Since her 2014 breakthrough, the Grammy-nominated “Ex’s and Oh’s,” Elle King has blazed her own trail with determined ferocity, melding elements of punk, rock, country and folk through hits like the banjo-fueled “America’s Sweetheart” and “Shame.”
Her music has topped Billboard charts in four genres — but now, she’s building upon her two previous Billboard Country Airplay chart-toppers with her country debut album, Come Get Your Wife, out Friday (Jan. 27) on RCA Records/Columbia Nashville.
“I came from the rock and pop and alternative world and was brought into country when I was singing with Dierks [Bentley] — but from the beginning, I was like, ‘This is more rock n’ roll than rock n’ roll,’” King tells Billboard, seated onstage at Nashville’s “Mother Church,” the historic Ryman Auditorium. “I’m addicted to country, because it’s the most fun and rock n’ roll ever. Even the way I dress — like ‘50s Western and rockabilly — that still seems rock n’ roll to me.”
Her previous country chart leaders also signify a co-sign from two of the genre’s most respected artists: 2016’s “Different for Girls” with Bentley (which won a CMA Awards for vocal event of the year) and 2021’s “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” with Miranda Lambert. The latter became the first female-only collaboration to ascend to the pinnacle of the Country Airplay chart since 1993.
“Drunk” is included on this album, while she also reunites with Bentley on “Worth a Shot,” a song King says Bentley had initially considered for his own album. (King and Bentley are both managed by Red Light’s Mary Hilliard Harrington.)
“I would never want to give anything less than 110% to making music, let alone country music that I care so much about and that has brought so much great joy to my life,” King says of the Ross Copperman-produced project. “I asked my team to send me some songs, and a bunch of stuff got sent to me that was written for women and I didn’t necessarily connect with it. I said, ‘Send me songs written for men … send me songs Dierks didn’t cut,’ just kind of jokingly.”
“Ross said, ‘Well, Dierks just finished his album and ‘Worth a Shot’ didn’t make the record.’ I said, ‘Great, ‘cause it’s for me!’” she says with a laugh. “I couldn’t put out a country album and not at least have something on there that is a nod to Dierks, or to give respect to the person who changed my life and who showed me the most rock n’ roll I’ve ever seen in my life, which is country music. Country music has given me these incredible opportunities.”
She co-produced the project with Copperman and co-wrote eight of the album’s dozen tracks. King calls the album “a love letter” to her childhood Ohio roots (most notably on the opening track “Ohio”) — or as she recalls, “just being that strange, awkward, funny girl who loves to sing and doesn’t really fit in.”
Though King is the daughter of Hollywood actor Rob Schneider and model London King, she primarily spent her childhood in Ohio with her mom and stepfather. She began writing songs at age 13, inspired by the music of Hank Williams and Otis Redding. She fell in love with the banjo after seeing a local folk band utilizing the instrument to create a propulsive, decidedly non-bluegrass sound.
That swirl of influences permeates the new album. “Tulsa” (featuring Brothers Osborne’s John Osborne on guitar and Ashley McBryde on background vocals) offers a brash rebuff to a cheating lover, set against a freewheeling, swampy rhythm. She showcases her bluegrass leanings in the tight-knit harmonies, mandolin and fiddle of “Blacked Out.”
Alongside bawdy rockers, the album also includes the song “Lucky,” inspired by her son, Lucky Levi, whom she and her partner Dan Tooker welcomed just over a year ago.
“Becoming a mother has rocked my world,” King says. “My son is just this beautiful ball of light and energy. Becoming a parent has made me grow in gratitude and empathy. I have a lot more forgiveness for the world, but also a lot more things I demand from the world. I’m proud that we get to call Nashville home. There is this sense of community with so many artists and creatives.”
King says her previous work with Lambert and Bentley helped ease her transition into the genre. “You know what’s crazy? I have such bad anxiety, and country music has just really helped me,” she says. “I didn’t have anxiety around making the country record. I had full confidence in my experience, in my voice, in the narrative. I’m finally comfortable and open about being vulnerable.
She says the notion of crafting a music video with reigning ACM entertainer of the Year (and ACM Triple Crown winner) Lambert helped her approach music videos differently.
“In the past, music videos for me were kind of a big level of anxiety and absolute dread, personally. I put a lot of pressure on myself on how I looked, how my body looked. [For the ‘Drunk’ video] I knew I wanted it to be fun, and Miranda is one of the funniest, most amazing people I’ve ever met. So I said, ‘Let’s play characters.’ I can only speak for me, but I know if I don’t have this pressure of being ‘Elle King,’ and like drinking water for three days to try and make my face look skinny so I can get one , it’s just insane the amount of pressure that people put on themselves. So I said, ‘If we play characters, I guarantee you’ll get a wild performance out of us and you guys will love the video.’ And we won video of the year at the ACMs.”
The video for “Try Jesus,” directed by The Righteous Gemstones’ Edi Patterson, continues that creative bent, set in a discount store and featuring King again portraying a range of characters in some pretty outrageous scenarios (including in a scene covered in baked beans) — but also striving to fight against various insecurities to find happiness.
“There was a great layer of intent put into every layer of this,” she says. “I wanted to play different characters, because ultimately, every relationship is a mirror. I’ve always felt that the biggest hurdle blocking my own success or my joy or a healthy relationship, even a healthy relationship with self, was me. The last year and a half, I’ve been trying to work through the layers of doubt, guilt. Now, I feel more comfortable to take a layer off and show myself more. I do like to stay up late. Yes, I talk shit and run my mouth. But I’m also a warm, loving person.”
King is also still recovering after a slip on a set of stairs in November that left her with a concussion and forced the cancellation of some radio shows.
“I’m doing so much better,” she says. “I feel like I was forced to take a bit of time and slow down. I tried to play some shows and it was overwhelming. It was a really scary experience. With brain injuries, like any injury, you need time to heal. I’m 100% on the mend. I’m doing physical therapy and I’ve had so much support, but I’m doing so much better.”
In recent years, she’s become known not only for her unvarnished truth-telling, both onstage and on record, but also for her bold fashion sense, hitting the stage and red carpets in an array of bright colors, fringe, attention-grabbing hats and plenty of sparkle. “I love old-school, outlaw country, crazy appliqué stuff,” she says, adding that fashion, too, has been part of her creative and emotional journey.
“I didn’t think about it until now, but maybe I felt that if I dress so loudly, I’m actually kind of hiding behind it in a way, that I’m protecting myself. It was being another character, like in my videos. Until recently, that character is someone I felt like I had to turn up to help me overcome the anxiety of, ‘You don’t look like them. How are you gonna stand next to them? You have to stand next to Miranda. She’s so beautiful, she looks good in anything.’ But there is no one size that you have to be to express yourself in clothes or with fashion. You can be absolutely any size and find something that makes you feel beautiful. Me being bold with some of my outfits helped me find comfort in my body.”
As she gears up for her A-Freakin-Men Tour to launch next month, King says fans can still expect the electric personality, full-throttle vocals and bold stage wear she’s known for.
“I’ll still wear wild things. I love the showmanship of it — the rhinestones and fringe — that is all part of the stuff that sucks you into a performance.”
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