King’s Highway

Photo by Jay Sansone

Photo by Jay Sansone

Marcus King has lived a lot of musical life in his 20 years.

Growing up in a musical family, he got his first guitar at age 7. He began gigging with his own band at age 14. When your father, grandfather and uncles all play music professionally, it comes a little more naturally. However, one aspect that can’t be learned is the spirit that permeates throughout King’s appropriately titled debut album “Soul Insight.”

That album was picked up by fellow Carolinian Warren Haynes’s imprint Evil Teen. Haynes has become somewhat of a mentor, producing and playing on the band’s sophomore effort. While the band is currently putting the finishing touches on that for an August release date, that won’t stop them from heavily peppering set lists with new tunes.

While the concept of a prodigy blues player is far from new, King is a different animal. His soulful licks and rock-gut vocals are much more prominent than any musical acrobatics. The playing is top-notch, but the songs are the stars here.

I caught up with King as he arrived in Jacksonville, Fla. as he gears up for a string of dates that starts at Middletown, Ohio’s Old Crow Bar. We talked about working with Haynes, the band’s approach to live shows and his influences.

 

You’ve played more than 1,000 shows already. What was it like to start gigging out at such an early age?

It was pretty wild being a real young cat in the music scene, trying to go into these clubs because half of them wouldn’t even let me in the door. They would make me wait outside until it was time for me to play. I just had a reminder of that when we were in Austin for South by Southwest. This club wouldn’t let me in the building until set time. (laughs)

 

At this point, are you sick of the age question?

I think the older I get the less people want to ask. Now, I’m just some 20-year old. (laughs)

Photo by Jay Sansone

Photo by Jay Sansone

What is your approach to live shows? Do the set lists change from night to night?

Live shows are always pretty much a release of energy from the day, whatever that might be. It’s all just therapy for us. We just try to let it all out on stage. Set lists tend to just be guidelines. Anything can change at the drop of a hat. It’s really all up to the audience. Based off the reciprocation and love we’re receiving at a particular venue, is how the set list is going to go. Sometimes, the set list might be right on point. Other times, somebody will ask if they can have the set list and I’ll say “it’s not accurate.” A lot of these tunes take different forms and shapes at the live shows. That’s why we love tapers. We like to have them be able to capture something that will never happen the same way again.

 

Obviously, there is a big blues influence – what are some other influences that might not be so apparent in your sound?

Blues and jazz is a big part of it, but I guess something that’s not so evident, or it might be, I’m really into old soul singers – Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Sam & Dave. I really gain a lot of inspiration from jazz organ players. I like to pull inspiration from not just guitar players – a lot of horn players and organ players. There are new groups like Hiatus Kaioyote and White Denim – really great groups that are coming around and really influencing the way we’re approaching some of these tunes.

 

Do you have a title for the new album?

I’m still kind of messing around with titles, so if anybody has any ideas… (laughs)

 

What is your approach to recording in the studio?

We just got out of the studio in Connecticut and there was a foot of snow on the ground. It’s funny because we all lived upstairs in the apartment they had up there with two bedrooms and bunk beds. There was a sense of unity on the record. That’s how it was on the last record that we cut in San Diego. You can feel the different vibes. This new record, I think is a different energy – it’s more about warmth and sitting by the fire type of thing.

What was great about working with Warren (Haynes) – one of the many things – is he really digs on cutting live, without a click track. We pretty much just played in the studio. Things here and there we had to fix, we went back and overdubbed, but I would say the first week and a half in the studio was just cutting live band tracks.

 

Do you feel any pressure working with a guy like Warren Haynes?

Surprisingly not – Warren’s such a super nice guy. He’s from around the same area as us. He’s from Asheville, and we’re all from Greenville, South Carolina for the most part. He’s just a southern cat like us and we know a lot of the same dudes. We have a lot of the same musical friends and that’s how we got to meet each other in the first place. Growing up, Warren was a really big hero of mine, and he still is. To work with him and know him as a friend, it’s still shocking. To be hanging with him in the studio sometimes, you have to take a step back and think “I’m hanging Warren right now, this is strange.” At the same time, he’s just a really sweet and humble guy and incredible to work with. His arrangement skills are right up there with Stravinsky. He’s just incredible. He took some of the songs that we had that were just ideas and thoughts and molded them into these arrangements – like compositions. He’s been doing it a while and he knows what’s going on. To have him as a producer and to have him playing on the record is just incredible.

 

What are some of your favorite tracks on the new album? Will you be playing those out or wait until the album is released?

We’re gearing people up for it. For the most part, that’s what the set list consists of. We’re still pushing “Soul Insight” and we’re still playing stuff off that. For the most part, we’re playing new tunes that are going to be on this sophomore release.

There’s a tune called “Rita” I think people are going to dig. We got the concept from a TV show called “Dexter.” This album really has a different style of writing – more of a third-person, outside-looking-in. The first album was more of a first-person point of view, for the most part. There’s still that on this next record, but there’s a tune called “Devil’s Land” about a farmer that doesn’t want to give up his land. That’s a cool tune that I think everybody is going to dig, but I really just hope that people are going to dig it. (laughs)

The Marcus King Band will play Old Crow Bar (1217 Jackson Lane, Middletown) on Thursday, April 7. For more information, visit http://www.marcuskingband.com/

Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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