The Marcus King Band’s star has risen exponentially over the course of this past year. In just over twelve months, the band released the Due North EP, hit the road with Tedeschi Trucks Band for their annual Wheels of Soul tour, extensively toured Europe while also headlining countless shows throughout North America, and somehow still found time to squeeze in the recording, promotion, and release of their third studio album, Carolina Confessions.
During the ongoing tour, Live For Live Music sat down with the band’s frontman, the electrifying young Marcus King, to discuss Carolina Confessions, King’s newfound love for vintage guitars, his thoughts on mental health issues within the entertainment industry, the influence of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on his personal spending habits, as well as whether or not there’s any truth to the rumor that he’s a terrible driver.
‘Carolina Confessions’ Is A True Studio Record
King and his bandmates made the decision to bring in Nashville heavyweight Dave Cobb to help with the production of their latest release. Cobb is not a “player” in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, the legendary producer’s musical acumen resides more around creating a unique sound, direction, and vision for the artists he’s worked with—a list that includes Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, and Brandie Carlile, to name but a few. It was a choice that may have left some segments within the music industry and even some of the Marcus King Band’s own fervid fan base scratching their heads, but make no mistake: Carolina Confessions’ sonic departure from the band’s previous records is exactly what King was hoping to achieve.
“Had we just brought in another ‘player,'” King suspects, “Carolina Confessions could have wound up being molded around the playability of the group again, and that’s just not what I wanted for this album. With this record, I just began becoming comfortable with the idea of calling myself a songwriter and a composer. Having somebody like Dave come in was the best move for us because those were the things that I wasn’t feeling as confident about.”
King appreciates the divergent sonic direction Cobb’s influence helped the band achieve on the new album as compared to the band’s previous records. “I think that some of those sixteen-bar, tasteful, shorter solos that give people a taste of what I want to say would have turned into these thirty-two-bar, really long solos,” Marcus explains. “That could have steered Carolina Confessions in more of a jammed-out direction, which would have been fine, but I wanted there to be a definitive difference between the studio recordings and the live versions of these songs this time around.”
Anyone that’s seen The Marcus King Band live can attest to the fact that if you’re going to their shows expecting to hear the recorded versions of their music, you probably should have just stayed at home and listened to the vinyl. But Marcus had a different goal for his studio cuts this time around.
“What’s really different about this record is the fact that the songs weren’t road tested before we cut them,” he says. “For Carolina Confessions, I wanted all the songs to be conceived right there in the studio, so that when we played them live we’d be able to approach them from completely different directions.”
Not A Double-Threat, But A Triple-Threat
Considering Marcus King’s soulful and emotive vocals, some may be surprised to learn that the frontman never intended to be a singer. However, anyone that knows King personally or professionally wouldn’t be shocked to hear that his ambition to bring ever more to the table as an artist is what drives him. “What I wanted to do with this record was show the other side of who I am, which is a writer,” Marcus confides. “I wanted to show that writing could be one of my strong suits and that I was more than just a singer or just a guitar player.”
“This is the first record where I also really felt like a vocalist,” he confesses. “My first two albums, I felt like a guitar player that was singing almost out of necessity because no one else was going to do it. Carolina Confessions is the first album where I feel like my playing, my singing and my songwriting are all on the same level playing field.”
Learning To Fly Like A Crow
Earlier this year, King hit the road with Chris Robinson and his Black Crowes spinoff project, As the Crow Flies. Although the tour played to sold-out audiences and fans instantly clamored for future dates, the band was very much a work in progress from its outset. King and his As the Crow Flies cohorts are looking to return to The Capitol Theatre—where they played their first-ever shows—for their two-night New Year’s run with more experience and a renewed focus.
“I feel really strongly about the fact we’re coming back to the venue where we did the first-ever show that, for some reason, we also decided to video and record for people to listen to for years to come,” King laments about ATCF’s first visit to The Cap. “That was such a poor example of what the band was really about. I don’t know if I speak for the rest of the group, but that first night there was so much hesitation on my part and so much worry that I wasn’t going to be able to do the parts that Rich [Robinson] wrote any justice.”
“As I grew into myself on that tour, I had to really get it into my mind that I was playing Rich’s parts, but I was putting my interpretation on to them,” he says. “As that tour went on, I became much more confident with that idea while also doing my best to pay respect to those songs and the Black Crowes fantastic catalog of music.”
The Marcus King Band is, in every sense of the word, a band of brothers—and young ones, at that. His own bandmates, like King himself, are all in their early- to mid-twenties. With As the Crow Flies, in addition to simply learning the music and how to play with this group, King had to become comfortable with being on the road with virtual strangers who were decades his senior.
“A big part of that initial ATCF tour was all of us getting to know each other off the stage. There was this thirty-year age gap between some of us, so I kind of felt outside of the club at times.” Of course, that distance began to narrow as the tour went on. Explains Marcus, “We all got to know each other and that mutual respect was built and gained just through nights of us playing and trying to prove ourselves to each other. So this time we’re all going to be able to come out on the same page. That should make for a very different show at The Capitol Theatre this time around.”
Putting Down Roots In Music City
In lockstep with the theme of “change,” Marcus King recently made the decision to move away from the only place he’s ever called home, Greenville, South Carolina. Where will King be hanging his hat when he steps off the tour bus for a few weeks in December? Where else but Music City—Nashville, TN.
“Being able to move to an industry town that’s also only a handful of hours from hometown is very comforting to me,” he explains, “Nashville is this hotbed of incredible musicians that you can spend time with and write with. East Nashville also has this Bohemian type of community that I want to tap into. I like the idea of being a part of that kind of community … When I’m on the road, I have such a strong sense of family, and when I get back home, it can just be so damn lonely at times.”
“One thing that I think that’s going to be cool about living in Nashville is that I’m going to be able to go out and enjoy jams again,” he notes with excitement. “When you go out in Nashville, you have a good shot of running into an Audley Freed or a Paul Franklin, so you’re not going to be the only hotshot in the room, if you know what I mean. I also like being challenged by other musicians, and Nashville is one of the best places for that.”
Battling His Own Expectations
The Marcus King Band has become renowned for their bombastic live shows as well as for the intimate connections they make with the audiences they play to. Although their fans display a tremendous amount of adulation for the band before, during and after their live shows, King and his bandmates—like many artists—sometimes struggle with self-criticism and the anxiety of performing.
“I think many live performers suffer from those things,” he reckons. “It’s a battle you’re never going to win because it’s never going to be perfect. My thing is this, when we get up on stage, we’re going to try and put on the best show we can and sometimes we’re going to come up short. As young musicians, we’re all still learning how to accept a bad night and we’re starting to grow from it instead of just being down from it.”
This phenomenon manifested during the band’s two recent sold-out nights at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fans at both performances went, for a lack of a better term, bat-shit crazy for the band each night. However, as the band made their way off stage following night one’s performance, something didn’t feel quite right for King and his bandmates.
“I keep it no secret from my fans my struggles with mental health issues and the terrible anxiety that keeps me from enjoying things sometimes,” he asserts. “That first night in Cambridge, unfortunately, was one of those nights where things just didn’t really add up for me. I had too many people around me at one point, and my social anxiety kind of just took control. It ended up being one of those nights where I felt like I was kind of being thrown up on stage versus going up there on my own accord.”
“Going out the next night in Cambridge and trying to move forward and learn from that is the same thing that could be said about any of our fans that may suffer from some of the same things I do,” he reflects. “These social anxieties and this manic behavior [are] going to affect a lot of social situations in your life. But at the risk of trying not to sound like an asshole, they shouldn’t keep you from continuing to go out there and trying to be the best you you can be.”
The Rejuvenating Power of Vintage Instruments
For the vast majority of King’s life, he’s almost strictly stuck to playing and recording with his 1962 Gibson ES-345. However, over the course of the past year or so, he’s begun a burgeoning love affair with vintage guitars.
“When I think about it,” he muses, “It’s almost like something that would be portrayed in an autobiographical type of movie. When I first got to Nashville, I went into Studio A and I picked up this 66’ Fender Esquire, which is like a Telecaster, and I was hooked. It rejuvenated me as a player because I had really been into that ‘chicken pickin’ stuff since a young age. That Telecaster just brought me right back to that moment and how fucking stoked I was listening to that type of playing.”
“Vintage guitars also have so much character and so much more to say,” he continues, “but it’s not something I really talk about too much because the unfortunate thing is, it’s not a luxury everyone can afford. I’ve had this great blessing of knowing some guitar dealers that have helped me out. We’re not out here getting rich; we’re out here making music. But when I can, I choose to make that music with vintage guitars.”
One such dealer King has worked with is Banker Custom Guitars, based out of Atlanta, Georgia and helmed by Matt Hughes. Hughes has manufactured a number of guitars for King as well as other southeast-based players like Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson of Blackberry Smoke.
“Matt Hughes of Banker Custom Guitars was someone I happened to meet when I was playing with Blackberry Smoke in Macon, Georgia,” King explains. “I saw this funky Les Paul Jr. lying around so I asked Paul (Jackson) about it, and he told me that Matt Hughes from Banker Guitars had made it for him.”
“Matt then ended up building me this Les Paul that I love. Not too long after that, Matt hit me up and told me that he had cut out a few Firebird-style bodies that were all non-reverse. I don’t like non-reverse Firebirds at all, that’s something you should know about me. So I asked Matt if he could cut me out a reverse Firebird so I could see how it looked. So he did, and man, that guitar came out so fucking clean. Matt built that guitar for me out of nothing but a slab of mahogany wood, aged it to perfection, and put binding on it. It’s just this Cadillac of elegance and a really phenomenal guitar.”
“Matt and his wife, Darby, are also some of the best people to be around. These relationships that I’ve built are just so valuable to me—not only because of these guys’ incredible skill sets, but because they’re also great human beings. If somebody built me a guitar and it was great but they were an asshole, it just wouldn’t work out.”
Driving On The Road To Success
When King loads up his U-Haul full of gear and moves to Nashville in December, he’ll be going to a city where he already has a few friends in place to show him the ropes. One such individual will be Dan Auerbach, who teamed up with King to co-write Carolina Confessions track “How Long”. As it turned out, Auerbach didn’t just have a musical influence on the band’s new record—he was also instrumental in helping King decide what type of car he should purchase to cruise around the streets of Nashville.
“I’ve never been a car guy and I’m still not,” Marcus admits. “I’ve driven minivans all my life. The first minivan my dad ever bought for me was this ’94 Transport that looked like an anteater. As it turned out, that minivan ended up being the perfect cloaking device for a stoner in South Carolina because in the pale moonlight, I kind of look like a soccer mom anyway. Peggy Sue was the name of that minivan, and it’s still running.”
“One thing I found out about myself recently was that I wanted a car that had some style and I think that may have stemmed from the last time I hung out with my good friend Dan Auerbach. Dan has this old truck parked in his yard and a late 90’s black Cadillac, so told him I was thinking about buying an old truck. Dan said, ‘Bro, I keep that old truck back here just to deter my friends from buying old trucks. It’s a lawn ornament, man. Don’t do it, you’ll have to work on it all the time.’ Auerbach said, ‘Get you a Cadillac, man, you’ll never go over the speed limit in a Cadillac because you’ll be way too cozy.’”
“Those words really stuck with me,” says King. “So I started looking for the right Cadillac for me, and what I came up with was this 1980 El Dorado with a tire on the back. That’s my new whip, I just have to name it.”
Pedestrians and fellow road warriors may want to be on the lookout for King on the streets of Nashville, the word among those close to him is that he may a kind of terrible driver. “I guess I probably used to be a bad driver,” he says. “I’m usually fidgeting with something while I’m driving, but somehow I always find a way to get us where we’re going safely without running into anything. I think I’m a fine driver.”
When the topic of Marcus’ driving came up backstage at the Sinclair shows, all of his bandmates quickly concurred that piloting a vehicle wasn’t exactly his strong suit. As you might expect, King still disagrees with his bandmates’ sentiments. After all, if there’s any hole in his skill set, you can bet that Marcus King won’t stop working until he masters it.
Below, you can peruse a gallery of photos from The Marcus King Band’s ongoing Carolina Confessions tour. For a full list of their upcoming tour dates, head here.