Interview: Emily King
by Winston "Stone" Ford
The first time I heard Ms. Emily King’s song “Colorblind,” my jaw hit the floor. It almost seems rare now for an artist to be introspective on tracks anymore, and on that song, Ms. King put her differences up in the forefront rather than blending into the crowd.
And Ms. King definitely is “different.” She’s the biracial child of two Upper East Side jazz singers who prefers the guitar to overproduced R&B. But in this case, different is good. Her first studio album, East Side story dropped this past August on J Records and she’s been on her grind, opening for such acts as John Legend and Lyfe Jennings. Her first single, “Walk In My Shoes” has been getting radio airplay on the East Coast.
I talked with Ms. King last week, when she was fresh off of opening up for Alecia Keys at a recent New York City concert. I also ran into Ms. King at the Black Girls Rock afterparty this past October in NYC, and she’s definitely been one of the coolest interviews I’ve done so far. Her current album, East Side Story is in stores now on J Records.
The Couch Sessions: Yo, What’s up Emily King??
Emily King: What’s up!
Yo, I just wanted to say that I met you at the Black Girls Rock Afterparty a couple weeks ago.
Yo, really?? That was a good night!
Oh, I met your manager too by the way.
Oh really….[she’s a] Party Animal!
I just have to say, that was a good night.
That was so much fun!
Except that….I’m from DC and the drink prices were through the roof for me.
Oh my God….were the charging???
Well yeah, they charged me, I’m not a recording artist so…
(Laughs) Oh man….
It was like $14 for a drink…
Oh hell no!
I bought enough drinks to buy myself a pair of Rockports, but…
Aww man..well see, I didn’t..I didn’t even remember going to the bar that night. Oh you know why? Cause at the Awards Show they had those free drinks. Champagne mixed with vodka or something?
Yeah, I remember that [ed. note….barely]
That was strong….
Yeah it was…anyway back to the interview. But that was fun.
Yeah, that was fun (laughs).
I can talk about that all night.
Any party with free shoes, I’m there!
People in DC don’t believe me either. They’re like “You Got that for FREE??”
Yeah, I got like 3 pair and I was so embarrassed. I was embarrassed but I [wasn’t] I was like, I gotta do this.
Yeah I know. I should have went back and got some more. Cause they only had one pair in my size. I should’ve just went back there and got some stuff to put on eBay or something like that.
Sell to your friends??
Exactly! Anyway, getting back to the interview (laughs) Your bio says that you started out music at a young age. Was that your parent’s influence?
Yeah, I think I started in the womb. (Ha Ha). I think I Got serious about it when I was like 16 because I started playing guitar and writing, and I was like, this is what I really want to do, ya know? That was the turning point, around that age.
I hear that you dropped out of high school to pursue music at the age of 16. Was that difficult or did you just knew you had to do it?
Yeah, High School was a hard time for me (Laughs) It was! It was! I went to this derelict school. It was supposed to be the innovative alternative school but I think all that just went down the drain. You know, there was no music, there was no gym, no art….nothing. Ya know? And just the whole school system didn’t work out for me and my personality so I was just like “I gotta get up outta here”
So I ended up getting my GED and pursuing music cause I knew I was going to be doing that regardless.
So how did your parents take it? Were they like….free spirit cause they were musicians or were they like, “What the hell are you doing????”
We had a powwow about it. (Laughs) You know like….um, “what’s the plan?” Especially my dad, cause he was like, you know….well they couldn’t really say anything because they’re both singers and they never had day job. That was they’re full time job was singing. So I think that they saw that I was really serious about it and they were like….”then do it.”
Yeah, yeah, that’s cool.
Yeah it was cool.
What type of singers were they?
They were jazz. They sang jazz for 14 years. They toured with everyone from Miles Davis to Clark Perry. They were really incredible musicians and ….yeah, it was cool. It was a cool upbringing.
Yeah, that is cool….so what are your musical influences?
I say it was a lot of that [jazz], it was a lot of music that I was around in my environment you know like ballads and standards and Duke Ellington. A lot of that stuff. And then 90s RnB, that was my life. Hot 97, ya know? (Laughs) That was really all that I listened to, you know going to school, things like that. Then when I got older I got like, teenager, like 16, I started listening to a lot of rock and roll and kind of….I wanted to broaden my mind. You know like Bob Marley…a lot of 70s–Al Green and all that stuff.
So was your motivation to cover the Bill Withers classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine” on your album?
Yeah, it was definitely a part of that. It was actually my mangers idea, she came into the studio once and she mentioned it and I was like “Oh yeah I like that song.” So we just put it down in the studio and kind of just put it down and it sat for a minute and I just really enjoyed it and I just started singing it.
So you were saying that high school was a rough time for you, and I know that you wrote “Colorblind” about growing up bi-racial. Was that something that was thearputic for you to write that song. Was that something you just wanted to share cause you knew other people were going through that?
Yeah, I think it was. You know it took me a while to get to that point because I didn’t wanna talk about that stuff cause I wanted people to focus on the music and I didn’t give you like gimmicky like “Oh I’m Biracial.” You know? Cause especially growing up in New York everybody’s bi-racial. Everybody is something else. But the more and more you grow up, the more you see that the world is in this place where we just judge each other off of the physical, you know, and there is still a lot of hatred in this country. So I think eventually I got to the point where I was like “why not?”
And it brought tears to my eyes, the first time I sang it and played it back, and I was like “maybe this is a good thing?”
So have other bi-racial fans come up to you and said, “oh I relate to that too??”
Yeah…they have. Its cool, like on the MySpace too, I get a lot of messages like, “my daughter is bi-racial,” and a lot of people who live in different parts of America that’s still kinda redneck, you know, kinda like…..scary. So, they kinda like have to deal that stuff over there.
Now to your album, East Side Story….Did you write all of the songs on your album?
I wrote all of them, and some of them were collaborations. “Walk In My Shoes” was a collaboration between myself and Big Drawz..they’re two women, a writing team. They’re awesome. And Chucky Thomson was my producer and we worked on the whole album together.
So are you more of the Singer-Songwriter type, or more of the “get in the studio and lay down the tracks” type?
I’m definitely, the singer songwriter! (Laughs) I’m very folky. But also I have these different personalities, ya know. I’m a little bit of everything…that’s just how I grew up. I’m kind of schizophrenic, I guess.
Did you find it difficult being a singer-songwriter background in an R&B world?
It was kind of natural, just because that’s the type of voice I had at the time [singer-songwriter] and its a part of me. R&B is me, and the singer-songwriter part comes from the fact that I can just go to a coffeeshop and play the guitar and I love to do that. So I just wanted to give people something different that all different types of people could listen to.
So did the album get pushed back?
My boy handed me some tracks in January like “yo, check this girl out, she’s gonna be the next big thing,” but the album didn’t get released until August. The 28th right? So what was the deal?
I was a long process. It was definitely a development process for me and we all had to get on the same page before we could release it. It had a lot to do with the record company getting to know me, and me getting to know me, and just everything to be right. Nobody wanted anything to be premature. But then again, its been circulating for a long time, so some people have had it for almost 3 years now.
Well, I did cop the real thing when it came out…
What do you think about the music industry today? Cause your stuff doesn’t sound like anything on the radio.
You know what? I don’t like it when people sit around and be like “This is real music,” You know? Whatever. I think there is good music on the radio, ya know. Its fun to dance to that stuff. I like 50. I like Kanye. I like Rhianna, that was a cute song. I think the problem is…they don’t make room for other things. But that’s not the fault of the artists. That’s the faut of the labels, of these huge companies that own everything. They control what you hear on the radio. And I tink thats kind of a drag because there is other types of music out there too and they should be heard. Thank god for MySpace and the Internet now.
Yeah, definitely. What’s next for Emily King? Are you going on tour soon?
The next step…hmm…I’ve been doing a lot of shows in New York. I just opened up for Alecia Keys here. I’m going to be droppin’ a new single and they’re gonna do a contest up on my MySpace so that the people can decide what its gonna be. Yeah, and going a tour.
Is it going to be a full scale tour? East Coast? West Coast? Midwest?
I wold lvoe to do a full country tour, even to do a college tour. So I’m gettin’ out wherever I can even if its a little cafe or something bigger than that. I’m going to London next week for the first time so I’m excited about that.
Yo London is cool….
Is it cool?
Yeah, I was down there in March. I try to go there every year.
The music scene is wonderful out there. They have this respect for music that that’s hard to explain.
That’s what I’ve been hearing. You know even back in the day Hendrix had to go to London…American didn’t get him. But I don’t want to compare myself with Jimi Hendrix….(laughs).
I saw you playin’ the guitar. It’s cool….
(Laughs) Thank You London! (in a rock concert style.)
So are you doing club tours over there?
I’m really just going out there for one show. They’re having me do a private thing for Vogue magazine so I get to be all Glammed up.
That’s what’s up! And finally one more question before I get you outta here. This is a question we ask everybody at The Couch Sessions. What are the top 10 songs you’re bumpin’ in your iPod right now?
On my iPod right now??
Or you iPhone, MP3 Player, or the 8-Track…
Tape Deck? Turntable?
(Laughs) Right. Let me get out my iPod. I’m listening to John Mayer. It’s a song off his album Continuum. It’s called “Vultures”.
You know what, let me get my iPod…
You know you’re the first artist we ‘ve had that’s like “Let me get my ipod out…”
(Laughs) Let see…. (long pause while she files through her iPod) You know, I’ve been listening to the Rat Pat. “Ain’t That a Kick In The Head” (Plays song on iPod over the phone.)
That’s what’s up!
That’s just some gangsta like….you just feel like a pimp (laughs).
But its classy like….”yeah, what?”
It’s classy! Classy cool. And then I have…Steeley Dan. I’ve been listening to them. My drummer put me on to them. “Reelin’ In the Years.”
And I’ve been listening to Mos Def. “Love,” L.O.V.E. I love that song. I love Mos Def he’s so genius.
Yeah, he is….
Um….long pause. Oh. Justin Timberlake, “My Love.” That song is crazy.
That beat is crazy. I love that song.
And when you’re on the train it just gets you hype, ya know?
And people are like, “I don’t listen to Justin Timberlake,” but I’m like, naw, I listen to him. What?
Yeah, he’s good.
I listened to his first album too, I didn’t tell anybody, but I did.
Uh no, I have my limits.
Posters all on your wall??
Hey now, don’t tell anybody that!
I’ve been listening to Common. He has an awesome album. He has that song with will.i.am., “I Want You.” How many is that?
That’s 5. You know what? We can make it Top 5. You know, nobody really gets to 10. “They’re like, alright, that’s it.”
Oh they don’t get to 10??? What’s up with that??
If you wanna do 10, we could do 10.
Okay. Let’s go.
No “Crank Dat Soulja Boy?”
CRANK DAT in the CLUB…WHAT!?!?!
I hated that song when it first came out. But now I’m doin’ the Soulja Boy now.
I know! See what they do????
I have a day job as a computer programmer and they’re upstairs right now doin’ the Soulja Boy.
See, it keeps the energy goin’.
Yeah, you could put that one down. And Colplay, I like Coldplay. They have this song called “Sparks” that’s really pretty.
That’s like one of my favorite bands of all time.
Yeah. And then Death Cab for Cutie I like too. I know its a little hipsterish. They have a song called “Lack of Color,” that I like.
What else? (Looks at iPod) James Brown. “The Big Payback”
And then, Hendrix, “Up from the Sky,” its called.
And then….this is the last one, Jimmy Reed, it’s called “Take Out some Insurance”
I love songs like that what keep it real, ya know?
(Plays songs on her iPod) Ain’t that cute? “Take out some insurance on me baby…”
That’s funny. I’m gonna look that track up. (laughs)
Cool. That’s 10.
Yeah you made it all the way up to 10.
See?? We have to raise the standard!
Now I’m gonna tell everyone else interview and say, “You know what, Emily King took out her iPod and she kept it real.”
And she worked extra hard!
Yep yep. Well thank you for the interview.
No, Thank you! Thank you guys! I’m gonna see you at the next party right?
If I can get an invite to the next party, I’ll definitely be down!
Word. Take care!