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Feature: Elle King – The Lost Lockdown Interview

| March 9, 2022


Elle King


Our interview with Elle King was conducted in July 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and never appeared in print or online.

There are two distinct ways of looking at our current coronavirus crisis reckons the usually rollicking R&B-rocker Elle King, who reframed and restrained herself in a hushed acoustic setting on her new In Isolation EP. And they both are perfectly exemplified in the timeless film fable Groundhog Day. Are you a glass-is-half-empty person, like Bill Murray is initially as he grudgingly finds himself reliving the same day, over and over again? Or are you the glass-is-half-full optimist that he eventually becomes, seeing every 24 hours as a chance to learn more about yourself, your capabilities, and the world around you, in general? The first option? Been there, done that, sighs the former hard-partying scion of comic Rob Schneider and model London King. “I’ve spent most of my life as an asshole, and I was just repeating bad behaviors and wasn’t learning my lesson,” she says. “So you have to be active in change, and you have to be ready. A million people can tell you to quit smoking, for instance, but you’re never going to quit until you say, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do this anymore.’ And when you start trying something new and embracing change, a beautiful world unfolds for you.” Having just turned 31, she was happy to run down a checklist of all the latest wisdom she’s acquired over the past four claustrophobic months.

IE: Where are you now?

ELLE KING: I am sheltering in place with my sister and her three children, and I live at the bottom of the Hollywood Hills. So I am a true Hollywood hillbilly — I have an inflatable hot tub, I have an above-ground pool, and we’re just motoring through. And in a weird way, I’ve been counting my blessings this whole time. I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much consecutive time in my home, so the amount of downtime that I’ve been able to have in this consistent manner has been incredible, and I really feel like I’ve grown a lot. And as crazy as this situation is — and with everything else that’s going on in the world — I just have to maintain the beauty that can come from this and push away all my fear of change and embrace it and just buckle up for the ride, you know?

IE: Your EP’s single “The Let Go” sounds like a brutally frank breakup song. I’m sure the pressure of Covid-19 has shattered quite a few relationships and only strengthened others.

EK: Yeah. Whatever relationship I’ve ever been in — whether it was my marriage, my engagement, or just having boyfriends — because of my job, I’m always in a long-distance relationship. But this was a true test, and I am still in a relationship and still happy. And we’ve done a lot of work on ourselves. He’s on the other side of the country, and distance definitely makes the heart grow fonder. So separation can be a beautiful demonstration of love, if you will. But I feel very grounded and happy. And obviously, I want to go on tour and play shows — I’m definitely feeling that hunger pang for live performance. But I think we’ve been given a test, and I tell the kids, “This is the summer where we push ourselves, and we come out of it — out of everything that’s happening right now — as the best versions of ourselves that we can be.” So I think the constant theme throughout this is, “Stay healthy, and how can we better ourselves? How can we better the government? How can we be the best America that we can be?”

IE: Like the rest of us, were you scared, confused at first about this pandemic?

EK: One hundred percent. But I’ve found through the different trials in my life that every experience is truly a message for growth. So this has been an opportunity for me to really dig deep within. I’ve gotten so accustomed to my schedules on tour that that routine, that cycle, and pattern have become my comfort zone. And now I’m like, “Hey — what do I DO?” So I’ve been writing a ton of music, I’ve been painting, and I’ve been writing poetry. This really opened up my creativity — it’s been a very teaching experience.

IE: What was the turning point when fear morphed into inspiration?

EK: Well, I was kind of getting a little wrapped up in the fear, and I was letting the fear of the unknown consume me. And I grew up with the Christian faith, so part of me was like, “Oh, my gosh — is this the end of the world?” Because at the end of the day, Mother Nature will take over and will bring change upon us. So I just reached a point where I thought, “I can’t let this consume me anymore.” So I started changing certain routines in my life, and moving my body more, and trying to exercise my brain. And it’s been really great — I actually feel really good. Now I meditate. I do yoga. I box. And boxing is genuinely the most amazing thing because it’s such an incredible release of energy, of emotions, frustration, anger, and it’s a very loving thing that you can do for yourself. And there’s something to be said about when you strengthen your body, and you know that you’re doing something good for yourself. So how can you not feel good about that? This is an introspective time, a time of solitude and isolation, and everyone has a different opportunity to push themselves. So I didn’t want all this fear to consume me, so, like I told my nieces and my nephew, “I’m also going to push myself and try to better myself so that when this eventually grinds to a halt, and we become a world again, I want to be really ready to re-enter that.”

IE: Have you got a thwappity-thwappity speed bag at home?

EK: I do! Yes, I do. And I get very, very loud, and my neighbors are very close to me, so they can all definitely hear me boxing.

IE: In your new photos, you look like you’ve lost a lot of weight.

EK: Thank you, but those are good angles. But I really have been trying hard to — well, not even lose weight, but about two years ago, I went through really heavy depression, and sugar is a heavy addiction of mine, along with many other things. So I was trying to fill this hole that I had in me, and I felt really unhealthy, and I felt like I struggled to sing, and I just didn’t feel good in my body. So I wanted to get myself free of that, and now I just feel so much better, you know? So it’s not about numbers on a scale or anything — it’s just about how you feel.

IE: And you’d already battled the drug and booze demons while you were making your last album, Shake the Spirit (2018).

EK: 100%. And that was a period of my life where I called her ‘She,’ and she is a part of my past, but she’s no longer someone that I have to carry around with me. I honor her, and I respect her, and I recently listened to a bunch of songs off Spirit, and I just felt like…like I loved her — she was trying. But I just feel so separate from her now. And I don’t usually talk about myself in the third person very often, so I do think it’s strange. But it’s just something I feel. And when I listen to her, I hear the pain that she was trying to get through. So I wish I could go back and give her a hug and tell her that everything that she did got me to where I am. So that was a huge transition in my life, and it didn’t happen overnight. And my process of writing records is really very cathartic for me, and it changes — it’s an ebb and flow, and I can’t really control it. And that’s where my problem has been — when I’ve tried to control what my outlet has been and what my thoughts were. When you’re trying to control that, the truth doesn’t ever really come out because you’re not actually listening — you’re just letting your ego get in the way of everything. But Oh, my gosh — if the teenage me could hear the way that I’m talking now? But I’m in my thirties now. Thank God I’m out of my twenties.

IE: What else have you learned about yourself recently?

EK: I’ve learned a lot. And I think that the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that I don’t know anything. And I think that’s the most beautiful place to start.

IE: It’s almost like you created this wild decadent monster in early anthems like “Ex’s and Oh’s” and “America’s Sweetheart,” with a reputation you felt like you had to maintain.

EK: Well, here’s the good news. I will always be fucking crazy. That will always be a part of my music. I just no longer need all the drugs to stay up, which I didn’t realize back then. So I still am an insomniac, and I still will play music and hyper-focus for hours and hours on end. But I’m, uh, just a little more clearheaded now.

Appearing Friday, March 11 at Metro Chicago

-Tom Lanham

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Category: Columns, Featured

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