Though breakthrough singer Elle King has a huge hit with “Ex’s and Oh’s,” the feel-good, carefree 26-year-old remembers performing tirelessly anywhere she could — without a cellphone.
“I played in a lot of empty bars and I played on a lot of couches and a lot of big offices and I didn’t have a cellphone when my manager tried to get a hold of me,” said King, who met her manager, Alan Bezozi, in 2010. “I would talk to him on payphones.”
The hard times are turning into good times: “Ex’s and Oh’s” is No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and it reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot rock songs and alternative songs charts, respectively.
And being without a phone still didn’t stop King from falling in love and breaking up with boys – the subject of her hit single and most of her debut album.
Despite singing about leaving an international wake of brokenhearted exes, King insisted she’s no man-eater.
“It’s so beautiful to love a person, but it’s like, it sucks. It just sucks when it doesn’t work out and so I’d rather just have fun while I’m young and maybe I’ll get married when I’m 70, to a few people,” the raspy-voiced singer said.
“Ex’s & Oh’s,” a sultry laundry list of real-life breakups, details four of King’s past relationships. The song has sold 957,179 tracks so far, and King is not too concerned about how her exes feel about the track.
“I’m sorry,” she said to her exes before quickly rethinking the apology. “I’m not. Thank you. Boom! Look what happened!”
Heartache flows throughout her debut album, Love Stuff, which was released earlier this year. It’s named after a sex shop King drove past in Florida.
She sings about a toxic relationship in “Under the Influence” and offers a stern warning to future boyfriends in “I Told You I Was Mean.” The album takes a dark, soulful turn with the eerie “Ain’t Gonna Drown” and a then a surprising optimistic swing with “Make You Smile,” an upbeat track about how far she’d go to make that special someone happy.
And her bluegrass influences shine through while she plays the banjo on the haunting “Kocaine Karolina.”
She begrudgingly admits that she makes pop music, too.
“I used to be afraid of those three letters, but I’m not anymore. Now I understand that it’s just mainstream, it’s popular and I’m learning and I don’t care,” said King, who is currently on a U.S. tour and will launch another tour with Vance Joy next year.
King was bitten by the showbiz bug at an early age. Her father is actor-comedian Rob Schneider and she had a small role in his 1999 comedy, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.
“I just grew up around performers,” she recalled. “I just loved it and I’ve always wanted to be onstage and I never wanted to get a real job.”
The singer was primarily raised by her mother and step-father in Ohio and decided to change her last name when she turned 18. She calls her mother “my everything and my idol.”
“I took her last name,” she said. “I wanted to do it on my own so that when it did happen, right now, this moment, I could say, ‘Yeah, I did it myself. And I did it with my name.'”
VH1 was one of King’s early supporters, using her music in the 2012 reality series Hollywood Exes and as the theme song for Mob Wives Chicago. She will perform at Thursday’s “VH1 Big Music in 2015: You Oughta Know” concert in New York, alongside fellow breakthrough acts like Hozier, George Ezra, Tori Kelly and James Bay, whom King toured with in the United Kingdom.
“She doesn’t sound like anyone else, she doesn’t look like anyone else, and it’s the sort of unapologetic approach to what she puts out there that is just so galvanizing,” said Sandy Alouete, MTV and VH1’s senior vice president of music and talent.
“I can’t think of one – not just female artist – one male or female artist right now that kind of rivals that hybrid that she truly is,” Alouete said.