Courtney King: “Be choosy. You don’t have to say yes to every show”

Our bodies are created to move. If everyone could do 40 minutes of some type of exercise that they loved, conducive to their level of fitness, it would turn our healthcare system on end. Maybe insurance coverage would include so many weeks a year of personal or group training? It’s so simple. As a part of […]

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Our bodies are created to move. If everyone could do 40 minutes of some type of exercise that they loved, conducive to their level of fitness, it would turn our healthcare system on end. Maybe insurance coverage would include so many weeks a year of personal or group training? It’s so simple.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing alternative rocker Courtney King.

Courtney describes her style as rock, punk and blues merging with classical, avant-garde and progressive rock. A singer, songwriter, guitarist and flutist with a siren-like voice, her distinctive sound harks back to a classic rock vibe while placing herself distinctly in today’s milieu of empowered women artists. Her debut solo album, Feel Good Swiller, has been garnering praise for the artist that fans have described as “Jimi Hendrix on the flute” and “Hayley Williams meets P.J. Harvey.” Originally from the Chicago suburbs and classically trained, a career as an Air Force musician gave way to motherhood, and she is now based with her family in Washington D.C. where her shows are winning over new audiences.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends. Despite that, I still spent much of my childhood playing alone. I don’t say that for pity, but as an only child until the age of 10, I spent hours in my imagination. Playing, creating, and dreaming.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

In 5th grade, they bring out all the instruments for you to try and see what you might like to play. I could make a good sound on the flute, but I wanted trumpet so I had to make a decision. Over the next few days, my dad pulled up some classic rock songs that had flute from bands like the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, and Van Morrison. I remember thinking, “I wanna sound like that.”

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was just beginning the “no-sheet-music-life” of a rebellious classical musician and I brought my flute on a mission trip to Bolivia. I was working with a group giving medical treatment to remote villages, some reachable only by boat for six months of the year. After I was done doing vision screenings, I would take my flute and play for the families waiting outside in line to be seen by the doctor. Just having fun, sometimes a flute beatbox, sometimes a nursery rhyme, sometimes a church song. We packed up to leave one village by longboat, and about 20 villagers stood waving us off. As we skimmed away on a tributary of the Amazon, I played a melody from that day’s visit and the children yelled back in song. It was powerful and felt right out of a movie.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, it’s funny now. ButI had signed up for a competition in middle school. Your solo had to be memorized, which was completely new to me. I stood on the stage and began to play Bach’s Polonaise and Badinerie. Within the span of two measures, I noticed the empty auditorium, my Dad standing in the background, my teacher on the sideline, the panel of three judges staring at me. I stopped playing. I took a second, confused, suddenly terrified and restarted. It happened again. After the third attempt, I walked myself off that stage, past the judges, into the parking lot and got right back into the car still holding my flute. Lessons learned? First practice way more than you think you need. Secondly, practice for the performance. Visualize yourself in the performance over and over weeks before you get there. Also looking back at this… screwing up makes us work harder.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m pairing up with an amazing guitarist, Josh Byrd, this spring to do some gigging. I’m super excited to be working with such an exceptional player. Although he spent 18 years in the Air Force bands, we had never met until last week after connecting on a musician Facebook group in the area. When I found out he was an Air Force guitarist I knew I wanted to work with him. I had no clue that he had also played and sang with Kelly Clarkson. And when I asked what other biography facts from his career I should know about so I can talk him up to people, he replied, “I can fit nine Oreos in my mouth.” Win, win. We’re gonna have fun. And who knows what new things might come from this duo?

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music? How can that potentially affect our culture?.

First, the entertainment industry is largely what becomes a historical picture of our culture. Lacking diversity skews the actual blueprint of this time period. Science will tell you how profoundly the media affects our worldview from movies, TV, and music.Diversity is important to me as I am a Mexican American woman. Consider this: My father is Latino but we lived in a predominantly white area. My skin looks “tan” year round but my dolls were all fair skinned with blue eyes. The pop stars I followed as a child were all white. Was my world view different than the girls that played with dolls and idolized stars that also looked like them? Probably. It speaks volumes.

Secondly, concerning gender equality, women are still incredibly overlooked in the entertainment industry as a whole. There are countless movements heralding all the incredible women in music. Because of these festivals and programs more artists are seen and people change their perceptions. On the other hand, such programs also keep us separate from the whole. It’s a difficult problem and I don’t know the answer. Here’s what I do know: I am a musician. The fact that I am a woman simply gives me a different voice and perspective to write and perform from. Women that are musicians in the music industry are not a novelty or a gimmick.

Thirdly, music is powerful. It gets stuck in our head, we play it at our weddings and funerals, our children memorize lyrics and take them into adulthood, we sing in our churches, sporting events, and holiday gatherings. We are a beautifully diverse country and encouraging creativity from all cultures speaks an acceptance that invites more people, previously overlooked, to offer their take on the world through music.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Don’t play for free. Playing for “exposure” will only get you more gigs to play for “exposure.” It’s a lie. You can’t pay your rent with “exposures.”
  2. When you are on tour, and come to a town and play with three local bands that did zero promoting, and the deal was to split the cover evenly after 50 dollars for the house, and you bring all of the fans, and at the end of the night you are handed an envelope for 7 dollars cash. Don’t do that. (Yes, that happened). In other words, you are bringing a product to the venue. You want to try your absolute best for promoting and getting people there. But if the venue won’t agree to a minimum to compensate you for a slow night, don’t do the gig.
  3. Keep at it. Don’t give up and feel defeated after 10 unanswered venues for a gig. It’s normal. Do it again the next week. And follow-up. Be respectful, brief, but persistent. You’ll slowly get in people’s ears and begin to get responses.
  4. Be choosy. You don’t have to say yes to every show. That might be my biggest challenge. I want to do all the gigs. You decide how busy you want to be, and stick to it. Be respectful of yours and your bandmates’ time.
  5. Make time for your craft. We are all busy. My busy happens to be at home as a mother. If I don’t set aside time to practice or be creative with music somehow, I will always find other very worthy ways to fill my day, from cleaning, to helping with school, or hanging with the kids. Balance. Don’t forget to spend some time soaking in the passion that drives you to be you.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Don’t be afraid to “take a break.” It’s not always on purpose, be it a new baby, a move to the other side of the world, or something else… but it is always refreshing when I come back. Give yourself that week off, or even that month. Also, I would say, pursue other interests, spirituality, education, and travel. All of it will enrich yourself as a human and a musician. Lastly, reach out to others in the industry and take lessons in your music, songwriting, or even marketing. At the very least, find people that are where you want to be and watch how they market, how they release a single, how they make their videos, how and where they tour. Learn from them. Don’t be discouraged if their path seems effortless. If you reach out to them I guarantee you’ll find a person working their ass off.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Our bodies are created to move. If everyone could do 40 minutes of some type of exercise that they loved, conducive to their level of fitness, it would turn our healthcare system on end. Maybe insurance coverage would include so many weeks a year of personal or group training? It’s so simple.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Definitely without a doubt the guys in my first band, Slow Down Scarlett. I came into the band as a singer with my music stand and flute, and left with an open mind about how music is “supposed” to be written. That, and I traded the music stand for a flute pedal board.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

When I told you my dad played all those great bands for me to encourage me to choose the flute and I had thought to myself, “I want to sound like that,” in the same moment I told myself, “You won’t ever sound like that.”

Use that internal voice to push you farther. Rewire that negative voice as a way to define some goals. Use those failures to teach you to work smarter. And just take the next small step toward your goal.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ian Anderson! I would love to have tea with him outside on his beautiful property and hear his take on flute in guitar driven bands, and how and what he finds the most helpful to practice in order to stay ready for a show.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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