're in my shoes, and that's a hard thing to do when you're trying to appeal to a demographic of people who are completely different from you. He was just like, "I felt it." That meant the world to me, just hearing that my instincts about my production and sounds were right.
Do you have another favorite song from Mark's album?
"Why Hide" with Diana Gordon. It's like the most beautiful song, I think, on the record.
Do you have any other dream collabs you want to speak out and manifest?
I've been saying this a lot, but I want a song with Jack White. I don't know. Somebody should make that happen one day.
How'd you come up with your artist name?
When I was young, it was like, I didn't even realize the true meaning of it. Because I feel like it was just something we kind of joked around about. Like in the studio with my friend, Doug, he'd always call me "King Princess." Later in life, I was like, I just cannot believe that my young self created a name and a concept that was so beyond where I was at with my gender, and my sexuality at that point. Then to look back, and be like, "That is me, I'm the intersection of these two things, these two extremes."
I love that. I feel like our young selves are—
More intuitive than we think, right?
Right. You've put out other music this year, some really great songs, including the title track for your upcoming album. What's your main hope for this album?
That it's just a great album start to finish. All the songs are different in different ways, but the production and my voice is the through-line. I really want people to listen through start to finish, and listen to the story when I'm singing, and the words. Because as much as I love production, it's like production is just kind of like the clothes that are worn by the lyrics. Really my goal is to have everything feel like it was meant to be. There's fast songs, there's slow songs, and all this other good sh*t on there. There are songs that are more conceptual, and songs that are pop songs, and that's kind of how I write, I just let it come out.
Are you producing, or co-producing, on the album?
Yeah, I produced the whole thing. My co-producer is my engineer, but I produce everything. A couple people came by and helped out on songs. My friend Tim Anderson helped produce "Prophet." My friend Tao has a song on the record. He's a really talented producer, young and grew up in the studio with Mark, kind of, a little bit these last few years. He was around for that whole thing, so it was just really cool that people in my direct community worked on the record.
What's your favorite part of the collaborative process?
When you call someone you know would be good at something and just say, "Hey, can you come in and do your work, do what you do?" I think the problem with collaborations is when you end up overextending yourself, and neither party has a specific thing to give. I love bringing in people very specifically, like, my band when I need somebody to come play a ripping guitar solo, like I'll get Jonah to come out and play.
When I really want some incredible live instrumentation, Mark sets up a session with Tommy and the Dap-Kings for me. That sh*t is really special. My friend Tobias Jesso, Jr. sang on a song. That was like a real last minute, like "I need you to come sing on this thing. I need your help." He just came and f**king killed it.
Last question. I can't not ask about the Meryl Streep scream techno. What inspired that? Are you going to make more techno-leaning tracks?
I have so many [remixes], on SoundCloud. I have a whole folder full, it's called "Remixes." My music is so sad and serious, that there needs to be some sort of creative output that's funny, and gives me joy, and makes my friends laugh. This was this thing that I started to do, that I was just like, "This would be so f**king funny." It started with a "Jesus Take the Wheel" remix that I've actually never leaked. I meant to put that one out. So, the first one was a "Jesus Take the Wheel" remix. It goes very hard. I was reinventing these stories that these songs told. I love to do that such a thing. With Meryl, that one for me was just like, the minute I saw that scene, I was like, "That's my next remix." The scream is incredible, tonally. "Mary-Luiz (Plz Plz)," honey, is going to be the next theme song for Big Little Lies.