Published Feb 01, 2019With new album Scenery (out February 1 on ATO), R&B singer-songwriter Emily King felt she had to escape her comfort zone. Eventually, the native New Yorker escaped the big city to head upstate in the Catskills, an era known for lush greenery, hiking trails and rich wildlife, but first, she says in an Exclaim! interview, she needed to escape her head.
"I had moments making in this record where I got way too heady and was overthinking the process of writing songs," King explains. "How can I write the best song? What's the best song? A friend of mine told me it's not about writing the 'best' song; it's about what you're feeling. That really hit home with me."
A self-described non-risk taker, King felt that leaving the Lower East Side was best for both her career and personal peace of mind. It's been a long time since the early-mid 2000s, when she was signed to a major and made an appearance on "Reason," a track from rapper Nas's 2004 album Street's Disciple, and dropped notable singles like 2007's "Walk in My Shoes." Her last project, 2015 album The Switch and singles "Distance" and title track "Switch" made a mark, but King felt she could aim higher. Moving, King says, was ultimately for peace of mind.
"I wanted to try some different grooves. I wanted to tell a different story," King tells Exclaim! "I wanted to surprise myself and keep myself excited about my own music. I needed some sort of change and I just wanted this new record to tell a different story.
"Where I live right now I'm kind of isolated from the outside world in a lot of ways. I spent most of my life in the city being surrounded by constant stimulation and constant company because there are so many people in this small space. I'm kind of really enjoying the opposite right now. I like the isolation and peace and quiet. There's a lot to pull from silence."
The 12-track Scenery sees King's trademark mix of R&B, pop and jazz evolving and growing, reflecting her new place in the world, literally and figuratively speaking. She worked with collaborator and producer Jeremy Most, recording about 70 tracks in total.
"Normally I write music and lyrics first; I like to do that by myself. Sometimes I will start with percussion, sometimes with guitar. I'll sing and flesh out a demo and then I can sit with it for a while. And then once I think, okay this is actually something that might be good, I play it for Jeremy. Then we work on it and flesh out the song. It's really fun to hear and see a song take shape," she says.
"It's about putting words to people's feelings. I love songs that highlight something that we all go through but you never really thought of it that way. It's like a good meme — something everyone can kind of jump on and get on board with."
Scenery, whether it's grooves like "Can't Hold Me," Caliche" or "Running," was ultimately about the freedom in taking risks and not being afraid to fall.
"It was exciting. I'm not a risk taker. I'm paranoid and kind of cautious."
And King knows that she's got more hurdles that she can overcome.
"I've always pictured myself achieving a level of creativity. But in reality I'm not there yet. It's a waiting game and an agent and then you get these notices along the way they encourage you to keep going. I've set this really high bar that I just have yet to clear. That's what keeps me going."