Willy Moon doesn’t like to waste time. His debut album, ‘Here’s Willy Moon’, is less than 29 minutes long. Only one of its 12 songs lasts more than three minutes and not a single note is squandered. No bets were hedged during the making of this record. “Generally the most interesting stuff happen in the first two minutes anyway, the rest of it just bores me to tears,” he reasons. “I’m a great believer in simplicity and brevity. It’s also down to having a short attention span. I don’t even read books anymore, just short stories.”

Willy is 23, and whip-smart with a tinder-dry sense of humour. He loves the physical energy of Cab Calloway and Michael Jackson, the concision of the Ramones, and the style of film noir. He writes, records and produces everything on his own and he doesn’t blend different sounds; he smashes them together. There’s no middle ground. It’s as if rock’n’roll had been deep-frozen in 1965, just before the Beatles discovered acid, and abruptly reanimated 45 years later by a laptop hip hop producer.

Willy’s 2011 release, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, was the kind of truly great debut single that makes the listener ask: Who is this person? And where did they come from? In the video he struts and jerks and testifies in a spotlight, over a monstrously metallic Bo Diddley beat. It was quite an introduction and it made him some discerning fans. Jack White released ‘Railroad Track’ on his Third Man label and invited him to support him on his UK tour. Apple picked up his Wu-Tang-sampling barnburner ‘Yeah Yeah’ for its latest iPod ad while French director Alex Courtes (White Stripes, U2, Justice) directed the song’s thrilling video. Willy spent last summer playing festivals across Europe, including Cannes film festival and recently made his startling debut on BBC2’s Later… With Jools Holland.

‘Here’s Willy Moon’ stays true to Willy’s love of extreme contrast. ‘Railroad Track’ is like Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’ rearranged for a 1930s chain gang. ‘She Loves Me’ crunches Hamburg Beatles into shuddering quasi-dubstep. ‘Get Up’ is seize-the-day hip-hop blues. The instrumental ‘Murder Ballad’ sounds like Tom Waits wandering through a haunted car yard. The cover versions make alliances with the weirdos of 50s rock’n’roll: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put a Spell on You’ and Little Willie John’s neurotically horny ‘I’m Shakin’’ (recently covered by – who else? – Jack White). Then there are the songs that sound like they should be covers but aren’t: the blue-collar howl of ‘Working for the Company’ and industrial Phil Spectorisms of ‘My Girl’. It’s an unusual record because Willy Moon is an unusual man.

Willy grew up in New Zealand. When he was 12 his mother died of cancer. His father lost his job due to the time taken off caring for his mother, and was forced to find work abroad in Saudi Arabia, leaving 12-year-old Willy and his 16-year-old sister to raise each other. “I was always getting in trouble at school and they’d say we have to get your parents in. I’d say, well that’s difficult.”

Formerly a gifted student, he effectively gave up on school, attending occasionally only to see his friends and read science fiction novels. He was thrown out of one school, then another, and dropped out of formal education all together when he was 16. “I thought what’s the point? I am allergic to authority and besides, I have always been more of an autodidact anyway.”

Eventually he decided that something had to give so for his 18th birthday he saved up and bought himself a one-way plane ticket to London, where he found hedonism, strife, financial insecurity and a surprising musical breakthrough. When Willy met his girlfriend she played him an album by 1940s forces’ sweethearts the Andrew Sisters, which triggered an obsession with pre-1960 pop music. “I still listen to jazz more than anything, like Woody Allen!” he laughs.

After losing his job and being kicked out for not making rent, Willy and his girlfriend bought the cheapest available plane tickets — to Valencia, Spain. From there they jumped a train down to Morocco. “It was ridiculous,” he says. “Who knew what we were meant to do once we got there?” They eventually made their way to Berlin, where they would live for the next year, and crucially where Willy’s music would begin to take form. There he began writing primal rock’n’roll songs but found it too constricting. “There was a whole revivalist scene, but it felt a bit like locking oneself up and throwing away the key.”

Returning to London, he worked on developing his own sound, the first fruit of which was ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. He posted it online and acquired a record deal. “I’d hate to be in a band, too many opinions,” he says. “I’m a dictator at heart.”

Now, finally, he is relatively settled and secure and he has an extraordinary debut under his belt. “I’ve always been ambitious,” he says. “I’ve always thought one day, no matter what, I’m going to be successful.”

Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Elle King may be just 23 years old, but she's already got quite a story to tell. Born in rural Ohio, she moved to New York City at age 10 -- "there was definitely a big difference going from climbing trees barefoot to taking the subway by myself," she says. After getting kicked out of school, she headed to California, then returned to New York, and then Philadelphia for art college. Since then, King's home base went from Copenhagen back to LA before finally settling down in New York, where she has recorded one of the most exciting and unique debut projects of recent years.

Already hailed by such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Glamour, Perez Hilton, and Vanity Fair -- and featuring "Playing for Keeps," which was chosen as the theme song for VH1's "Mob Wives Chicago" series -- the four-song "THE ELLE KING EP" reveals all of this experience with a sound and style that is distinct and mature beyond King's young age. In the midst of her far-flung and hell-raising travels, King started playing the guitar at age 13 ("a friend of my stepdad's taught me, and I learned stuff by, like, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Otis Redding") and then later picked up a banjo, inspired by the Hank Williams and Earl Scruggs records her family listened to.

King pinpoints the day her life changed to her ninth birthday when her stepfather gave her the first album by hard-rocker girls the Donnas. "I put that on and that was it," she says. "I wanted to play rock and roll and be a girl and do it. I started listening to the Runaways and Blondie -- all the rad chicks."

It was during her time in Philadelphia that her music took a different turn, toward her current country-blues-soul blend, and her songwriting got more serious. "I was living on my own, getting into way too much trouble, and really getting my heart broken for the first time," she says. "I made friends with people who slept on park benches and wrote songs, and it made me start putting different words together. I've never been shy, but that's when I started singing in parks and busking."

A romantic disaster in Copenhagen led to the song that King considers her breakthrough, "Good To Be A Man" (featured on the EP), which has already garnered airplay on such influential radio stations as KCRW Santa Monica and XPN Philadelphia. "I thought it was catchy, and I saw that people liked to sing along to the mean songs," she says.

Following her own set at an outdoor show, King stuck around to watch a young band "just some cute boys who play banjos and guitars" -- and discovered a new way to approach her instruments. "When I picked up the banjo, I would play country music, that went hand-in-hand," she says. "But these guys played the banjo just as an instrument, not stylized in any kind of mold, and I got it -- just play it because it's beautiful. So I'm not twanging it anymore, and that totally opened up my songwriting. I had stopped writing on the banjo because I wanted a break from country songs, but now these weird songs just started coming out."

In addition to "Playing for Keeps" and "Good to Be a Man," the EP includes another King original, "No One Can Save You," and a live cover of Khia's gloriously lewd hip-hop hit "My Neck, My Back," which the singer says she included "so everyone can see that I'm kind of a crazy wild card -- the only problem is now I can't send it to my grandma."

While working on her full-length debut album, King has been touring with such acts as Train, Of Monsters and Men, and Dry the River, and her boisterous live show has been earning notice and acclaim everywhere she goes. The Austin Chronicle raved about her "shockingly sexy-sorrowful songsmithery" and her "sweetheart-with-a-knife voice that promises potentially dangerous intimacy on a grand, spooky scale."

For Elle King, all the hard living and hard work has gotten her to the place she always wanted, where she and her music are being accepted on her own terms. "People made fun of me when I was little, and I was never confident," she says. But one day I was like, 'I like getting tattoos and dying my hair, I like singing loud -- and people started listening. I was never begging for people to like it, and now everyone is like, 'We love you for you, just be yourself.'"

"All I want in life is for people to sing the words to my songs at my shows," she concludes. "One of my dreams is coming true, and it's coming true in a really great way."

adv tix $12.00 / day of show tix $14.00


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Willy Moon with Elle King

Tuesday, June 4 · 8:00 PM at Troubadour