Marcus King is one of the fastest rising stars in the music world today.
At only 21 years of age, he has amassed a level of proficiency and musical knowledge that blows fans away night after night. From leading his own band on a worldwide tour to shredding at Red Rocks with Gov’t Mule, The Marcus King Band is on the fast track to being one of the leading voices in modern psychedelic blues. Recently, King took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions on his group, his musical education, music as therapy, and what he’s learned so far in the cutthroat music business.
The first thing I noticed was how sure of himself King was in his responses. When I asked about how he felt to be leading a band on a worldwide tour at his age, he simply responded, “It is a blessing to be surrounded by such talented, like-minded individuals that share the same vision. We all build each other up and remind one another where we all come from.” His faith in his bandmates is admirable and essential to keeping a group together on something as grueling as touring the world.
With that mind, I was curious about the current lineup of the band and how the music itself comes together. King was kind enough to explain:
“The band took shape with my drummer Jack Ryan and myself. From there our bassist Stephen Campbell joined, along with Justin Johnston on trumpet, Matt Jennings on keys, and Dean Mitchell on saxophone. The majority of songs take their first form on an acoustic guitar. I then bring it to the band and it takes a completely different shape when they contribute their parts. There are occasions where I will base a song around a bass line, or a keyboard melody I wrote, but everyone adds their own flavor to the tunes.” It is quite flavorful music at that; extra crispy, southern-fried psychedelia dripping with the blues.
Now, Marcus King was raised in Greenville, South Carolina, playing blues in his pre-teen years alongside his father, Marvin King, himself a fairly well-known blues man. King attributed his tenacity and persistence in learning music to his upbringing: “Growing up in a musical family I was always encouraged to keep at it. I would soak up all the knowledge I could from my father and my grandfather [King’s grandfather was also a regionally-known blues musician]. My father is still my favorite musician.” However, he wasn’t restricted to the blues, as he elaborates, “When I was in high school I also studied jazz theory with an instructor by the name of Steve Watson.” When you listen to King play, you can hear his different educational influences all over the place.
Earlier, I alluded to the ruthless nature of the music business, and the saturated nature of the music scene today is part of that. King had his own philosophy for remaining unique and positive in this sort of business: “There will always be cats that view music as a competition rather than a community. We see music as a family. We are blessed to be surrounded with people that share this mindset. My grandfather’s words are always with me to remind us, ‘You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and you can smell bullsh*t for miles.”
In addition to this view on keeping himself and the band positive, King also views music as a form of physical and emotional relief, both for the performer and the audience, as he explains, “Music is a conversation; a conversation on stage between the six of us, and between us and the audience. Anything we may be going through, anything that happened that day, we let it out in our music. It’s a release of energy into the universe. It’s all vibrations. You can feel these vibrations physically and emotionally if you allow yourself to listen, rather than just hear.” There is definitely something to be said for taking the time to really listen and losing yourself in the music.
Speaking of listening rather than just hearing, there are two sides of that particular coin. One of the closest voices in King’s ear has been that of one of his main mentors, the Gov’t Mule front man Warren Haynes. King confirmed this, telling me, “Working with Warren taught me a lot about patience. The advice and wisdom I receive from Warren is hardly ever direct suggestions of how to do things differently, but rather listening to his stories from where he’s come from, and I take away a better knowledge of how to approach my own career.” Warren Haynes is one of the most respected names in the business, and King seems poised to follow in his footsteps.
One area where King has a bit of a different perspective than musicians of yore is the business aspect of running a group and maintaining a musical identity. He explained a few of the ups and downs of being a working musician in this day and age: “An upside to today’s technologically advanced world is getting our music to the people as soon as possible. A downside we’ve found is trying to fit into a particular genre of music. We have found ourselves being square pegs at certain events. We’ve never wanted to paint ourselves into any corner of the musical spectrum. So there have been some ‘we’re the good ol’ boys’ situations on the road, certainly. Also, the social experiment of putting eight people in a van together for two months continues to yield different results. There are good days and bad days, but the journey is always positive.” Perceiving music as therapy is no doubt a powerful tool in maintaining high spirits on the road.
Marcus King is clearly no stranger to the road, even going so far as to write his most recent album entirely on the road. He told me of taking the time wherever he could to jot down song ideas: “A great deal of the record was written in various hotel bathrooms and greenrooms. Certain tunes I had were close to complete and took full form once were in the studio.” One wouldn’t think those would be the ideal spots for creativity to strike, but when the muse takes you, you listen.
The Marcus King Band is quickly becoming a major name in the music world; I caught them at Summer Camp this year, and they’ve torn up Red Rocks and LOCKN’ Festival later on this month. Expect great things from this young man and the group of musicians he leads.
One of those things is the new musical festival he’s created The Marcus King Band Family Reunion. The festival takes place at Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain, NC on October 6 and 7. The line-up includes: The Marcus King Band, Blackberry Smoke, David Shaw (solo Acoustic), Muddy Magnolias, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, George Porter Jr. and the Runnin Pardners, BIG Something, Travers Brothership, That’s What’s Up and more. Click here for more info and tickets.