By Kay West
Emily King: Work In Progress
The first thing Emily King can remember wanting to be when she grew up was a doctor. “I liked the idea of healing people, and I loved watching medical shows, the bloodier the better!” The left-brain aspiration may have been a reaction to growing up in a right-brain world, the daughter of jazz vocal duo Kim and Marion. “I was always around music, my parents always took us to their gigs. They’re jazz musicians so it was really quality stuff, but when you’re a kid, you kind of snooze through it. I remember walking on stage during one of their performances, I was about five, grabbing my mother’s dress and asking, ‘Are you guys almost done?’ It was boring to me at that age.”
Classrooms turned out to be far more of a snooze than clubs, so when it became clear that she was called to be a musician and not a physician, she dropped out of high school with her parents’ reluctant blessing and became serious about the music she was already writing and performing.
The New York City native’s songs and smooth, sophisticated vocal style caught the attention of some heavy hitters in the biz, notably producer Chucky Thompson, who brought her to Clive Davis, who signed her to J Records/Sony Music, which led to the release in 2007 of her debut album, East Side Story, and tours with John Legend, Floetry, Alicia Keys and Erykah Badu. She was performing at the Cotton Club in Tokyo when she got the good news her album had been nominated for the Best Contemporary R&B Album Grammy.
Not long after, she got the bad news---she was dropped. King overcame the anxiety and confusion left in the wake of the label’s decision to reflect, assess and make more creatively honest decisions about who she was as an artist and how that would play out in a career.
“I was so ready to be the musician-musician and make music that I thought was more representative of me. Luckily, I met this producer/musician named Jeremy Most and thought he was really great, so we started writing songs. He had this whole creative process of writing songs and then figuring out the style direction.”
The Seven a 7-song EP was released in July 2011. “When The Seven came out, it was kind of just me. I should have learned to do all those business jobs better, but I think maybe I rebelled against that, because of my experience in that structure so I kind of had the no-plan plan, I just released it on my own, online. I was curious to see if organically things would happen and it did get a lot of response and attention. It was cool that some of the folks who found me through East Side Story stuck with me, and there were new people finding me too.”
Among the new people were Maroon 5, who snagged her for their 2011 Europe tour; in 2012, she opened for Emeli Sandé in the US and the UK, including a memorable night at Royal Albert Hall.
Club dates are part of the process for her next project, which will also be with Most. “I was so young and naïve when I started out. I was just trying to figure it out, and it took a while to learn I could say no. I want to be like the artists I admire, and that’s a big mix of people. It’s all a work in progress and I’m happy with that.”