A girl from a humble bohemian upbringing on New York’s Lower East Side, Emily King had a major record deal at 19, and that same year (2004), guested on Nas’ album Street Disciple. By 2007 she had released her debut album East Side Story, nabbed a Grammy nomination for that same album, toured with John Legend, and opened for Alicia Keys.
She went sort of “underground” for awhile, not releasing her follow up full-length (The Switch) until 2015. But grabbed up by ATO in 2017, she escaped from Gotham to a quiet corner of the Catskills in Upstate New York, to summon new inspiration for her latest, which was released earlier this month. And indeed Scenery is a decidedly more personal, introspective affair – though it’s also her most adventurous effort to date.
The album opens majestically, with the lush gospel funk of “Remind Me,” betraying a remarkable musical maturity. No surprise, it deals with new beginnings: “Been asleep inside this dream / I’m trying to wake up / Waiting for something to come and rescue me / Give me a reason, yes.” Elsewhere, she sets an ’80s sounding R&B track to a calypso rhythm on “Can’t Hold Me”; and lays Brian May style guitars (!) over retro soul on “Look at Me Now.” But the most striking track is the stunningly confessional “Running,” for which she gives a chill inducing vocal performance, courageously professing, “I can stop running from all the things that I have done / And I can stop running from whatever I’ve become.”
Her voice has never sounded so confident, so attuned to emotional honesty.
We caught up with her as she prepped for a string of 18 tour dates throughout Europe and North America, kicking off at London’s Bush Hall on February 26, and ultimately ending up on a stage at Coachella.
‘Paste’ Magazine Session, February 5, 2019
You recently left New York City for Upstate – were there specific things about NYC that had ultimately disillusioned you?
I grew up in New York and stayed most of my life. When you live in the city, you almost feel like you never have to leave – or should [have to], because the whole world travels to you. So it can kind of keep you there if you let it. Plus there’s major FOMO whenever you try to leave. Especially if you have cheap rent.
Have you found a renewed creative inspiration in your new home?
Windows with big, bright light coming through them! It’s been such a peaceful experience to stare out at nature and instantly leave my own thoughts and join whatever outside is up to.
Your music is a little hard to pin down – what have been and are currently some of your top musical influences?
I grew up listening to a lot of jazz and R&B; when I was ten my uncle gave me a cassette of Nirvana’s Nevermind, and that kind of blew me away. I’ve always been drawn to catchy, melodic songwriting from all genres. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Slow Dancer, Michael Kiwanuka, Rick James, Shania Twain, Cochemea, Fleet Foxes.
“Look at Me Now” sounds like Marvin Gaye and Queen at once. How did you actually get that guitar sound?
Whoa cool, thank you. That’s J Most, my producer. He started playing that guitar line and it just lent itself to the Brian May type guitar harmonies. It was so fun hearing him record it, he’s such a great player. I believe we tracked that at Like!Minds Studio.
The lyrics are seemingly about running into an ex lover – did that really happen?
Ha, well…not necessarily. I think the lyrics were heavily influenced by social media. Instagram mainly. We all post that cute photo of us that we want somebody else to see, probably just one person in particular. It’s the highlight reel! Look how great I’m doing! Even if the truth may be slightly different.
“Remind Me” has the feel of ’80s R&B – but is also kind of gospel-ish. Is that indicating a forward direction for you?
I love gospel music and gospel singing, I think it’s the essence of true joy, love, sorrow, feeling. Straight from the heart, no filter. I guess I aspire to write music like that. I hope to write more songs with big, belting vocals that just soar freely.
Prince was a fan of yours – did you get to meet him?
I never got to meet Prince. He tweeted my songs a few years back. The first time he did, he deleted the tweet shortly after posting it…just as I was about to show all of my friends! Haha. The second time I took a screen shot so that I’d have proof. He invited us to play at Paisley Park, but passed away a few months before we were scheduled to go. He remains a mystical figure to me. Rest In Peace.