Having a three-time GRAMMY winner like blues great Ben Harper produce your record, you’d think the rough edges and sharp corners would be dutifully rounded. But for the scrappy and indie rock duo Hey, King!, Harper not only celebrated their DIY aesthetic but seemingly set them loose. “We got really lucky because Ben gave us a ton of freedom to record the songs how we imagined them,” says vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Natalie London. Their new EP Be Still oozes that laxity… and therein lies its charm. Its coarseness adds a boost of life and energy, recalling the homegrown label aesthetic of K Records, Kill Rock Stars and TeenBeat of yore.
“Recording this EP in [Fiona Apple, Mark Eitzel engineer] Sheldon Gomberg’s Carriage House with Ben was like creating in a musical playground,” she says. “From vibraphones to horns to harp, we were able to tap into the full spectrum of emotions these five tracks brought to the table.”
Be Still is lilting and sometimes haunting, with meandering melodies reminiscent of Throwing Muses (“Half Alive”), shouty indie rock (“Don’t Let Me Get Away”) to the orchestral and pastoral (“Lucky”), showing different shades of who Hey, King! are. It’s an interesting mix that can be jarring at times, surprisingly elegant at others. Their cover of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which closes out the EP, reimagines the gritty and bluesy original and turns the iconic British Invasion centerpiece into a gang-vocal’ed spunky anthem, feeling more like something Iggy Pop would do. Curiously, they managed to secure original Animals’ frontman Eric Burdon to recreate his vocals.
“There was nothing more surreal than doing my first take on the vocals as Eric Burdon, the legend himself, walked into Studio B at Capitol Records and watched from behind the glass,” recalls a starstruck Taylor Plecity, the other half of Hey, King!. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt more honored to sing. Eric is timeless. When he sang, every single person in that room got chills.”
For London, however, the song takes less of a visceral “wow” factor and more of a nostalgic tone. “I actually mention this song in the first paragraph of the first chapter of my memoir ‘Lyme Light’ because this song is one of the building blocks of my childhood, my musical tastes, and, in part, my psyche,” she explains. “My mom sang this song to me at night before I fell asleep and it became an anthem.”
Her memories of childhood aren’t quite as sepia-toned as one would expect. If anything, music and this song in particular served as an escape from the harsh realities of her upbringing. “[My mother and I] were very much outsiders in our town,” she remembers. “She was in an abusive relationship with my biological father. This song was like a secret that we had, [hoping for] a better life someday. When my mom was diagnosed with third stage melanoma in her lymph system, she was only given three months to live. Due to an experimental treatment and nearly three years of mainly living in a hospital, she was lucky enough to survive. When she thought she was going to die, however, she asked me to sing this with a choir at her funeral. This song is so layered and so inspirational that the hope for a better life applies to this world as well as whatever world lies after death.”
London herself had her share of health problems, having contracted a particularly severe case of Lyme disease that left her practically debilitated. “During that time, I couldn’t walk, talk, read or write. I lost a great deal of my memory,” she says. Bedridden for nearly four years, the experience and her subsequent return to health proved to be the fodder she needed not only to write music but for a whole new lease on her future: “I felt like I had a complete chance at a brand new life and everything from my writing to what I listen to reflects that. Starting my life over, I felt like a kid again. There was so much unharnessed passion, longing and a need for both adventure and home.”
This new carpe diem attitude and the burgeoning romantic and creative relationship she found with Plecity set London on a promising path with Hey, King!. She reflects on everything ahead of her and concludes, “While it makes for a really complex dynamic, you get to share every incredible experience you’ve been waiting your whole life for with the person that you love the most.”