Girls Rock Santa Barbara Interviews Elle King

This year, Girls Rock Santa Barbara has developed The Summer of Love Internship, its first ever paid internship for teen girls and gender-expansive youth, which allows the organization to continue to provide a safe, collaborative environment in which to encourage lifelong skills like positive peer bonding and self-confident resilience. The internship, which lasts six weeks and pays each intern $500, offers six exciting and arts-focused disciplines: Record Label, Recording Artist, Social Media, Journalism, Photography, and Podcasting. Audiofemme is pleased to publish the following article, written by Maya Klanfer, Katy Caballero, and Alexandria Stadlinger, three interns from the Journalism program.

Photo Courtesy RCA Records

With a powerful voice and music style that encompasses country, rock, soul and blues, singer/songwriter and television personality Elle King has made a name for herself almost effortlessly. Her 2015 debut album Love Stuff featured hit single “Ex’s and Oh’s” which, with its 300 million Spotify streams, was her outstanding breakthrough into the music industry and even earned her two Grammy nominations. She followed that success with the release of Shake The Spirit (2018) and numerous tours that over the years brought her to share the stage with some of her idols: Train, Ed Sheeran, Dixie Chicks, Miranda Lambert and Heart.

Just last month she released a three-track EP, In Isolation, alongside a raw, at-home video performance of “The Let Go,” filmed in quarantine. This powerful song showcases Elle’s incredible vocals and strong songwriting, supported by just an electric guitar: a stripped-down arrangement that well recalls the isolation in which the song was born.

We recently had the chance to talk with Elle King about her career, early life, sexism in the music industry, and how she has been doing personally and musically during these trying times in quarantine, as well as how she kept grounded despite her meteoric rise to fame.

GRSB: How is your quarantine going? What have you been doing creatively in quarantine? 

EK: Like many others, I’ve had my ups and downs with quarantine but I’ve learned to be very grateful for this quiet time. I’m doing great at home. I was able to have my sister and her kids come visit for a while which was so uplifting. I’m happily in love. I’m cooking, gardening, taking guitar lessons – just trying to be the best version of me that I can be.  

GRSB: How did you find the process of writing In Isolation

EK: I was going insane sitting in my house in LA. I had never been home that long consecutively in forever, if ever. I was scared, if I’m being honest. So I just got to writing – it’s all I knew to do. Pen to paper. I’m a total insomniac too, so once I started writing it was go time. When I first had the idea for “The Let Go” it was fast and raw and I just totally knocked that shit out. In a way it’s almost an homage to when I was first starting – shitty recordings and vulnerable. Well, I’ve always been pretty vulnerable, but this was a different form of that. I struggled with the idea of putting [these songs] out, because I’m used to that studio sound and it’s nice and squeaky clean and polished. This was a nice personal challenge and all about release, a literal “let go.” It was a total DIY process, even the cover. It pushed me to get over wanting perfection and I’m happy with that. And I was stoked to put it out so that I could get that connection with my fans that I’ve been missing in quarantine. 

GRSB: Who were your biggest musical influences and mentors as a child? Who did you grow up listening to?

EK: Oh gosh, that’s a hard one. I was so lucky to be surrounded by amazing music growing up. I was listening to everyone from Aretha Franklin to Johnny Cash to the Beatles to AC/DC. I loved it all – and I definitely have to give credit to the legends for helping me realize my own love of musicianship.

GRSB: Growing up, did you want to be a musician? What else did you consider?

EK:I think I was like 9 years old when my stepdad gave me a record by The Donnas and I just knew – I want to be a musician. After that I just threw myself into studying guitar and singing. Then it evolved into sneaking into NYC clubs to get to sing in front of people and so on. I think I’m really lucky to have learned it so early on and have that clear idea of what I wanted to do from the beginning.

GRSB: How did you start playing the banjo?

EK: I didn’t pick up banjo until later on actually! I know when I was younger I was just so focused on guitar and singing. I was in college in Philly and I remember seeing this band play, and there was this banjo player just going along with it all and I remember falling in love with the sound and that was the inspiration to learn. It didn’t hurt that the guy playing it was super cute too! I think it reminded me a lot of some of the records I was listening to growing up and there was almost this feeling of nostalgia tied to it. And now my banjo is my baby – I look forward to the songs in a live set when I can pull her out!

GRSB: How do you use music in your life? What role does it play?

EK: It’s just such a grounding aspect in my life. I mean, it is my life – at least when we’re not in quarantine! It’s all I know most days because when I’m out on tour I’m fully immersed in it for months on end. And I’m not just talking about my music – I mean I’m always listening to anything, whether it’s for calm when I get a moment alone in the green room, or for a pump up when me and the guys are getting ready to go out on stage. It’s just always present. Music can bring so many emotions, whether it is that feeling of nostalgia or whatever it may be. I think that’s something most people can agree on – that music is healing and grounding. And just as I love and need to listen to music to get out of my own head sometimes, I try to give my fans that same reprieve when they’re listening to mine as well. I’ve had some pretty dark days in the past and I’d just be holed up in my house in LA and I’m just throwing myself into music – sometimes it’s the only thing that got me through, man, I swear.

GRSB: What was your favorite show you performed?

EK: I don’t know if I could choose! Going on tour with Joan Jett and Heart was pretty fucking cool though! Talk about living legends.

GRSB: Where have you faced the most gender inequality in the music industry?

EK: This is definitely something that’s still happening in the industry – I’d be lying if I said I haven’t faced some shit just because I have tits. I’m lucky that I’m always surrounded by a strong support system but at the end of the day the industry is still seemingly fueled by this dynamic. I mean, we’re still fighting for equal radio play and stuff so we have a long way to go. All we can do is our best and pummel through the boundaries that are placed before us. It’s not fair, but when is it ever? We have things that need to be said, songs to sing, people to perform for – we just keep pushing onward and upward.

GRSB: Do you believe that if you were a man it would have been easier to make it?

EK: I actually ended up writing a song about this! It can just get so frustrating sometimes and I was over it. It’s definitely good to be a man these days, is what I’ll say to that.

GRSB: How did you handle the sudden rise in popularity when you released “Ex’s and Oh’s”? Did you manage fame differently?

EK: That was definitely a crazy time – I mean, who fucking knew! I like to think I stay pretty grounded in times like that. I’ve had my crazy days but it always boils down to the fact that I am so grateful and so lucky that this is what I get to wake up and do as my “job.” Having that song take off was huge for me but I’m really just so stoked about the places it took me and all the people I’ve been able to meet as a result. And it pushes me to do even better each time!

GRSB: Were there certain songs that you anticipated to be bigger than others? 

EK: It’s always a toss up. Some songs you just pour your whole soul into and it doesn’t get the love you selfishly envisioned for it and then others just take off. Every song I write or collab on, I just put my whole self into and that’s all you can really do, I think.

GRSB: What has been the biggest change or changes you have made throughout your career? 

EK: Well off the top of my head, I’m sober now! So that’s been crazy different. I used to be a little bit of a party girl, you could say, and this has just been this amazing second chance, seeing life through a new lens. I mean, I’m even juicing now – if you had told younger me that this is what I’d be doing at 31 I would have punched you. But I’m seriously just trying to be the best version of myself and you always have the choice of doing that. I had to change something because what I was doing wasn’t fucking working.

GRSB: Are there any big goals or ambitions you have for your career going into the future?

EK: Well, I’m dying to get back out on the road and tour! But long term goals? If there’s anything I’ve learned in quarantine it’s to take life day by day. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m just going to keep working on me and my music and see what happens!

Follow Elle King on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

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