Marcus King, the guitar phenom and rising star from South Carolina, has been making a name for himself ever since he formed his primary group, The Marcus King Band, in 2013. After sharing the stage with the likes of Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes, and working with Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule—who released the band’s first LP, Soul Insight, on his Evil Teen label in 2015, and produced their second outing, The Marcus King Band, in 2016—the 23-year-old King is now prepared to release his first solo outing, El Dorado (Fantasy Records), which was produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and recorded in just three days.
Likening the album to his own version of Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, King spoke by phone with AQ to discuss his collaboration with Auerbach, the autobiographical nature of El Dorado, and his early days as a young teen navigating the rough and tumble club circuit.
Congratulations on El Dorado, man. It’s an excellent album. I’ve been listening to it over and over.
Oh, thanks. Thank you very much. I’m proud of that one.
It’s easy to see why. How did you hook up with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and what led to him producing this album?
We started hanging and writing together a couple of years ago when I was in the process of doing Carolina Confessions (2018) and we wrote a song. He and I, along with (songwriter/guitarist) Pat McLaughlin, wrote a song for that album called “How Long,” and from there, it started a really good friendship and inevitable partnership.
I’ve heard that you both have similar approaches to working in the studio.
Yeah… we both work a lot and we enjoy our work. You have a tendency to work that way when you’re extremely passionate. He and I both have that thing, that tenacious quality, within not only our production style, but our musicianship. So we worked quite well together in the studio and the band that he has there is so sharp that the amount of work we got done in three days was unreal.
The album is billed as a Marcus King record, as opposed to your previous albums that were credited to The Marcus King Band. Was there anything in particular that drove that decision? Was it just because you were working with Dan and he has his players? Or were you trying to step out of a comfort zone and try something new?
I mean, there’s truth in both of those statements. You know, it was something that was always kind of up in the air–whether or not I wanted to do a solo project–and the opportunity really presented itself and I was able to do this with Dan helping me out. It’s really kind of like my Full Moon Fever, you know?
Yeah. It’s really awesome that you mentioned that record in particular, because I had that record on my mind a little bit when I was listening to El Dorado. It’s almost like you took a step out of the lane that you’re familiar with to dabble and create on a different level, right?
Yeah, man…. it’s always important to have these different avenues that we can venture down. And for me, you know, this solo project opens up a whole other world of solo career possibilities and other things that I could do. With The Marcus King Band, it’s a bit more of a collaborative effort between the band and I.
I feel like the work of an artist is always very personal, but would I be off the mark if I suggested that El Dorado is a little bit autobiographical in nature?
I think you’re right on the nose, man. It became that. We started writing and, you know, just like any writing process, you’re just throwing it at the wall and seeing what will stick. For this one, what ended up happening was a recurring theme of coming of age, and it really became autobiographical. That’s the only way I really know how to write: from personal experience… and what we ended up with material-wise was all these songs kind of telling my story.
You’re an incredible guitarist with a lot of famous fans, but for El Dorado, I read that you really tried to focus less on the guitar and more on the vocals and songwriting. So I was wondering how that process played itself out when making the record?
It was an organic thing. I allowed the guitar to speak for itself and I put more of an emphasis on the songs themselves and the vocal qualities of the record. And, you know, through this you’re gonna find a lot of space and a lot of playing with that space, and what you get to see is that the spaces will become vehicles for improvisational opportunities on the road.
Some of your earliest gigs were very much in the ballroom tradition, with subpar PAs and amplifiers and things like that. I think it’s safe to say you really cut your professional teeth the old fashioned way, didn’t you?
Yeah, man. We played a lot of dicey clubs and bars, saw bar fights and people not wanting to pay…. A pretty rough scene for a 15-year-old, but I was always the band leader and I was the one navigating us through those murky waters, you know?
Definitely. At 15-years-old, that had to be really daunting, but you must have had a fire in your belly that just said ‘Bring it on, because this is what I want to do,’ right?
Exactly. I had a lot of tenacity at that age. I still do—with anything I have my hands on. I’m going to put every ounce of care I have into it. And that’s how it was when I was a kid. It was just anyway to make it work and I didn’t have any doubts as to where I was going. I just knew that failure wasn’t an option if I were to put my whole heart into it. And that’s the only way I know how to work.
El Dorado—and I think most of your music—is in the tradition of old soul music. I think that’s one of the hallmarks of your sound. Can you share with me some of your influences that represent that soul aesthetic that you have?
Yeah, man. I mean, Aretha Franklin comes to mind. Sam Cooke comes to mind. Otis Redding…. James Brown. James was the first solo artist I heard, and it really lit a fire underneath me, man.
What about James really resonated with you?
I mean, I just like someone really taking such pride and ownership of what they do and work a stage like that. As a bashful kid, a really self-conscious kid, I just always looked up to people like Janis Joplin who could own the stage like that and not be afraid of anyone. It was my way of living vicariously through them, such confident people. Those are my favorite kind of front men, the really confident ones.
I’m glad that you mentioned that because it brings me to my next question, talking about people that really command the stage: The first time I heard about you was through Chris Robinson, who you played with in his As A Crow Flies project. In chatting with Chris, he called you a ‘very special individual,’ which I thought was a big deal coming from someone like Chris who has jammed with nearly everybody. Now having worked with folks like Chris, Dan Auerbach, and Warren Haynes, what have you taken away from those experiences that, you hope to utilize going forward with your own music?
Well, working with Chris was, first of all, it was a tremendous honor, and it was also just a way for me to go to a front man bootcamp, in a way. I got to stand next to CR every night and see him interact with an audience and watch him really work as a front man. He’s one of the most charismatic front men I’ve ever had the honor of working with—certainly an honor just to see live. So, I really look up to him in that regard. And I’ve been so blessed to work with incredible musicians and, in some cases, incredible people.
Cool. So, what’s in store for fans in 2020?
Man, there are going to be a lot of opportunities to see us. We have no shortage of dates and no shortage of energy. We’re excited to hopefully come to a town near you.
EL DORADO (FANTASY RECORDS) WILL BE RELEASED ON JANUARY 17 AND WILL BE AVAILABLE WHEREVER MUSIC IS STREAMED OR SOLD. THE MARCUS KING BAND WILL BEGIN A WORLD TOUR IN JANUARY, AND FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT MARCUSKINGBAND.COM.