NYC-based Emily King has been wowing fans with her smooth pop-soul blend for over a decade, opening for the likes of John Legend, Nas, Chaka Khan, and Alicia Keys. Now, she’s come into her own with the polished and powerful sophomore album The Switch, a long-awaited follow-up to her Grammy-nominated J Records release East Side Story (2007).
King will be at the Cedar Cultural Center tonight, on her first headlining show in the Twin Cities — but she won’t be performing another planned local gig, at a certain Chanhassen landmark. On the road, she called The Current to talk about her history, her style, and what it feels like to have Prince suddenly co-signing your sound.
What are you excited about for this tour?
I’m excited to play some new songs. I think that’s what I’m probably excited about — and to play to audiences I haven’t seen in a while, some for a whole year already. It will be nice to reunite with those crowds.
This is your first headlining tour, I understand?
It’s my biggest, first real headlining thing.
Is it different preparing for this then it is preparing to go on the road in support of another artist?
Big time, yeah. Our show is longer; got to have more material for the show, which is great because we don’t feel like we have to rush off the stage like we do when we’re opening and we can really create, visually, the show that we want as well. You pay the cost to be the boss, a little, too. There’s other things that, maybe, are harder [when you’re headlining] than [when you’re] opening. I’ve opened for people for the past ten years, and I’m good on that. I’m ready to have my own show, and that’s really exciting to me.
I understand that one show you were hoping to play in Minnesota was a show at Paisley Park. What was your relationship with Prince?
I didn’t have a relationship with Prince other than just being a big fan and an admirer of Prince. Although there were occasions in the past year where I noticed that he tweeted a song of mine from his Twitter account, and that was pretty exciting for me. I remember a couple days later trying to tell a friend about it, and I went back to the Twitter account and the tweet was gone — it had been deleted! So that happened the first time, and the second time I made sure to take a screenshot so I had proof. That was kind of my first and only encounter with Prince, except two months ago it came in through management that he wanted us to play at his Paisley Park. That was pretty amazing, and we were all super-excited. It was scheduled on the tour. That’s kind of my relationship with Prince in a nutshell.
How did it feel to know what Prince was checking out your music — and, obviously, enjoying it?
It was very encouraging! I wish I could have been in the room to discuss music with him. That would have been amazing. A lot of things happen in this business that make you want to give up, and when something like that happens, it’s really encouraging — when someone you respect so much lets you know he likes what you’re doing. It’s a good feeling.
So things were at the point where you actually had a date scheduled? Then, obviously, everything changed.
That’s right. We had a date scheduled: July 22. It was very, very sad news for the world to hear that he passed away.
How did Prince influence your work as a musician?
My influence [from Prince] came a little later in life. I grew up listening to more of Michael Jackson. I don’t know why those two artists are always compared…I guess it’s because those are two of the greatest artists that we’ve had. The sound palate that Prince used, I just didn’t have the taste for it until I got older. It was actually really nice to dive into his music later in life — [save the] best for last.
Prince was also a style icon, and you’re well-known for having your own distinctive style. Who are some of your style influences?
I love Jimi Hendrix. I love the cleanliness and the care that was put into all the clothes from the ’60s, the ’50s. Hollywood, Motown. I also grew up in a bohemian neighborhood — or at least it was back in the day — so I have that too. I love thrift shopping. I love the clean look, and certainly Prince had a polished look that I admire a lot.
Speaking of your upbringing: another thing you have in common with Prince is that you both grew up with parents who were musicians. How has being raised by musician parents both challenged and inspired you?
Having musicians as parents was and is the reason I’m able to do music. I pretty much ripped off all that I could from them, and they taught me music as a way of life. They raised my brother and me on musicians’ wages and tried to just make it work as artists, because that’s the way of life for them. When I became a musician it was an easy transition, and it felt like the only real option for me. I would attribute it all to them.
Clearly they also taught you the value of perseverance. You’ve been at this for over a decade now, and seen quite the shift in the music industry. Your newest album is out on your own label. Do you think labels are still relevant? Are people going to be going it on their own more and more?
I think it went from labels being really important to the idea that they’re not important — and now you realize that it is important to have a team, whether it’s a label or a bank or management. Somebody else helping you get to where you want to be. After I was at a major label, I was pretty much just on my own with my producer and haven’t had a real solid team up until this year. It’s really much better to not be alone than trying to do everything on your own. It takes a village, really, to raise the music and to get it out there. There’s no right or wrong, but you definitely need help from people.
So now you’re building your own village rather than having a label build the village around you?
Have you spent much time in Minnesota before?
I have not! This is my first real concert there. We’re all just very humbled by the whole experience of Prince, and his influence. There’s something about going to a place where someone is from. I was just in Seattle, and I went to the EMP. Just to see Jimi Hendrix, the place where he’s from, there’s something very spiritual and special about that. We’re excited to get there.