Before The Marcus King Band graces the stage of the Theater of Living Arts on Thursday, Nov. 15, King gave a pre-show interview to the Review, talking about growing up, his new album and how he’s looking forward to eating at Ishkabibble’s when he gets to Philly.
Former blues rock prodigy guitarist Marcus King, who’s now 22, is no longer the young wunderkind he used to be. He’s an adult now. And while many songwriters of the same age have a penchant for simple, three-chord indie pop songs, that wasn’t good enough for King. No, sir. When you’re the son of a dedicated and studied bluesman such as Marvin King — a devoted blues guitarist and singer who devoted his life to the genre even if he never quite made it as famous as his son — you look for just a little bit more than vapid pop songs with lyrics about your feelings and emotions. Marcus King plays his feelings and emotions on all six strings of his cherry red ’62 ES-345 every night. Why? Because King is a schooled musician. In fact, he acknowledged to SPR that in many ways his songwriting had to catch up to his guitar playing. Before The Marcus King Band graces the stage of the Theater of Living Arts on Thursday, Nov. 15, King gave a pre-show interview to the Review, talking about growing up, his new album and how he’s looking forward to eating at Ishkabibble’s when he gets to Philly.
How is this album, Carolina Confessions, different than the previous two?
The band and I matured a little bit with how we approached the songwriting for this record, I suppose, compared to the previous two records. That was more of a focal point in the record — the songs, the arrangements and the writing.
Did your songwriting have to catch up to your guitar playing?
I’d say that would be a fair way to put it. I was always more of a guitar player and I feel now more comfortable as a singer and a songwriter. Guitar has always been my main form of expression since I was a kid. When I was 13, I started singing and later I started writing. So both of those things, there was about a 10-year window where I was just playing guitar and not singing or writing. So I guess it is a fair way to put it that it had to catch up with the playing.
Why the name Carolina Confessions?
The title of the record [comes from] people confessing within their hearts. That’s how I feel when I write and when I play music. There’s things I need to get off of my chest. We’re from South Carolina, and this record is more of a leaving-home story and why I chose to do that and what happens in the process of doing so. The title came from the comparison I saw in confessing your sins and seeking absolution, and that’s how I feel as a writer.
Did you actually leave home? You grew up in South Carolina, right?
Yeah, I did. Greenville, South Carolina. We’re on the road a lot and it more so references the fact that we’re always on the road and never home. I’m moving to Nashville, Tennessee, but right now I’m coming to you from my bus in Alabama.
Is it fair to call your music a throwback to the ’60s and ‘70s? Or did that music ever really go away in the first place?
That’s a good question. I mean, that music has always been really prevalent in my life and I mean it’s timeless music, you know? Protest songs of the ’60s and ’70s are still very — they make sense in today’s world, too. I don’t think they ever really went away, but I guess you could say that our music is more of a nod to the people we grew up really digging on, you know?
As you get older, do you find that people make less of a big deal about your age? Do you think people can focus more on the music you write and less on the fact that you’re this blues wunderkind?
Yeah, man, you know that was always really — I was always really thankful but ever since I was 10 or 11, I’d be with my dad and I’d be in his band and they put it on the poster “11-year-old guitar player.” But, like, it shouldn’t matter how old somebody is. You should just listen to what they’re playing. So now I’m just an old man in the scheme of young guitar players. So I think it’s nice being taken as an adult now, I suppose, as opposed to the former.
Who were your biggest influences growing up?
My dad was a huge influence on me as a person and as a guitar player. Me personally, I got really into the early Lynyrd Skynyrd — like, the first two records. There’s some really fantastic playing on there with Ed King being in the band. Anything I was into as a kid stemmed from the fact that I was very shy and very reserved and very unsure of myself. So any musician I listen to is always people who were similar to that way but onstage they became this persona of a person who had this enormous sense of confidence. That would be people like James Brown and Otis Redding, Duane Allman, Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. Anybody who had that attitude that I wanted. Anybody who had that confidence oozing out of them I was attracted to in a musical way. I was into all kinds of stuff as a kid, just from my father and my grandfather’s record collection. I was listening to country music like George Jones and listening to bands like Wishbone Ash and Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago and later I got real into jazz when I was studying at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville and saw that there was a whole other realm of music. There was a whole other dimension that we could take this thing to and that really opened up my mind.
I imagine given the southern rock sounds of your music, I’m sure the Black Crowes were a big influence and I know you were on tour playing the guitar with As the Crow Flies, the band set up by former Crowes singer Chris Robinson to revive the band’s music for one more tour. What was that whole experience like?
It was great, man. Chris had been a good friend and we had a fantastic time on the road together. For one, it was an absolute honor to play these songs with him and with Audley and Andy and McDougall and Tony. It was just absolutely a pleasure to work with all of them because they’re all older cats and there’s a lot to learn from them.
I was at the Philly show at the Electric Factory and I thought you guys sounded great.
Yeah, man. That was a fun tour.
Did you spend a lot of time picking their brains about things?
No, I like to listen. I don’t talk a lot, really. I just kind of hang back. I like to listen to what everybody has to say. You learn a lot of lessons that way. People whose advice I really listen to are people who are a little bit more cryptic about it, you know? Like, Derek Trucks is an example of that. If you listen to what they have to say, their advice kind of shines through without it being a direct thing. Do you know know what I’m saying?
Yeah, totally. I think those are all the questions I really had, unless there was anything else you wanted to mention?
I know that we love coming to Philly and if I’m correct we’re going to be right across the street from Ishkabibble’s, so we’re really looking forward to that as a band because they always treat me right as a vegetarian. They put peppers and onions on a roll for me. So I’m looking forward to that. So I guess that’s all I wanted to do. A shout out to Ishkabibble’s! But other than that, no.
I will absolutely make sure that that makes it into the interview.
Tickets for The Marcus King Band at the Theater of Living Arts start at $25 and can be purchased at lnphilly.com.