John King Breaks Down The Music Scene, His Influences, and Writing

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Country singer-songwriter John King takes a break from a family vacation to do this interview to discuss his latest single, “Easy,” which was released in May. King is laid back about this disruption to his day off – just like he comes across in his carefree, peaceful song.

“We’d originally wanted to put the song out back in March, but when the pandemic happened, it didn’t feel like the right time, so we decided to push it back to May,” King says. By then, “The news was so depressing and everything was very gloom and doom. It was like, ‘Okay, it feels like it’s the right time to put it out. This song is very relaxed and chill, and I think that’s why people started responding to it the way that they have so far.”

“Easy” has been included on several influential playlists (Spotify’s Hot Country, Apple’s Today’s Country, and Pandora’s New Country). King hopes this means that listeners are getting something uplifting from the track. “When I turn on my radio or when I’m going through my playlist, I want to hear music that’s taking me out of society for a second,” he says. “As an artist, I wanted to put out a song that did that for my fans.”

King wrote “Easy” two years ago with L.A.-based writers Ryan Ogren and Nick Bailey, who had flown into Nashville for the week. Their writing session took place at a studio space at King’s management company, Starstruck, and it wasn’t long before they came up with this track. “It was actually a really fun, easy song to write,” King says, then adds with a laugh: “I know I say it’s ‘easy’ – no pun intended! But it really was.

“Nick and Ryan had this breezy guitar loop that starts the song out,” King says. Once that vibe was established, “I had this title, ‘Easy,’ and we started piecing the two together. I think we wrote the song within an hour.”

The trio also got more than just the writing done for “Easy” that day – they also made significant progress on recording it. “They had a little mobile studio rig, so I sang the vocals sitting in the [same] chair that I wrote the song in with them,” King says, “and that ended up being the vocal that we used for the actual record. It had such a vibe to it that we didn’t want to touch it or re-record it. We wanted that very ‘in the moment’ feeling that the vocal has. We pretty much had this whole song produced and finished that day. It was pretty cool.”

“Easy” follows several previous standalone singles that King has released, starting with “Tonight Tonight” in 2014 (that track hit the Billboard U.S. Country Airplay chart). He also released an EP, On Your Lips, in 2015. Concurrently, he’s become an in-demand writer for other artists, co-wroting the chart-topping song “We Went” (2015) for Randy Houser, then co-wroting “Rollin’,” which Hootie & the Blowfish recorded for their 2019 album Imperfect Circle.

Although King has firmly established himself in Nashville, where he’s lived for many years now, today he’s calling from his native Georgia, where he and his wife and young daughter are visiting their family. He says he’ll always have a real fondness for his original home state, where he first began creating a name for himself by playing shows while he attended The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.

“The reason I went there was for the music scene. As we all know, the Athens music scene is just awesome,” King says, “It was a great stepping stone for me to get to Nashville and start building everything there. I loved my time in Athens – it was eye-opening for me. Athens embraces all genres. It made me want to be more innovative and creative in my songwriting, and pushed me to get outside the box a little. I think that helped me when I got to Nashville to set myself apart and be more unique.”

King says he’s grateful that he had a firm identity by the time he moved to Nashville after finishing college. “I feel like I always have stuck to my guns and have had a vision for what I wanted to write and release as an artist,” King continues, “and I think that helped me, because [Nashville] is so loaded with talent that it can be easy to get swayed. You get there and get steered in different directions. So yeah, having all those roots that were firmly planted back in Georgia, I think was a big advantage.”

As for what made King decide to try his luck at a music career, he says with a laugh, “This is all I was ever really good at! I wish I could say I had a back-up plan, but even going to college, I knew that my purpose was to go toward my career in music as soon as I graduated.”

King fervor for music started long before he went to university, however. “It was a passion I had early on. I grew up as a music lover. I think that’s what I always go back to when I have struggles with the industry or creatively. I always go back to, ‘Okay, I started out loving music.’”

King says he became such a music fan because of his parents. “My dad liked ZZ Top, AC/DC, Black Crowes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica – a wide-range there. But then my mom loved singer-songwriters [such as] James Taylor, Jim Croce, and Neil Young, and country artists like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.” This was, King says, “a really cool melting pot of all these different genres that would really help me in my writing later on, to pull from all those different pools of influence.”

As for why King decided to play country music, instead of one of the many other musical genres he enjoys, he explains, “I didn’t really choose it – it chose me. Honestly, I always loved rock, and I always thought to myself, ‘Man, I want to be like a southern rock, classic rock, hard rock type of singer.’ But my voice is country! And everything I wrote about is country. That’s all I know, this lifestyle.”

King also credits Eric Church as a key inspiration during his formative years. “Eric Church was just coming out and was broadening the [country] genre into more than having to be pedal steel guitars and fiddles. It was a little more edgy.” Also thanks to Church, King says he realized that “Lyrically, you could push the boundaries and talk about different subjects that aren’t your classic country song subjects.”

King took those influences, and the playing and performance skills he’d perfected, and used all that to quickly make his mark in Nashville – but even though he’s now a seasoned pro at releasing songs into the world, he admits that he still gets a little nervous when a release date arrives. “It’s always like releasing one of your children into society and hoping it will do great,” he says with a laugh.

It’s an appropriate comparison, considering that King himself is a devoted family man. He and his wife were high school sweethearts who grew up in the same hometown in Habersham County, in the Northeast Georgia mountains. They have a two-year-old daughter, Scarlett. King frequently posts photos of his family on social media, making his devotion to them clear.

“Family is always first,” King says. While the music business is notoriously tough on families, he says that he’s found a way around that potential pitfall: “What’s really helped me as an artist is being able to take them on the road with me and make it more than, ‘This is what I do for a living.’ No, this is our life. I think if you look at it as life experience that you can share together, that makes it worth more. And also, having them there with you to share this moment, that’s what it’s all about.”

Now that King can’t hit the road because of the pandemic, he’s still finding ways to overcome potential hurdles. “It’s been really interesting,” he says of the off-tour situation musicians find themselves in these days. “It’s forced us to discover new avenues for connecting with fans, for writing, for creating, for releasing music. Honestly, it’s been kind of cool to see all these new methods for songwriting.”

King says he’d never tried doing virtual songwriting sessions before now, “But it’s introduced a new skill set – I’m really comfortable doing it now, and I feel like we’ve gotten some of the best songs I’ve written in the last few months that way. So it’s really cool to know, ‘Hey, we can do that now.’ We don’t have to be afraid of that.

“And the same with performing,” King continues. “Virtual concerts were something I didn’t really ever do or think about until the pandemic. And now, it’s a new way to connect with fans that we didn’t know about that was sitting right there the whole time. It’s opened my eyes to a lot of cool ways that we can do that going forward.” As with the sunny single “Easy,” King is focused on the positive: “I think there’s definitely been some good with the bad that’s come out of this whole thing.”

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