Keep The Wheels in Motion:
Dissecting the Pressures of a Prodigy with Marcus King
Words by Audra Tracy
Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff
Over the past year, some truly iconic artists have passed on to that great galactic concert in the sky. From Prince to David Bowie to Sharon Jones – and most recently, Butch Trucks of Allman Brothers Band fame – the music community has endured some widespread heartbreak. And with that, it has become alarmingly apparent that the next generation of genuine artists has become more important than ever. Yes, it’s time for the new kids to start building their own musical legacies.
At only 20 years old, Marcus King seems to have a pretty good head-start. Last year, the young guitar prodigy and his band recorded their major label debut under the wings of the legend himself, Warren Haynes. And this year, the South Carolina natives are hitting the road hard – first on a co-headlining tour with Eric Krasno (Lettuce, Soulive), and then to spread their Southern charm all around Europe.
Just hours before King hit the stage in Portland, Maine, the rising star took a few minutes to shed some light on the pressures of being Warren Haynes’ protégé, as well as his creative process both in and out of the studio.
“It’s really great having Warren as a mentor for us”, King says of his longtime guitar hero. “He’s got a really great business mind, and he’s got such a good way of working with you. Working with him has been really conducive to our style of playing, as far as really wanting to capture the live atmosphere of the band.”
Recorded at Carriage House Studios in Stamford, CT, the Marcus King Band’s self-titled album is a snapshot of the collective strengths pooled by King and his band members, Jack Ryan (drums/percussion), Stephen Campbell (bass), Matt Jennings (keys/organ), Dean Mitchell (saxophone), and Justin Johnson (trumpet/trombone/backing vocals). And their self-proclaimed “soul-influenced psychedelic Southern rock” sound fits right in the realm of Haynes’ work with Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers Band.
“With this lineup we were all kind of wondering how it was going to go, because none of us had ever done a record for a major label before”, King admits. “So there was a lot of pressure in that sense, but as soon as we got in the studio we spent just a couple of hours with Warren and the pressure was gone, and we were just doing our thing. He took that pressure right away.”
When it comes to songwriting, though, pressure doesn’t seem to be an issue for King. He wrote all the songs for The Marcus King Band LP while on the road touring, and brought 26 songs to the studio in pre-production.
“I think Jackson Browne said, ‘I hope creativity finds me working’”, King shares. “Wherever I am, if I get an idea in a supermarket or something, I’ll just about drop the eggs to write it down real quick”, he laughs. “Then I’ll get home and try to finish it. And it always usually starts with an acoustic guitar and a pen and piece of paper. I like to use a pen instead of a pencil because once it’s there, it’s there. It makes me think about if I really want to use that idea.”
King’s ideas are certainly paying off this year. His band is booked through August, including festival appearances at Summer Camp and LOCKN’, plus a gig opening for Gov’t Mule at the majestic Red Rocks Amphitheatre. So where does a 20 year old Southern rock star go from here?
“We just want to continue to do what we love, and to continue to keep the lights on in our house”, King says. “That’s always been my goal, you know? And continue to work with people that we admire and respect, and continue to grow as musicians and as people. And keep the wheels in motion.”
Those are some pretty mature and humble words, coming from a guy who’s still too young to legally drink at his own sold-out shows. But no matter where the music leads him next, this ‘old soul’ is taking all his newfound success in stride.
“I make as many mistakes as any 20 year old”, he laughs. “But I always land on my feet!”
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