Her hit song “Ex’s and Oh’s” was all over the radio in 2014 and even earned a pair of Grammy nominations.
Crank it up as you drive to see Elle King at the Waterside Music Series in Solomons, Maryland, on Thursday, followed by the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, West Virginia on Friday night.
“My set changes every night,” King told WTOP. “I try my best to play what people want to hear, but sometimes I get a wild feeling and play something that no one’s ever heard before, so you never know. It’s a rowdy summer and it’s however many miles [from] my family’s hometown, so it’s going to be rowdy and fun, that’s all I can tell you.”
While her maternal grandmother is from West Virginia, Elle King was born in Los Angeles in 1989, the daughter of “Saturday Night Live” star Rob Schneider and former model London King.
Her parents divorced when she was young, so while she briefly appeared in a few of her dad’s movies like “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” (1999), she mostly grew up with her mother in Southern Ohio, to the point of taking her mother’s maiden name of King.
“People have preconceived notions about my childhood,” King said.
“I didn’t grow up in L.A., I grew up in Ohio until we moved to New York … I never put all this thought into, ‘Well, my dad’s a famous actor,’ my dad was just my dad, but I grew up with my mom, so I always used my mom’s last name. By the time I was 15, I was already writing songs. I never connected with people my own age and I liked being in bars … so it just created this outlet.”
Soon, she was touring the world as an opening act for the likes of Dashboard Confessional (2010), Of Monsters and Men (2011), Train (2012), Dropkick Murphys (2013), Ed Sheeran (2013) and Modest Mouse (2015).
“I learned everything that I know from touring,” King said.
“I tried to watch and learn as much as I could absorb and how to act. I always said I wanted people to want to work with us again. It’s cool. My 20s were spent totally just traveling around the world opening for badass rock ‘n roll people. It is a little wild to step back and look at all of the people who have taken me on tour and let me open for them. It’s awesome. It’s a wide range of audiences.”
Her first album release was the four-song RCA debut “The Elle King EP” (2012), featuring the tune “Playing for Keeps,” which became the TV theme song for VH1’s reality series “Mob Wives Chicago” (2012).
Still, her big breakthrough came with her first full-length studio album, “Love Stuff” (2015), featuring the hard-driving hit “Ex’s & Oh’s,” which was nominated for two Grammys: Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance.
“Honestly, I thought that ‘America’s Sweetheart’ was going to be the lead single,” King said.
“I wrote ‘Ex’s & Oh’s’ with Dave Bassett in less than 45 minutes. I remember at the end of the day we were laughing just like, ‘They’re never gonna go for this,’ but it was the single and that song changed my life. It taught me something. It taught me to write about what I know, my own experiences … and I happened to be in my 20s out there breaking hearts.”
After the massive success of her first full-length album, her sophomore album, “Shake the Spirit” (2018), was admirably introspective, dealing with some serious personal issues like alcohol, divorce and self doubt.
“I was in my 20s, I had just shot up with ‘Ex’s & Oh’s’ and life got really crazy,” King said.
“I had to go back to what I do to try and heal, and that’s make music. I feel really blessed with my band, they’re my family and really good friends. They were there with me and we made this beautiful record. It helped me release a lot of things I didn’t want to carry with me the rest of my life. If I need to relive them, I can just go back and listen to the f*ckin’ album!”
Along the way, she toured with heavy hitters like Maroon 5 (2016), Miranda Lambert (2019), Joan Jett with Heart (2019) and Chris Stapleton (2022).
Her ventures into country music were actually kick-started a few years earlier by Dierks Bentley on the duet “Different for Girls” (2016), which won the Country Music Association Award for Musical Event of the Year and even a Grammy Award nomination for Best Country Performance by a Duo.
“Dierks is genuinely the greatest human that I’ve ever met,” King said.
“What I’ve learned from him, just how he lives his life and treats people, he is so inspiring. I didn’t even know who he was! I had to call my brother in Ohio and say, ‘Who is this guy? I hear he’s pretty famous.’ My brother was like, ‘Dierks Bentley!’ Just another weird thing, I had no idea anything would come of it. Talk about life-altering. I know all of Dierks’ music now.”
In 2020, King was one of six talented women, including Caylee Hammack, Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde, Maren Morris and Tenille Townes, to perform a star-studded cover of Elvin Bishop’s 1976 hit “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”
The result won an Academy of Country Music Award for Vocal Event of the Year and was also nominated for the Country Music Association Award for Musical Event of the Year.
“What’s funny is there was bad weather where I was, so I didn’t make the flight, so I missed the day that everybody got together to record it,” King said. “I had to fly in the next day and everybody had pretty much taken all of the good parts, so I had to kind of just make up my own thing and they let me, but Miranda’s cool and so is [producer Jay Joyce]. Dierks introduced me to Miranda and we all know how that went — pretty great.”
She’s referring to her latest Lambert duet “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” which became the first female duet to top the charts since the Reba McEntire and Linda Davis duet “Does He Love You” (1993).
Featured on King’s newest album, “Come and Get Your Wife” (2023), the song earned a Country Music Association Award nomination for Musical Event of the Year and a Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
“It came at the tail end of a fully female-fronted tour,” King said.
“Miranda is another person who really taught me a lot. … I had been sitting on ‘Drunk’ and rewrote the verses with Martin Johnson … and asked her to sing it with me. She didn’t text me back for a whole day and I was like, ‘What have I done?!?’ … I don’t think we had any idea that we would break a record in country music or go No. 1 or get a Grammy nomination. That’s insane.”
You can hear all of the aforementioned songs at this week’s shows in Solomons, Maryland, and Charles Town, West Virginia. This fall, you catch her again on Sept. 21 at the Great Frederick Fair in Frederick, Maryland.
“I can’t wait,” King said. “You guys have the best food. Maryland has good seafood and good pies, so I always look forward to it. Listen, I know what you can eat and what you can drink in every city, I’ll tell you that much.”