When Kings Elliot jumps onto Zoom, I’m immediately greeted by her iconic electric blue hair and a smile that’s staggeringly wide. The British singer has had a monumental summer — her sophomore EP Bored of the Circus dropped last Friday on Interscope after glowing reviews from Consequence and Billboard, cosigns from Lewis Capaldi and Dixie D’Amelio, and a prime spot supporting Imagine Dragons on their stadium tour of North America. The EP is a masterful construction of delicate, shimmery pop music, with the bulk of it being built around the hovering choirs that were painstakingly constructed by Kings and halfrhymes that feels as if she’s singing right in front of you — it’s impressively honest music, and she’s already building a reputation of vulnerability in the press and within her art with regards to her journey with mental health. Talking to Kings, in spite of all of these accolades, felt like catching up with an old friend as we broke down Bored of the Circus, her touring summer, and the “eerie melancholia” she desires to create within her now-signature sound:
It’s been a pretty big summer for you — the EP’s releasing soon, and you’re also on this massive tour with Imagine Dragons that’s seen you play stadiums in the United States.
It’s honestly crazy — this is my first tour ever, and it just feels like I’m constantly asking “What the hell?” (laughs) I’m working in this delicate balance of wanting to appreciate every moment of it and be in awe of these places I’m getting to play, but then suddenly we’re at the end and it feels like I’ve blinked. It’s amazing; the people are so receptive and amazing, which is beautiful because I’m on so early and it’s so easy for people to not care about the first opener. But I get to the end of my set after I’ve sung my heart out, and it feels like they all just want me to win. It’s the most amazing experience I’ve ever had.
Your music is so delicately constructed, and here you are playing these massive stadiums and arenas to tens of thousands of people. As you were building your live show, how did you balance the tenderness of your sound with the size of this tour?
I have so many ideas for the live show; there’s so much I want to do that I haven’t been able to do yet because of how quickly this tour came together. For the future shows and the headlining date in LA, I want to build out the world that I’m trying to create with my songs — choir arrangements, and interludes, and these minor things that make the show just an inch better. I want to take listeners into this world and let it wrap around them like a blanket; it’ll take a bit of time to create that, so I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of what we want to create yet.
It’s incredibly intense to sing these songs in front of those people who have definitely never heard of you before. I can remember early on, I wouldn’t open my eyes for the first half of the set — now, I feel like I make a joke out of it like we’re all going through group therapy. (laughs) If we can make it lighter, then it’ll remain with people more deeply.
The subject material of your music centers around your mental health journey. I’ve spoken with artists before that have struggled to put that out there in the open, but you really seem like you embrace vulnerability and candor. In your songwriting process, how do you reconcile that vulnerability with your music, and is there ever a point where you feel like you’re giving too much?
I always want to say how I feel, and I don’t want to be muted by anyone because it’s “too uncomfortable”. But, I do feel like it took me a minute to grow into being confident enough to talk about my mental health. Honestly, it took other people sharing their own journeys with me, and their connections to these songs, before I could feel completely comfortable with being as vulnerable as I am on these songs. You feel more and more courageous when you hear of how it’s helping them as well; even if there are people who listen and say “oh god, that’s a bit much”, I care about the people that I’m helping. Alternatively, it’s freeing me and helping me on another level — it feels like I’m living my truth. Even in your semi-close group of people around you, they might not know what’s going on with you behind closed doors — I think speaking out, it’s helped me feel freer and less ashamed. With my family, it was hard for them to hear these songs at the beginning. Now, I give them a heads up if anything’s very brutal, but they’ve become accepting of the fact that this is my journey and how I’m going to heal myself.
I’ve seen the touchstone comparisons for this EP — Kate Bush, Billie Eilish, etc. — but I still feel like there’s something that we’re missing when describing your music. What inspired you to craft your songs to occupy this world?
I grew up watching Disney movies, like we all did — but specifically the ones made in the 30s and 40s. They have this eerie melancholia in their music that exists behind the characters. I remember, I turned on Pinocchio when I was going through it, and “When You Wish Upon A Star” came on with that haunting choir melody and the strings, and it pushed me towards other 40s and 50s music that existed in that similar eerily joyous vein. It struck a chord with me; I showed it to Conway, my main collaborator, and told him I wanted my music to sound like this.
He just looked at me and was like, “Disney? Seriously?” Because you say Disney and people think of Snow White or the happy-go-lucky children’s music. (laughs) I pushed him away from that and towards that melancholy sound, and we immediately wrote “I’m Getting Tired of Me”. I realized that was my vibe and my sound, and we haven’t looked back. Queen is also a big inspiration with the choirs — my mom was obsessed with Queen growing up, and I feel like that lives within my music in a way.
Are there any tracks off of this EP that you hold closer than others?
“Cry Baby Cry” means the world to me, because I can imagine my 14-year-old self that I was writing to, and I just want to hug her. Sonically, I feel differently—
We were going to sonics next! (laughs) This EP sounds incredible with the dense choir arrangements. What’s your favorite sonic exploration on the EP?
My favorite is “Someday, Somewhere” — it’s just, like, transportive. I’m in this other world where I’m just dreaming; and that’s what the song is about, that someday, somewhere, you’ll be free of the traumas and anxieties that follow you around. We made it with the intent to make it feel like another world that wraps around you, and I believe it’s the one I’m the proudest of.
Listen to Bored of the Circus here.