Elle King On Fame, “Ex’s & Oh’s” & Headlining The Dinah: Interview
With her ballsy pop/rock anthems and rebellious swagger, Elle King seems a little out of place in today’s pop world. Which is probably the biggest compliment you could give her. The 26-year-old is a throwback to a time when artists promoted their music by touring and spent more time honing their craft than trolling for attention on social media. And the (depressingly) radical concept is working. After a slow start, debut single “Ex’s & Oh’s” eventually caught fire on radio and earned the newcomer two Grammy nominations.
I recently spoke to Elle about the surprise success of that song (it took the best part of a year to take off) and her expectations for the equally catchy follow-up, “America’s Sweetheart.” She also opened up about her complete disinterest in fame and excitement about headlining The Dinah, which ranks as the largest lesbian musical festival in the world. Find out more in our Q&A below.
Why do you think you’ve been embraced by the LGBT community?
You know, I’m not sure. Maybe because I speak my mind and I am who I am. I feel like you shouldn’t be afraid to hide who you are. Maybe that’s a reason. I’m honored that they want me to headline [The Dinah]. I hear it’s quite the party, so I’m super excited to go.
Are you going to add anything special into the set list?
You know, I haven’t actually thought about that. Now that you bring it up, I should probably make something special.
You could do a cool cover.
Good idea. I’ll give you credit for that.
Thank you. “Ex’s & Oh’s” came out a year before it exploded. Did you ever think it would eventually become a massive crossover hit?
Hell no! I didn’t even think that it would make the album. When I co-wrote that song, we still really hadn’t come up with what the plan was for me. I was still doing a lot of co-writing and so we wrote that song, I wrote it with Dave Bassett, and we were laughing about it. We sent it in. We’re like, “Let’s see what they say.” It wasn’t long after that, that they were like, “We want to use it as a single.”
We were like, “Oh, okay, cool!” The song came out, and then I mean, it took months. I was like, “What’s going to happen? I feel like we had something.” Then boom, it fucking exploded. It took about a year. It was totally unexpected, and I think that’s what’s magical about it.
It seemed to take off quite organically.
Me and my band and everybody who is part of my team, we all worked our asses off last year. I didn’t have any time off. I stayed touring. I took every opportunity and every chance I could to sing for whoever would listen, and progressively got on bigger tours. It just kind of happened. It’s a really good example of, if you work really hard, and you bust your ass, and you’re good, then it’ll pay off. That made me feel really good to get to that level.
When it all happened last fall, I was over in Europe on tour, and I started getting all these tweets, “Stop playing that fucking song!” Stuff like, “You’re in for something when you come home.” I came back and it had just exploded. It was everywhere. It was a really good feeling. I personally think it was earned. We busted our asses to get it. It was a lot of singing that song over a year.
I think you occupy quite a unique space in the whole pop/rock world.
I don’t know. I sound like an ass to say this, but I really don’t know much about contemporary music. It’s weird that I am making music right now. I don’t even know how to answer that question. I don’t think that there is anyone like me. I love Alabama Shakes, and they deserved to clean up at the Grammys. I knew that they would. If you listen to their album, it’s like a cohesive album. They sound like Alabama Shakes.
If you listen to my album, it has a lot of different sounds and textures to it, because those are all different things that I want to do, and all different sounds that I want to make. The common thread through all my different songs is me. I don’t know if a lot of people are doing that. I don’t know if that answers your question.
I think it does. Would you agree that fame hasn’t changed you much?
You know, I had an interesting childhood and I saw a few different ways that people live their lives. It was really cemented for me over the past couple months, and being at the Grammys and the people that you’re around, it really made my true friends and family stand out, and I don’t really have any interest in certain ways that people live their lives. I don’t know. I didn’t become a musician to be a famous person.
I try to stay away from those kinds of things as much as I can, because I think it can drive you crazy. I think it can be very isolating. I don’t know. I don’t really like going to Hollywood parties or anything like that, if that makes sense. I just like doing whatever I want to do. I will start my own party.
I bet they’re a lot more fun. Is there pressure to match the success of “Ex’s & Oh’s” with “America’s Sweetheart”?
That’s a good question. I’ve tried to not put too much crazy thought into it, but I have thought about it and it’s strange because to me, I think that they are two very different songs. I think that they can do two very different things. If I have a hope, then my hope would be that it does have… of course, you want your second single to be as successful as your first. I think I’m anxious to see what happens, because I don’t think that it sounds like “Ex’s & Oh’s”. I also don’t want it to take as long as that one did.
How did you settle on “America’s Sweetheart” as your next single?
We released two songs at the same time. We put out “Under the Influence” with the more alternative stations and “America’s Sweetheart” is more geared towards the pop end of things. I don’t know. I think we’re just trying to stay relevant and keep putting my music out there. I guess we will see what happens. Expect nothing and hope for the best, right?