Mar­cus King Band

With in­flu­ences from all points of the mu­si­cal com­pass and play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence way be­yond his years, Mar­cus King ini­tially found it “hard to get peo­ple to take me se­ri­ously”. But now they do.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Polly Glass Carolina Con­fes­sions is out now via Snake­farm Records.

With in­flu­ences from all points of the mu­si­cal com­pass and play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence way be­yond his years, he ini­tially found it “hard to get peo­ple to take me se­ri­ously”. But now they do.

Mar­cus King isn’t what you might ex­pect as the youngest in a Deep South mu­si­cal bloodline. His fa­ther and grand­fa­ther are pop­u­lar play­ers in South Carolina, but the 22-year-old has long forged his own path. His third al­bum, Carolina Con­fes­sions, is no bog-stan­dard rootsy fare; his take on south­ern mu­sic is richly textured, nod­ding to Lit­tle Feat, the Is­ley Broth­ers, Steely Dan, Ste­vie Ray Vaughan and many more. And it’s crammed with worldly char­ac­ter (re­flect­ing on the break­down of a re­la­tion­ship, like all his records).

Ask him about his favourite records and he veers be­tween eras and styles. “Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys would be one,” he be­gins thought­fully. “Loner­ism by Tame Impala is an­other, Live At Fillmore East by the All­man Broth­ers… I’m all over the place as far as in­spi­ra­tion goes.”

He’s an ar­tic­u­late in­ter­vie­wee and ex­udes kindly south­ern cour­tesy, de­spite hav­ing the sort of hazy

voice that’s ei­ther like he’s just wak­ing up or been steeped in pot. A mas­sive Stet­son and bright blue shades add to his look that’s part War­ren Haynes, part spir­i­tual guru.

So far things are work­ing out well for him. Derek Trucks and War­ren Haynes are fans and men­tors. Back home he’s hosted his own two-day fes­ti­val, The Mar­cus King Band Fam­ily Re­union, for the past two years. Tonight’s London gig is packed, and record-la­bel types chat­ter ex­cit­edly about big­ger shows in the works. When he even­tu­ally goes on stage, the shades come off and he and his band de­liver a dex­trous fu­sion of south­ern rock’n’roll, soul and jazz. This is where he’s most at home, and has been for most of his short life.

King’s old-soul qual­ity has deep roots, and doesn’t apply just to his mu­sic. The youngest of two, his child­hood was split be­tween sub­ur­ban Greenville, South Carolina, and the rest of his fam­ily up in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains. There, King would jam old gospel hymns on the porch with his fa­ther, aunts, un­cles and grand­par­ents. There was al­ways a gui­tar in the house, and mu­sic was part of the fab­ric of life. “I was also get­ting spoon­fed the All­man Broth­ers, Mar­shall Tucker Band,

El­more James, Robert John­son, what my dad was into,” King ex­plains. “And my grand­fa­ther was turn­ing me on to Ge­orge Jones, Merle Hag­gard, Way­lon Jennings…”

En­vi­able mu­si­cal foun­da­tions for sure, but it left him out of step with his con­tem­po­raries.

“I didn’t have any friends my own age,” he tells us. “All my friends were peo­ple like my grand­par­ents. And when I did start mak­ing friends, when I’d go over I’d end up play­ing cards with their par­ents, cos the con­ver­sa­tion was more stim­u­lat­ing. So I just had to grow up re­ally quickly.”

Per­form­ing in his fa­ther’s blues band, and at the lo­cal pen­te­costal church, aided the process. But although by this point he was lis­ten­ing mostly to pow­er­houses vo­cal­ists like Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Ja­nis Joplin and Aretha Franklin, he was too shy to sing

him­self. So he stuck to the gui­tar, or drums, when­ever he could. Then, when King was 13 a close friend was killed in a car ac­ci­dent and his per­spec­tive shifted for­ever.

“She was a dear friend,” he says. “I re­alised at that point that I couldn’t ex­press my­self any fur­ther with just gui­tar.”

Armed with this new re­solve, he started his own band and be­gan singing and writ­ing his own songs. Soon he was mak­ing de­cent money play­ing gigs in lo­cal bars, “enough to help with bills an’ stuff”, for which he did all the book­ing and pro­mot­ing him­self.

“It was hard to get peo­ple to take me se­ri­ously,” he re­calls. “I was fif­teen and all the cats in my band were be­tween thirty-five and fifty, cos I wanted older pro­fes­sional peo­ple that wanted to work.”

He’s since re­placed them with the younger band he has to­day, who he “poached” from other groups.

School life didn’t im­prove, how­ever. Dis­in­ter­est, tar­di­ness and fall­ing asleep in class af­ter gig nights led to threats of ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion cen­tres.

“I’ve al­ways loved learn­ing, if it was some­thing I felt was gonna ben­e­fit me later on,” he rea­sons. “So in English I would ex­cel be­cause I wanted to ex­pand my vo­cab­u­lary to ben­e­fit what I’d al­ready de­cided to be. But it be­came frus­trat­ing, be­cause they would treat me as if I was a delin­quent. I re­ally wasn’t, I was just dis­in­ter­ested.”

In the end the thing that got him through high school (“well, al­most”) was an elec­tive class in jazz the­ory and per­for­mance. There he be­came im­mersed in the kind of sounds that form a big part of his mu­sic to­day.

“That was my saving grace, man,” he beams.

“Five times a week I’d go to learn about this fan­tas­tic style of mu­sic that was birthed on Amer­i­can soil. I thought it was such a hip thing, I’d be learn­ing all these cool jazz stan­dards and re­ally learn­ing mu­sic the­ory. That’s what got me through.”

Although he has happy mem­o­ries of fam­ily jams and sup­port­ive rel­a­tives, King’s early life ap­pears to be shrouded in a cloak of sad­ness. His mother left when he was four, but re­mained “in and out of the pic­ture”, and he con­cedes that there was “a lot go­ing on at home”. As a child he saw a ther­a­pist a few times, and at one point (much later) con­tem­plated pur­su­ing psy­chi­a­try him­self – or the priest­hood. He keeps the de­tails guarded, but it seems safe to say that the emo­tional weight of his mu­sic is in­formed by real pain.

“I love my mother dearly, but that was a hard thing for me when I was younger,” he says.

“Those were dif­fi­cult times, and there were a lot of things that hap­pened when I was a kid that weren’t ideal, y’know, and it kinda seemed like things would never get bet­ter at some point. But they did, so I was able to cre­ate from that pain. All I ever want to tell peo­ple is if you have any kind of hurt, you need to find some kind of out­let or else you will im­plode.”

On the back of Carolina Con­fes­sions, King and his band are poised for more shows in 2019, and he’s look­ing to move to Nashville, hav­ing fallen in love with the place while record­ing there.

“There’s still things that are on my heart, that moulded me into who I am, that I still haven’t fig­ured out how to put into words,” he muses, part anx­ious youth, part wise old sage. “And that’s a con­stant re­minder that some­times the jour­ney is more im­por­tant than the des­ti­na­tion.”

“Some­times the jour­ney is more im­por­tant than the des­ti­na­tion.”

Mar­cus King

Mar­cus King: saved by study­ing jazz.

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