“What’s the first thing you hear when you throw a banjo off the roof of a building?” Elle King jokes.
The singer, songwriter and proud banjo player doesn’t have to toss any instruments from rooftops these days to court applause. On the strength of her debut album, “Love Stuff,” and killer single “Ex’s & Oh’s,” she’s winning audiences and critics alike. Her style offers a gritty throwback of blues country and pop, with her raspy wail corralling it into a distinctive union.
“People see me with the banjo and ask, ‘Do you play bluegrass?’ No, we play rock and roll,” she says. “And, yeah, we play (expletive) rock and roll with a banjo.”
King is calling from the road while in the midst of a three-month tour that finishes at Lollapalooza. (“I’m in Minnesota, I think, in the back of a large tour van. I could be in Guantanamo Bay for all I know,” she says.) The 25-year-old headlines a show Monday in Lawrence, her first-ever gig in Kansas.
The Los Angeles-born, Ohio-raised performer says she’s coping with the daily grind of road travel by “drinking a (expletive)-ton of whiskey.” And by occasionally adding a new entry to the three dozen tattoos she already sports.
“My favorite tattoo is the one on my right hand that says ‘Little One.’ It was my grandmother’s nickname, and I got it for her after she passed away,” she says. “She was so proud of me and loved my music. When I look down at my hand, I feel she’s there with me.”
It was actually King’s parents who first earned the spotlight. The singer remains the lone offspring of model/actress London King and former “Saturday Night Live” regular Rob Schneider, a fact she is quite vehement about downplaying. Despite cameo appearances in her father’s movies “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” and “The Benchwarmers,” King selected singing over acting early on.
It was her stepdad, Justin Tesa, who introduced her to the all-girl band the Donnas when she was 9 years old. She considers it the decisive moment in determining her future career.
“I like to play loud rock and roll. I like to play country. I have soft, sweet, folky music that I really enjoy making that comes from my heart and soul,” she says. “But it all comes from the same place: me.”
After a self-titled EP gained attention in 2012, her punchy anthem “Playing for Keeps” ended up as both the teaser track for the sixth season premiere of “Mad Men” and the theme to VH1’s “Mob Wives Chicago” series.
In February, King released the full-length “Love Stuff,” a record named after a sex shop she spotted while driving in Florida.
“I pulled over and took a picture of it. And when I did, I said, ‘I’m going to name my album that,’” she recalls.
King performed her ode to past boyfriends, “Ex’s & Oh’s,” in April on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.” But her likely follow-up single “America’s Sweetheart” may offer the best insight into her king-size persona.
I like the chip I got in my front teeth / And I got bad tattoos you won’t believe … Well, they say I’m too loud for this town / So I lit a match and burned it down / What do you want from me / I’m not America’s sweetheart.
So what would King need to change to become America’s sweetheart?
“Everything about myself,” she says. “I’m just kidding. I already am America’s sweetheart.”
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Elle King performs Monday with Gene Jr and the Family at the Granada in Lawrence. The show is scheduled to start at 8 p.m.; tickets are $13-$15. TheGranada.com