Elle King, a self-proclaimed ‘city hillbilly’ from Ohio, has travelled far from home to be the opening act alongside Samm Henshaw on James Bay’s UK tour. I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with her before attending the gig in Leeds.
Born in California, Elle was brought up in ‘a shithole town in Ohio’ before being moved to New York City. ‘My mum moved us to New York when she met my step dad who’s this rock and roll guy from New York City. So, I’m a city hillbilly because I got the best of both worlds; I got to grow up barefoot in the country and then be a teenager in New York City with a leather jacket.’
Having travelled around a lot, Elle misses New York City and the US a significant amount, claiming her favourite place in the world is California. ‘There’s a place in California in the middle of the desert called Joshua Tree and that’s the place that I go when I have to kind of escape and be in the desert, I don’t touch my phone for days at a time and that’s definitely one of my favourite places in the world.’
Elle has some strong musical influences including the likes of Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton and Wanda Jackson and all of these women have influenced the singer that she is today. ‘Those are the three queens in my eyes and I just wanna be like them!’ However, if she could collaborate with anyone it would be fellow American and gospel singer Leon Bridges.
Unusually and in line with her quirky personality, Elle does not pinpoint the moment she knew she wanted to become a musician to a memorable performance to a large crowd of cheering fans, she recalls playing a gig when she was 14 or 15; ‘I was playing this little bar on the lower east side of New York and I didn’t get carded because I was playing the show and I got free beer and I was underage so I was like I wanna be a musician.’
Unsurprisingly, considering her addictive personality Elle gets bored easily and this runs into her interest in musical instruments and she found it difficult to decide on a favourite: ‘I don’t know, it’s different which is why I get sick of things so easily, so that’s why I play a few different instruments to keep myself excited so it all kind of depends on my mood. Right now, I’d say I’m really into the guitar and trying to be a better guitarist and learning slide and blues guitar’.
Elle has the sound of a rock and roll Paloma Faith and she feels that she truly found this sound whilst working with Producer Dave Bassett who she co-wrote ‘ex’s & oh’s’ and ‘under the influence’ with. When asked who her favourite producer to work with, she claimed that it had to be Dave given that he helped her find her voice claiming: ‘we didn’t know exactly what it was going to be until we wrote a song together and we were like ‘Oh there it is that’s it!’ and so the whole album really fell into place after we started writing together so I would probably have to say him.’ However, she was keen to add ‘that’s really tough because each person that I worked with on the record they were all so different and I had such wonderful experiences with all of them’ and that ‘everyone I worked with was so magical and special and it’s hard, it’s like asking which one is your favourite child!’
The UK tour has been a lot of fun for Elle, and she has loved Glasgow; ‘I got some amazing shopping done there.’ However, this was not her favourite place she had been, ‘I think my night in Brighton was probably my favourite. It was so wild and I had felt like shit all day and it was one of those unexpected kind of things so yeah, Brighton was amazing.’ Her experience in Leeds had been surprisingly and unfortunately dull given that ‘I had all these plans to walk around Leeds and go get breakfast and everything and then I slept till 2:30. I’m pretty exhausted but yeah, I was busy dreaming!’
The future for Elle over the next few years will be extremely similar to what she is currently working on: ‘Touring, touring, touring and probably a lot more touring. I feel really lucky to have been able to tour and see a lot of my friends and see their process of releasing a record and they’re going to tour for 2 or 3 years before they make their next record, so I just hope that I get to hit all the different territories and travel around the world and play my music.’
Finally, Elle has this advice to give to any aspiring musician:
‘I would say find something that makes you stand out. I think that trends are fleeting and if you find something that makes you stand out then don’t be afraid of it because that’s what is going to make people love you in the end. I think there is such a strong power in individuality and especially in young people, I think that it scares them at first and they are afraid to be different but it’s actually those people that are going to make it.’