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King Princess Needed to Slow Down to “Get Back to What’s Important”

The artist discusses turning the lens inward on Hold On Baby, the follow-up to 2019's Cheap Queen

king princess interview
King Princess, photo by Collier Schorr/Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    “I’m a woman of the theater,” King Princess says, her voice dripping with playful melodrama over the phone. She’s in the midst of explaining what fans can expect from the stage setup when she takes her forthcoming album, Hold On Baby, out on the road. She hasn’t been able to tour in this way for over two and a half years, and she shares that she’s been working hard on the details alongside her girlfriend.

    “No matter what’s on the stage, you should feel like you’ve entered into that artist’s world, and when I’m onstage I want to be in a setting that feels unique to the music,” the artist explains to Consequence. She points specifically to the work of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon as major influences, both throughout their artistic journey and particularly over the past year.

    The thing about performing onstage is that it’s just that — a performance — which makes it all the more interesting that this is an album where King Princess turned inward throughout the writing process, peeling back layers in a more intimate way than ever before.

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    Hold On Baby, arriving Friday (July 29th), is the follow-up to King Princess’ debut album, 2019’s Cheap Queen, a record that’s tough to box into any one genre. Here, almost three years after that release, the journey preparing for her sophomore album was markedly different. As with so many others, a halt to touring forced her to a standstill in a way that nearly forced introspection, too.

    “I wasn’t feeling mentally well,” she recalls of that time. “Then everything slowed down, I stopped moving, and touring, and partying, and distracting myself.”

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    This album revolves heavily around identity, reveling in queer romance (“It’s giving Lilith Fair,” she specifies), and untangling some of those aforementioned threads she’d been wary of pulling in busier times. In a recent statement about Hold On Baby, she shared: “I’m not a girl, not quite a boy, a lesbian, but also gay as the day is long. I’m not one thing. I’m not sure I like myself, but I’m figuring it out.”

    Writing the album, as intense as it can be to wade into such intimate parts of identity, ended up as a form of catharsis. “I needed to get back to what’s important, which is sitting at a table or a piano and writing songs,” she recalls. “The album was a way to chronicle whether I like myself or not, whether I feel confident in my body and my gender…” A pause. “Love a light topic.”

    “Will you think about us as I’m leaving?/ Think about us as I’m coming home?/ You hate it, but loving me takes patience,” she sings on “For My Friends,” one of the songs that preceded the album. Elsewhere, on the deceptively melodic “Change the Locks,” she bares it all, wrapping emotional anguish into the rise and fall of the verses and choruses.

    “I don’t think I went crazy-different by not talking only about myself,” she adds, explaining that she believes this music is true to her form — and, to her, the best collection of music she’s ever made. “I touched on things that were impactful to me, and things that weren’t just about heartbreak.”

    The album was produced by King Princess alongside Mark Ronson, Ethan Gruska, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Dave Hamelin, Shawn Everett and Tobias Jesso Jr., while Aaron Dessner was a frequent songwriting collaborator. The conditions for recording the album sound a bit idyllic — she would wake up, head to the home studio at the back of Dessner’s property after greeting his kids with a good morning, and set to work. She describes Dessner as warm and sensitive, two qualities she seeks out in male collaborators.

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    Ahead of Hold On Baby, she released a playlist dubbed “The Hold On Baby Experience,” which gives listeners a look into the songs she kept on repeat while writing the record. It features Fiona Apple, Florence Welch (who she refers to as a friend and confidante), Remi Wolf, and Taylor Swift, among many others. The thing is, for the past two and a half years, King Princess has been ahead of the curve — which is to say, she’s been on a major Kate Bush kick.

    It’s a joy to be living in a Kate Bush renaissance, to be sure, and she accepts the new listeners with open arms — no gatekeeping here. “It’s a testament to Kate Bush, and just to great art,” she says of the recent surge of new KP listeners.

    As for the name of the album, the phrase stemmed from a “very loving” impression done by producer and collaborator Ethan Gruska. Gruska would rumble, “Angel, hold on baby, angel,” and the string of words planted itself in King Princess’s brain. She was drawn to how open it could be to interpretation; it can be a warning, it can be loving, it can be something that made her laugh while working on the album.

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    She’ll be playing through almost the entirety of the new record out on the road (get tickets here), and she sees tour as the true moment of sharing the album with people. “Making something is one thing, and playing something is another,” she explains. “That’s where the healing comes in.”

    Hold On Baby Artwork:

    hold on baby artwork

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