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Mesa-based pianist and singer-songwriter Courtney Cotter King is, among other things, the Valley's version of Zooey Deschanel. Not only is she a dead ringer for the actress/musician, Cotter King achieves maximum quirk.
Describing one of her songs, "White Rhino," she says, "I started writing the piano to it, and it sounded like a rhino — like stampeding. I started, like, thinking about rhinoceroses and this conversation I had with my sister about how we have to start saying no to things, because you can't be walked on. I don't know, maybe we're pushovers a little bit. I related that to rhinoceroses, because rhinoceroses don't take crap from anyone."
Each track's explanation goes similarly afield, from her trying to connect families and the blood in their hearts to citing getting past "what do you call it, hazards, you know" as one of her inspirations. The album art for her latest album, Rooftops, features multiple shots of Cotter King surrounded by cartoon animals in a park; a conversation with her is cutely childlike.
Her endearingly eccentric persona is strikingly different from the mature songwriting talent she boasts; she taught herself piano at age 3 and already is on her third self-funded album. Her vocals — which have drawn comparisons to The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan, Frou Frou, and Regina Spektor — are set against jazz-infused piano pop she says is more inspired by Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, and Stevie Wonder. She featured more than 20 musicians, including a string section, on Rooftops, which was produced by Bryan Kuban of local band Mogollon and released by local label Fervor Records. A 2014 tour is in the works, proving she's serious about the music career she's now devoted to — something that's evident to her label.
"Rare is the 21-year-old with the ability to articulate musically and lyrically in a profound way," Fervor co-owner Jeff Freundlich says. Adds Fervor Records CEO David Hilker, "Musically, she is a triple threat: an excellent pianist, exceptional vocalist, and extraordinary songwriter. She commands a deep understanding of how to emote via all three."
Cotter King began writing music in seventh grade, eventually attending a summer program at Berklee College of Music and studying audio production and performance at Mesa Community College. Now that she's released Rooftops, she's focused on getting her music heard through online radio stations and spreading her brand on social media.
This month, she filmed a music video for "Stand in the Rain," set to première by the end of the year. The clip shows Cotter King selling all her possessions to follow her musical dreams.
Despite the thoughtful approach she's taking toward her music career, Cotter King can still be counted on to slip down eccentric paths, such as her explanation for her song, "When We Wake Up."
"It's about helping humanity," Cotter King says. "It was inspired by the movie WALL-E, with the little robot. I've never even seen it, but it's like, this little robot that saves the world. It was just like inspired by that, just that, just this medieval kind of hero that kind of keeps to himself, but then he, um, has visions of saving the world, and he, like, goes about doing it."
Who knows — maybe Cotter King is on her own unique way to doing the same.
"I always try to have purpose in my lyric-writing, and I always want to have it be a source of inspiration," Cotter King says. "There's a saying, 'True artists inspire art,' and that's what I want to do. I want to inspire others to be happy. Who knows what my music career will bring, but I feel like it's something I was sent here to do on Earth."