The introspective singer-songwriter finds her happy place in New York City, music, and tattoos.
“I’m not a very girly girl,” says Elle King. “I’m sweet, but tough. I speak my mind. I tell people what I want, and I get it.”
Born in L.A. and the daughter of Saturday Night Live cast member Rob Schneider, King is in no way your typical privileged Hollywood offspring. Authentic and unfiltered, driven but unassuming, the down-to-earth King was raised in southern Ohio by her mother and stepfather and came of age on her own in New York City, an experience she describes as both “awesome” and “weird” for a preteen girl.
Signed with RCA, King has been putting together her first full-length album, taking her time to create a cohesive product that represents her multiple sounds and personalities. In the meantime, she has gained instant recognition as the sultry voice behind the Mob Wives theme song, “Playing for Keeps,” and has toured with such acts as Of Monsters and Men, Train, and the British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka.
It is an odd juxtaposition of sudden success and patient hard work for the angel-faced 23-year-old who confesses to having been “chubby and weird- looking” growing up.
“Girls were so mean to me,” says King. “Girls can be so mean. I hated 38 school. I didn’t like Ohio at all. I had so much more fun when I came to New York. My mom was like, ‘Hey, figure things out. Find yourself.’ I was a bad kid. I found tattoos and leather jackets.”
“I had a grown-up confidence, even as a little kid,” King says. “I always wanted to play music, so I got a fake ID and I started playing bars.”
It was in these bars that King developed her eclectic sound, a signature combination of country, soul, rock, and blues that results from diverse influences, including AC/DC, Elvis Presley, and Dolly Parton—three musical mentors that King pays tribute to in ink.
Her autobiographical lyrics underscore familiar themes: “extremely unhealthy relationships with family, friends, and boyfriends—but also with myself.”
“I think that I’m a confident person, but I’m still a girl and I’ve got problems,” King says. “Sometimes I don’t like the way I look. Sometimes I don’t like the way I sound. A healthy outlet is to write it in songs.”
Another healthy outlet, King says, has been turning her body into art. “I always felt really strange-looking. When I started getting tattoos, I enjoyed looking at them in the mirror, and that made me feel good.”