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Elle King is an indefinable modern music powerhouse.
She just released her sophomore album, Shake the Spirit. It touches on her many influences, allowing for a beautifully broad range of sounds and an easily accessible listening experience. It highlights not only her musical diversity, but her energy and charming personality both onstage and off.
King’s breakthrough single Ex’s & Oh’s was released in 2015 and has now been certified double-platinum by Music Canada. Since then she has released 12 singles and been nominated for three Grammy Awards.
‘Shake the Spirit’ album art.
Once King realized that music was her passion, she rolled up her sleeves and, as she says, “worked her a** off” to create powerful music that would eventually make a name for herself.
With hits like Shame and Good Thing Gone, that’s exactly what she’s done.
Prior to a lone Canadian concert on Thursday night (at Toronto’s legendary Opera House), King sat down with Global News to detail the grueling process of writing her brand-new record. She also dished on the reason she pursued a music career in the first place — and it’s rather cheeky.
Global News: Can you tell us a little bit about Shake the Spirit?
Elle King: Shake the Spirit is something that I really needed in my life. I just so happened to be going through a time where my life was falling apart, so I started writing about everything I was going through. It wasn’t even just me falling apart, a lot of the people in my band, The Brethren, had such hard things going on in their lives too. We really came together on this and made something that is meaningful to us. We’re really proud of it. I think if I were to sum it up, it’s basically me navigating my way through losing my mind and my journey towards the light of acceptance and forgiveness.
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s a really special one. I’m more present than I’ve ever been on any tour in my life. Probably in past lives as well. [Laughs] Every night that we’re on stage there are more and more people singing along to the record, which is probably the greatest feeling in the world. It took a really long time to make the album and I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen completely off the face of the Earth or not. But, I’ve got really loyal fans and I’m making some new ones along the way. I’m just so grateful that I still get to play.
You’ve come such a long way in such a short time. What do you owe your success to?
Well, what some people don’t know is that Ex’s and Oh’s took a whole year to get the reputation and rotation it still gets today. There was a lot of trudging along while really trying to promote it. I would wake up earlier than everybody all the time and sometimes go to three or four radio stations in a day to shake hands and kiss babies. I can’t emphasize this enough, it’s so important just to be kind. I think that my hard work and sweetness really played a part in that. Of course it had to be a good song though, because it wouldn’t be played if it was s**t. [Laughs]
Can you elaborate on the hard work that goes into making an entire album?
It takes a long-a** time. There’s a great quote that hit me personally. I can’t remember who said it — Elvis Costello or maybe Bob Dylan? But it goes, “You have your whole life to write your first album and then you have a year to write your second.” It’s just f**king genius. We worked so hard on Shake the Spirit, it took months and months. It took a lot of time and a lot of patience that I really didn’t have. [Laughs] I feel like I was a nightmare for my band to work with, I’m just so grateful I have them and they stuck around.
Elle King Sony photo shoot 2018.
Is it true that you got a fake I.D. so that you could play in bars when you were younger?
That’s totally true, but to be honest, you didn’t even need the fake I.D. because they’d always let you in if you were playing a show. They’d give you beer too. I really started playing music for the beer. [Laughs] I was too big for my britches and wanted to feel like I was growing. I didn’t feel a connection with the kids at school. I was very different and I didn’t care to deal with them. I just wanted to do my thang.
Do you remember your reaction when you first heard Ex’s and Oh’s on the radio?
Oh, I cried. I was in the car actually on the way to a radio station somewhere in Minneapolis, where they have Juicy Lucys.
A Juicy Lucy is two burgers with cheese melted in the middle. It’s delicious and it’s like lava: It will burn you. I remember because I was gonna have one later on that day. [Laughs] But, yeah, I cried and it was one of the most special moments of my life. I remember feeling so down before, I was like “Why don’t they like it?” or “Why aren’t they playing it?”
Then the day after I came home from my first European tour, my mom said, “Baby, you are really in for something. I don’t think you understand what’s happening in America. They are really playing your song.” I got off the airplane, saw that message and instantly got recognized by a couple. They asked, “Are you Elle King?” and I screamed, “Yeah, I am!” [Laughs] I came back and it was just everywhere.
Do you feel restricted when people pin you down as one genre?
It’s weird, because I myself compartmentalize music, so when people ask me who’s my favourite singer or band I ask, “Well, which genre?” But I think that’s so unfair of me. It makes me a hypocrite, because when people label me, I’m like, “Man, you can’t box me!” [Laughs] For me, it’s all who has some form of emotion in their singing, whether that be angry or sad. The voices are what hook me. I think because I’m inspired by so many different musicians and genres, I don’t ever want to make just one. I would get so bored. I wake up in a different mood every day and that reflects on both my personality and music, so if someone tried to tell me I can only make one style of music I’d say, “F**k you.” [Laughs]
Did you feel any pressure keeping your listeners waiting for another album?
Honestly, the only pressure I felt was from myself. I was not mentally well, so I didn’t feel s**t from anybody. [Laughs] I suffer from PTSD, so no one could get close to or tell me what to do, because I was very disassociated with everything and everyone. But every time I wrote a song, I came back to life just a little more.
Is it easy to be so honest about the dark moments of your life?
I have welcomed and accepted a lot of negative love in my life, so yeah. I’ve put myself through a lot of torture over the years. I think to some degree we all do that in some kind of way. I guess that’s just part of growing up and figuring out who we really are. It’s just life. Something I’ve definitely been a little more vocal about. [Laughs]
Do you think sharing your mistakes and persevering through them will inspire your younger listeners?
Oh God, I don’t know about that. I’ve heard that a couple of times now. But thank you for saying that. If I can be open and honest about my mistakes, hopefully some of the younger generation won’t do some of the things I’ve done. That would be very smart of them. [Laughs]
Elle King in 2018.
King is on the road with her band, The Brethren, to support the release of Shake the Spirit in North America.
The album was released on Oct. 19 by RCA Records. It is now available to stream on Spotify.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
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