A single moment can alter the course of your entire life—or, if you're Elle King, a single record. When King was 10, she was into boy bands and pop, but one night her stepdad brought home a CD that quite literally rocked her world. "When I heard the badass riffs on the Donnas' 'Rock 'N' Roll Machine,' I was hooked," says King, now 25. Inspired, she began writing fiery lyrics in her bedroom in Wellston, Ohio, dreaming of composing her own songs. "I started envisioning myself on big stages," she says.

Even if rock wasn't her first love, King—now a singer and guitarist whose bold and brassy debut album, Love Stuff, was released in February—has long been familiar with its rebellious spirit. "My mom says I was born screaming," she says.

Still, it would take some time before King would seriously consider rock 'n' roll as a career path. The daughter of former SNL funnyman Rob Schneider, King enrolled at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia—but soon found herself skipping class to head to a nearby park with some musician friends and play a borrowed banjo. And then she fell in love. "I followed a guy to Denmark," she says. "I came home with a broken heart"—and tons of fodder for the songs she was composing. King began playing small gigs in Los Angeles and New York, and when a manager took notice of her raw vocals, he helped her sign a deal with RCA.

On Love Stuff, King's voice—a little Billie Holiday, a little Johnny Cash— is backed by twangy chords and drums that demand foot tapping. "It's a jumble of rock, country and R&B," says King. And there's even a bit of her first love in the mix: "I used to be afraid to use the word pop to describe my music," she says, "but underneath my tough, bad-girl sound, there's some fun."


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