Elle King stomped onto the alt-rock scene in 2014 with the bluesy bad-girl anthem “Ex’s & Oh’s,” a double-platinum, Grammy-nominated hit that established her as a rising star (incredibly, she was just the fourth woman in the last two decades to top the Billboard alternative chart). But her life spiraled downward after that, with the past few years marked by a secret elopement with a man she’d known for only two months, a disastrous quickie marriage and divorce, wild mood swings (during one manic episode, she had three pianos simultaneously delivered to her home), battles with severe depression and substance abuse, and an eventual PTSD diagnosis.
King chronicled these darkest moments in her life on her new album, Shake the Spirit, and thankfully she came out the other side sober and stronger. Along with the help she received from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ nonprofit foundation MusiCares and a licensed therapist, King credits making the cathartic, confessional, candid album with saving her life. Or, as she more specifically puts it, “I think I saved myself.”
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment after her raucous daytime set in the Toyota Music Den at New Orleans’s Voodoo Festival, King recalls a turning point during the making of Shake the Spirit when she felt things starting to turn around. “I wasn’t in a good place, and then I went in the studio, and literally on day two of the studio, I had a beautiful thing happen while I was writing a song — I think my most uplifting and most powerful song on the album, a song called ‘Little Bit of Lovin’.’ That was just a really amazing moment for me. I snapped back into my body while I was singing it, and that just goes to show you that that’s my calling and that’s what brings me true happiness: singing and writing and performing songs. So that was a good moment for me. It kept me going.”
Although on other Shake the Spirit tracks, like “Good Thing Gone” and “Runaway,” a forlorn King laments that she “couldn’t put down that last drink/I couldn’t get that s*** past me” and she “will always be lonely,” on the above-mentioned “Little Bit of Lovin’,” the album’s closing track, she is hopeful and brave: “I’m doing pretty all right for a girl,” she sings. “I’ve still got a little bit of lovin’ left in me.” And King is in a good place now, expressing gratitude for the support system around her.
“I’m very thankful for my band. They didn’t judge me or anything. They just stayed there with me and they stuck through it, and they made a really great album with me,” she says. King also credits her famous father, Saturday Night Live comedian/actor Rob Schneider, for standing by her. “My dad just showed up for me,” she says. “It’s not that he hadn’t shown up for me in the past, but yeah, me and my dad, we just got a lot closer in the last year. And I’m really glad for it, because he’s just really been positive and encouraging. And it goes both ways. Both of us are always trying to be there for each other. It’s really nice — what family should be.”
Now that King is feeling strong (“I stopped putting a lot of bad, poisonous drugs in my system and I replaced that with vitamins”), with her wacky sense of humor intact (at her evening show at Voodoo during Halloween weekend, she dressed up as a wrinkly old lady), she’s happy to be part of the ongoing national conversation about mental health. “I see a lot more people talking about it — and it’s about goddamn time, I think! There’s a lot of power and beauty in being vulnerable and open, and I think that it takes a really strong person to be honest,” she says. “I’ve been getting a lot of messages [from fans] the past week [since the album’s release]. It’s been really touching.”
As for her key advice to any of those fans struggling with addiction or depression, King says, “To get through a hard time, reach out. There’s always people who will listen. I mean, when I reached out, I called a doctor and they were like, ‘We can’t help you.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ But I didn’t let it stop me and I called somebody else, and that person really changed my life. So don’t let anybody or anything deter you from trying to get better or trying to ask for help — because there’s a lot of a**holes in the world, but as many a**holes, there’s a lot of beautiful, wonderful people too.”
Yahoo Entertainment’s live stream of the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience continues Saturday with performances by Travis Scott, Janelle Monae, and more. Click here to watch.
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