Elle King hasn’t had much time to rest during SXSW. The up-and-coming singer with a raw sound that’s a mix of soul, blues, country and rock has a packed schedule with half a dozen gigs, including playing Heartbreaker Banquet at Willie Nelson’s ranch on Thursday.
The 23-year-old commanded the Heartbreaker Banquet stage with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. She says she’s happy to be back in Austin for her second SXSW.
“This is a vacation, I don’t see this as work yet and when I do, find me and slap me in the face because this is the definition of fun. I haven’t stopped smiling since I got here,” she says. “Austin is a different place because people listen to the music. It’s such a music town. People appreciate it. If you’re good, they’ll stop and listen.”
If King looks at all familiar, you may have seen her in the movies. Her father is actor Rob Schneider, and King has appeared in several of his films, including Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo. King says having a famous dad did influence her career path.
“I’m not very close with him but I appreciate the time that I had as a kid with him and I really did see a lot of this business. I always thought I didn’t want to be a part of it, but at the same time my father is an entertainer and I’m an entertainer.”
King says she’s always loved to sing and before turning it into a profession, she was a karaoke queen. She says she started really working on her voice and instrumentals at 18.
“From 18 to 20 I always had an instrument in my hand and was always singing. It just turned into this automatic outlet and I don’t even look at my instruments when I’m on stage… it’s this weird thing about being on stage. My eyes close and I go somewhere else and it’s a good feeling.”
She counts Hank Williams and Earl Scruggs among her many influences and says listening to their music as a child in her Papaw’s shed inspired her to learn to play banjo.
“For as long as I can remember I would sit on the steps of his shed while he was carving wood and it’s just got this feeling to me, that old music… it just brings me home and so I love to play it."
King says her grandmother also influenced her music, which is at times cheeky, by teaching her to always find the humor in life. “When I was young my grandma went through something hard and she said ‘we gotta laugh about this because if you can’t laugh at anything you’re gonna have problems in your life.’ So I’ve always had a really good sense of humor about things."
"Good To Be A Man" is a good example of that. King says the song was inspired by a cheating boyfriend. She sings, "To be a man would be just fine / My only worry would be my receding hair line / I only give love that's on my own time / To be a man would be just fine."
King recently signed with RCA Records and has toured with Train, Ed Sheeran and Of Monsters and Men. “I signed about a year and a half ago and it’s been such an incredible shift of everything. Knowing that I always wanted to play music and then being like, ‘Oh, this is my job!’ I’m gonna work my ass off and do the best I can.”
She says there’s not a set release date yet, but she and her team are making headway on her first album with the label. “We’re not rushing anything. I’m in no rush because this is my first little baby and I care a lot about it and I don’t want to disappoint anyone who’s become a fan of mine. So I’m gonna keep going until it’s as good as it should be.”
In the meantime, Elle King will continue to connect with live audiences as she builds a larger fan base for her heartfelt and sometimes humorous tunes. “I don’t know what genre I play but, my music is from deep down. People I guess connect to it and that makes me really happy, because that’s what music is about.”