“I actually don’t consider myself to be a strong writer because I have so many heroes that are phenomenal writers,” singer-songwriter and blues guitarist Marcus King says. “Warren [Haynes], especially, being one of them. I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself a strong writer. Right now it’s just something I need to do to get things off my chest.”
On the contrary, Marcus King of The Marcus King Band has been getting a lot of attention for his writing and prowess recently—particularly because of his young age. King is only 20; however, it’s not his age alone but the depths in which he writes that has caught the attention of musicians, like his hero, Haynes (who produced the band’s upcoming self-titled album). Critics alike are joining the praise, like David Dye of NPR’s World Cafe Next: “From the first note of The Marcus King Band’s self-titled Fantasy Records debut, you can hear that this guy is an old soul.”
“I’ve never looked at it as an age thing,” King says. “I’ve always thought that age was just a number. I just like to play.”
Songwriting, particularly in blues music, often emerges from life experiences and muses collected across time and heartache. King says he’s not short or wanting in either, and while a lot of blues comes from a sad place, he asserts it can emote beyond the forlorn.
“Although I am at young age, I have seen some hard times and some difficult things,” King tells. “But I’ve also had some good times, and more times than not, the ‘happy’ songs I write are just storytelling songs.”
The Marcus King Band has been on tour for about four or five months and has hit as many new markets as possible, in any which way they can. This fall is going to be more of “structured tour,” which includes a stopover in Wilmington to open up for JJ Grey & Mofro at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Thursday, Aug. 18.
Haynes not only helped produce the band’s soon-to-be-released October record but is a guest player. He’s joined by a number of mentors and collaborators like Derek Trucks, who plays guitar on “Self-Hatred.” King, who’s from Greenville, SC, hooked up with Haynes through various connections in the Carolinas’ music scene. “He said he wanted to produce our next record and we were really beside ourselves about that,” he remembers.
Though a bit intimidating, King says working Haynes was an invaluable opportunity and experience. “He’s a Southern gentlemen just like the rest of us,” he says. “He had so many phenomenal ideas and was able to take many of the songs that were just ideas and turn them into compositions. He’s just incredible like that with his compositional skills. . . . To have him play on the record was especially a hoot for us . . . . It was wild.”
Even the slightest disagreement throughout the production of the album was met with consensus between King and his mentor. While Haynes offered experience and insight, creative control ultimately remained with the artist and his band.
“As musician, that record is your baby,” King says. “It’s what you’re trying to bring into the world, and Warren’s suggestions were almost right on time. It wasn’t like he was trying to change our craft in any way; he was just trying to enhance it.”
Roughly 10 songs didn’t make the cut for this record, which leaves King already thinking of the next project. “I’m always trying to think three steps ahead of myself,” he says, “but sometimes it messes me up and I get tripped up over myself.”
Wilmingtonians will hear a lot of new material from the upcoming record, as well as tunes King started off with earlier in his career. While this is the first time King will play GLA, he’s familiar to Wilmington’s blues haven, Rusty Nail. “I’ve always got nothing but love and respect from all the people in Wilmington,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to bringing the group back.”
King has been playing for folks and writing songs since he was 14 or 15 years old. A lot of his material is based on personal situations he calls “scenario tunes” that people seem to relate to.
“That’s a big part of what we do,” he says. “I want people to know they’re not alone, and whatever it is they’re struggling with, there’s somebody else [who] understands what they’re going through.”
King describes the tune “The Man You Didn’t Know” as a more sensitive topic. It’s essentially a goodbye letter—a cleansing of a being as told to someone who only knew them on a superficial level.
“You didn’t really know the real me kind of thing,” King explains. “That’s a tune I wrote a while back, actually, and ended up finding a really good place for it on this record.”
King’s forthcoming record also reflects his efforts in trying new sounds with a new band. “The Marcus King Band” isn’t their first album. “Soul Insight” was released in October 2015, which simply featured King and his drummer Jack Ryan. The group has since expanded with Stephen Campbell on bass, Matt Jennings on keys and organ, Dean Mitchell on saxophone, and Justin Johnson on trumpet, trombone and backing vocals.
“We’re trying to reintroduce everybody to who The Marcus King Band is,” he details, “and a big part of that is we’re a band. I never wanted it to be Marcus King and his band . . . I feel very strongly it’s a unit and I couldn’t be getting this done without the help of everybody with me.”
King’s songwriting is better served by more players. The idea for a “bigger sound,” in a way, started when he started listening to more jazz fusion like Mahavishnu Orchestra.
“Because the emotions I’m trying to get across [need] the biggest sound possible,” he tells. “A freight train of sound. And that’s how a live show is; we just put everything we have into it. At the end of the show, it feels like everyone can take a sigh of release . . . and start all over again the next night.”
Writing and music are forms of meditation for King. Letting out this release has become of utmost importance to the musician and has led to a bevy of honesty coming through song.
“I feel like a lot people in my generation have a tendency of repressing their emotions and feelings,” he explains, “and that’s never the way to go about it. That’s what leads to horrible things happening and mental breakdowns, and I’ve struggled with that before.”