Three-time Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Emily King will grace Davis Square as her winter acoustic tour culminates in a final performance at Somerville Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 29.
Recently nominated for Best R&B Song (“Look at Me Now”) and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical for her album “Scenery” at the 2020 Grammy Awards, King has been selling out venues across North America with a stripped-down, career-spanning setlist accompanied by producer and long time collaborator Jeremy Most on guitar and vocals.
“I’m really excited to get back to Boston. It’s been a really supportive place,” she tells me over the phone from her New York City apartment. There’s history for her in Boston, memories that she traces back to a tough time in her career when a few early fans lifted her through hardship.
“I remember years ago, I took the Megabus up to Boston and played this little restaurant for like $75. When I went outside, there was a group of kids from Berklee with printed copies of my stuff,” she recalls. “It was the first time I had felt supported since I got dropped from my record label. I just didn’t realize there were fans up there and it brought me to tears.”
But before this tumult and insecurity, King wanted to “take over the world” as a young, headstrong songwriter. As word of the burgeoning talent circulated around her hometown of Manhattan in the early aughts, producer and Sean “Diddy” Combs associate Chucky Thompson began shopping King’s music to the major labels, securing meetings with chief executives like Sylvia Rhone and Clive Davis — the latter of which ended up signing her to J Records when she was 19 years old. “I remember going into [Davis’] office and singing for him. I was pretty confident back then. When you’re that age you’re like, ‘The grown-ups don’t know what they’re doing, and I’ve come to save the world,’” she recalled.
Born and raised by jazz musicians Marion Cowings and Kim Kalesti, King’s musical confidence was programmed in her upbringing. Shortly after 9/11, King left high school with her GED as a wide-eyed, ambitious 16-year-old anxious to pursue a career in music.
King’s youthful conviction was her guide during this period. “I wanted to go big or go home. I wanted to sign to the biggest record company — so I ended up at J Records with Clive.”
Several years and a production deal later, her debut album “East Side Story” was released and nominated for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 2008 Grammy Awards. But while King’s doubts of the corporate machine grew, her career blossomed — she scored opening slots for superstar acts like John Legend and Maroon 5 on international tours.
After King met Jeremy Most in 2008 at the recommendation of a former bandmate, Most would be present for an immense turning point in King’s career later that year — she was dropped from her six-album production deal with J Records.
“I was relieved, but my ego was bruised. I felt like the most important boss in the music business just fired me, like he didn’t think I was good enough,” she says. “But I was creatively relieved. And Jeremy, whose music I really loved — he just miraculously appeared in my life and we started making music from that point on.”
King went on to self-release “The Seven EP” in 2011 and released her following second full-length album “The Switch” in 2015, both revitalized departures from the hit-driven R&B of her debut. Their soft textures and throwback soul reached a new tier of enthusiastic listeners compelled by her fresh approach.
Her third album, the lush, pop-driven “Scenery,” found King uprooting entirely from New York City, a place she had called home for over three decades. Relocating to the woodland hills of Woodstock, New York, the duo created the glossy, synth-tinged production of “Scenery” in a converted garage studio at a rented house. The rustic outdoors and patient pace helped King lean more into herself as an individual.
“There’s a vibe up there. People dress a certain way. And here, I am in all black, my New York uniform,” King says. “I was like, ‘I’m not gonna wear Birkenstocks just because I’m up here, I’m gonna stick to my script and put on makeup and wear my outfits and go for a hike.’ I didn’t want to lose myself even though I was in the woods.”
Released in February 2019 through independent label ATO Records, “Scenery” reestablished King as a rising star. Critics praised the album for being as slick as it is unapologetic. With every pulsing synth bass line and every tight snap of a snare drum is King’s undeniable and abundant charisma.
After completing a full band tour circuit in the summer of 2019, King and Most developed a cozy 18-date tour across North America with a reworked catalogue of acoustic arrangements in a tighter, more stripped-down setting with the final show in Somerville.
“I think we’re gonna have a good time,” she says in anticipation of the performance. “I want to keep it light-hearted, and even though it’s acoustic they can get their groove on and do a little two-step.”
Emily King performs at the Somerville Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 29, at 8 p.m.