Like so many of music’s most essential singer-songwriters, Emily King has a near-magical gift for digging into life’s deepest sorrows and uncovering unexpected beauty and illuminating truth.
Since the arrival of her Grammy Award-nominated full-length debut East Side Story, the New York City-bred artist has brought ever-evolving levels of depth and nuance to her songwriting, rooting each revelation in her mesmerizing blend of soul and R&B and forward-thinking pop. On her new album Special Occasion, King shares a real-time exploration of the endless dimensions of heartbreak—an inquiry informed by the end of her romantic relationship. King and longtime producer Jeremy Most (Grammy nominated producer and multi-instrumentalist) closely collaborated on every track for an intimate and infinitely enchanting look at the ways we love, grieve, and eventually stumble toward a greater sense of self-understanding.
Special Occasion is the follow-up to 2019’s Scenery, which included the standout singles “Remind Me” and “Look At Me Now,” Grammy nominated for Best R&B Song. Special Occasion finds King channeling the most overwhelming emotions with ineffable grace, once again spotlighting the radiant vocal presence she’s shown in past music and touring collaborations with the likes of Brittany Howard, Robert Glasper, Sara Bareilles, John Legend and more. “The album was created during a very painful breakup and the only way for me to feel any relief was to meditate through music,” says King. The daughter of two musicians, she was raised in a small New York City apartment in the East Village with her brother where she started playing guitar and writing songs at the age of 15. Like all of her work dating back to The Switch, Special Occasion emerged as she and Most exchanged musical notes and slowly sculpted the album’s intricately composed sound, with King handling vocals, guitar, and percussion and Most playing everything from guitar to bass, sitar to synth and Mellotron to drum kit. Also featuring a track created with producer Sam Cohen (Kevin Morby, Rhett Miller), the album ultimately embodies a breathtaking elegance even as King articulates devastating pain. “Writing songs is surviving my own emotions,” she says. “The expression brings a much-needed relief in the moment.”
One of her first releases since her 2020 single “See Me” (a Grammy nominee for Best R&B Performance), King’s fourth full-length takes its title from a dreamlike track that wholly encapsulates the album’s theme. With its lavishly detailed arrangement of sonic elements (warm tenor sax, luminous flute, hypnotically layered vocals), “Special Occasion” came to life during a charmed session with King’s friend Abe Rounds (an L.A.-based multi-instrumentalist/producer who’s worked with Andrew Bird and Blake Mills). “I decided to take a trip to LA. by myself, just to get out of my comfort zone,” she recalls. “I remember feeling so vulnerable and playing this idea on guitar and mumbling some lyrics, and Abe told me it sounded like I was singing the words ‘special occasion.’ At the time I thought, ‘That’s the last thing this feels like’—but it ended up being the birth of that song and summing up the message of the whole album. It’s about trying to find some kind of light in the middle of your hardest times: those moments when you don’t really have anything to celebrate, you’re just alone and sitting in those feelings and trying to make sense of it all.”
True to its rich emotional complexity, Special Occasion opens on the heavy-hearted determination of “This Year,” a beat-driven and gorgeously airy track expressing both profound regret and passionate resolve. “That song came to me on the morning of New Year’s Eve,” says King. “Everyone was posting their photo highlights from the year. I looked back and mine were all selfies. I was desperately trying to get the attention of this person that just couldn’t love me back.” On “Medal,”, the joyfully upbeat song on the project, King notes “I had the melody in my head for a very long time” and when she got in the studio with Most, “He started playing this funky baseline on the chorus and it was like instant joy!”. As the song began to take shape, King describes “The lyric was ‘I wanna be the girl with the medal’ like, I want that shiny feeling you get when the person you have a crush on gives you, their attention. These days I’ve been singing the song to myself which gives it a slightly different meaning. Like, ‘Hey you are the prize girl!’ ‘You are the medal and you already won yourself!’ Ha. It makes me feel good and then I get to dancing. And on “False Start,” singer/songwriter Nick Hakim joins King for an unfiltered yet gently spellbinding meditation on the pain of extracting yourself from a devoted relationship. “‘False Start’ represents the feeling of knowing something isn’t right but staying in it anyway. That song just flowed out of me one day. from a heartache. From my inability to make a change that I needed because it was just too painful to do so,” says King. “The song sort of wrote itself and reminded me that I couldn’t just choose the comfort of familiarity. I had to listen to myself and go through with the changes that needed to be made.”
Extraordinarily expansive in both emotion and sound, Special Occasion also brings King’s singular artistry to songs like “Bad Memory” (a pedal-steel-laced, folk-infused track featuring guest vocals from Lukas Nelson) and “The Way That You Love Me” (an exquisitely moody piece graced with a lush string arrangement from Rob Moose, a composer known for his work with Bon Iver and Phoebe Bridgers). As King reveals, the album’s immense scope is the direct result of a deep-rooted desire to share unlimited facets of her experience. “I think by telling as many stories as we can, we’re able to affect as many people as possible,” she says. “I’ve called this a breakup-to-makeup-to-breakup-again album, but really, it’s about trying to find joy in trying times—trying to celebrate who you are in your quietest moments, rather than in relation to someone else. For me that’s still very much a work-in-progress, but I hope these songs will help people to find some hope and relief.”