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SXSW Band of the Day: Elle King

Eric Webb

Editor’s note: This article was originally published February 14, 2014

Artist: Elle King

From: Brooklyn

Online:Artist website; official SXSW page

SXSW shows: SXSW Showcase at Buffalo Billiards (1 a.m. Saturday night/Sunday morning); more appearances TBA

About the artist

A study in contrasts: Elle King’s voice on the phone is sweet and sunny. Elle King’s voice on stage, backed by a banjo, has all the ferocity of a mountain lion with a bone to pick.

The singer-songwriter, whose style tears through the walls between soul, blues and old-school rock ‘n’ roll, follows a storied tradition of women with something to say. One of her earliest musical touchstones was the all-female punk group The Runanways. In addition to the likes of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, King picked up admiration for soulful artists like Aretha Franklin, Etta James and other “voices that command a room,” King says.

“Growing up, I was never a quiet girl,” King says. “I listened to loud girls.”

Loud girls like rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson — the only musical influence listed on King’s Facebook page, with six exclamation marks, whom the singer refers to as “the queen” — have fingerprints all over King’s live performances, as well as “The Elle King EP,” released in 2012. At times she’s tender and mournful, and then in an instant she’s growling and unable to stay still.

“All of those women, they had kickass voices,” King says, “but they were performers. When I walk off the stage, I can’t breathe. I don’t know what happened.”

King’s song “Playing For Keeps,” which serves as the theme song for VH1’s “Mob Wives Chicago” and was also featured in AMC’s TV ads for “Mad Men,” displays a grit that the singer says flows from her own stories of heartache. (A sample: “The hollow sound is ringing where your heart used to be/Have you found that your admiration will never set you free.”)

“If I wasn’t a musician, I wouldn’t know how to process those things,” King says.

For her appearance at SXSW this year, the unafraid-to-get-a-little-loud King promises “a good time and a couple of new songs.”

If you miss her in town in March, fear not: King will play Central Presbyterian Church with David Ramirez on May 9.

Could share a bill with: ZZ Ward, The Dead Weather, The Kills, Joss Stone