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Interview: Marcus King

9 April 2024

Photo by JM Collective

Marcus King’s latest album, Mood Swings, marks a stunning departure from the searing, classic rock of 2020’s Youngblood. Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, it’s a deeply personal exploration born from life’s darkest corners. King, once resigned to a rockstar’s self-destructive path, found salvation in an unexpected place: love. Meeting his wife Briley Hussey became a turning point, a chance to rewrite his story.

Mood Swings isn’t just a change in sound – it’s a testament to resilience. King confronts his mental health struggles head-on, emerging with a newfound strength that permeates the music. His guitar, though not the sole focus, remains a powerful voice amidst the rich tapestry of sounds Rubin coaxes from him.

King joined me recently to talk about everything from his transformative collaboration with Rubin to his evolving musical perspective and his inspiring journey through mental health.

I saw you in 2022. The tour had a very ‘60s/’70s revue-type feel. It was more of an event than a concert. Was that the idea?

MARCUS: Big time. The intention was to make it a revue, bringing a comedian along to MC the event. I always thought that was a neat idea. I don’t know why people quit doing it. It was a lot of fun.

The trailer for the new album gives off a cool ‘70s/’80s late night TV movie vibe. Will you be doing anything else with that look and feel?

MARCUS: I imagine we would. We had a really great creative director on this project, Sutton Davidson. The music really spoke to him so, together, he and I created this aesthetic and this mood around the album that we thought best lends itself to the material. I imagine we’ll keep delving into that.

Did Rick Rubin truly cold call you? Had you ever met him before? Did you pick up your phone and it said that it was Rick Rubin calling?

MARCUS: It was even scarier than that really because my tour manager at the time informed me that Rick was going to reach out that day. And I think he ended up, in Rick fashion, calling the next day. They just said, “If you get a number that you don’t recognize, answer,” so it was truly a cold call. We spoke for a long time and just really clicked. He’s an easy one to click with though.

Rick Rubin’s been around a long time. Were you familiar with his work? Did you consider him a God-like figure or did you have to do some research to understand his importance in modern music?

MARCUS: Rick was really revered in my household. For the Johnny Cash stuff alone, he was revered by my grandfather and my dad. And I love the Beastie Boys and am inspired by early hip-hop, really any hip-hop really for that matter. I was always really inspired by Rick’s attempts at integrating rock and roll into hip-hop like he did with Run DMC and Aerosmith and later “99 Problems,” the Jay-Z track. He’s got this really innovative mind about him but what’s more intriguing about Rick is what he pulls out of you and his love for the art itself and allowing you to truly access that. I think that’s what’s so hip and that’s the part I learned from working with him. I definitely was intimidated to say the least, but he’s really disarming right away. He’s a really great guy.

Did you look at Rick Rubin as a peer, a friend or was he a mentor or somebody who gave you advice?

MARCUS: Rick carries a presence with him, and I think a lot of it has to do with his tremendous amount of self-awareness and self -confidence, but also the amount of empathy that he holds and the amount of true childlike whimsy about music itself. When he’s in the room, it’s very comforting, almost in a paternal way. And he’s got a tremendous track record so he’s obviously going to hold some form of mentor role when he walks into the room. The way Rick likes to work is he kind of flows in and out. It’s not like a constant presence. I really admire the approach because it’s kind of like, with anything, it’s really when you’re alone with yourself that you do the best work, whether it’s mindfulness or looking within.

I tend to be pulled in by music first, vocals second. Youngblood was a very guitar-driven album but this album seems to feature the vocals more than the guitar. How do you view the new album in relation to Youngblood? Is it a continuation of what you’ve been doing or are you writing a new chapter to your story?

MARCUS: This feels like a new book, or, really, the first chapter in a new book. Youngblood was the cliff edge, an unresolved ending to a very short novella that was my substance abuse era. I had very little self-confidence and I was really depressed and struggling with substance abuse. I just had my heart broken and then I went in to do Youngblood and there was material on that record that I didn’t really feel close to. It felt more performative. It didn’t feel as true natured to me and that was not by anyone’s design, it was just that I don’t think I was capable of really giving everything. Well, I gave it everything I had to give but it wasn’t my usual fuel levels. I was really low on serotonin. I was low on everything and I was just trying to numb myself. Music wasn’t really working, so I feel like on that record I leaned more into the guitar. That’s always been my safety blanket.

On this record, I wrote material on a different medium so as to change my perspective on music a little bit, allow myself to hear things a little differently. Instrumentally, I wanted things to happen and I think Rick felt the same way. I wanted it to be an embellishment of the song itself because I had a lot to say on this album.

Mood Swings is the name of the album and it’s also the name of the first song. Was that intentional? Did you want to set the tone for what listeners are going to get with the rest of the album?

MARCUS: My manager, Rick, and the engineer, Jason, these are the three minds who I trust. These are three of the calls I always put in, and the sequence of a record is really important to me, because I got to put out something that I’m really proud of. Whether people like it or not, it’s not really the issue. It’s got to be true, and if everybody likes it, it means that you didn’t create something new. It means I remained in the status quo.

While I was in Italy working with Rick, we were pulling 12-hour days. Most of the record was done there. I was doing a lot of research. I was trying to find an intake interview for a mental patient. I’m a mental patient, technically. I’m not an inmate somewhere for some kind of psychological crime or something. But I wanted to find something that truly captured what I’m talking about. I came across this documentary through my research called The Faces of Depression. That’s what you hear at the beginning of “Mood Swings.” It’s a small clip of somebody describing what depression feels like to them and it’s from the ‘50s, early ‘60s, you can tell by the diction, that transatlantic kind of sound in their voice. I was really taken aback because it really hasn’t changed much from then till today.

I’m working with one of the forefathers of hip-hop producing. This is my first time having to wait for a sample to clear. I didn’t realize all the effort that went into that and that was the only thing that we couldn’t get cleared because the son of the documentarian and physician who made that movie in the 60s, he didn’t want it to be used for entertainment, it was just for educational purposes. I wrote him a letter personally, talking about the nature of this record and how I’m trying to make people more aware. It’s about mental health advocacy. After he heard that, he granted me usage of the clip, so it just made sense that we opened the album with it.

In a sense, the album is educational. You’ve gone through a lot of heavy stuff. My therapist told me to write things down, just get it out of my head and then once it’s out, I can do whatever I want – throw it away, keep it, burn it, etc. This album sounds to me like that’s what you did but, unlike me, you’re sharing your innermost thoughts with thousands and thousands of people. Does that feel cathartic or were you nervous about doing that?

MARCUS: It’s cathartic for me and I try to let myself be as transparent as possible. I want to be remembered as a guy who was really open with sharing his emotions and not allowing it to change people’s perception of me. My fear for so long was that if I spoke openly about my mental health, people wouldn’t take me seriously or they would think that I was weak or they would try to take advantage of me in some way. I realized that wasn’t the case. I was only hurting myself by suppressing all those emotions. I hope that this acts in the same way when people hear it, it gives them a little confidence to do the same. It’s really rare that I’ll hear any of my past work because I don’t like to listen to myself but I’ll always want to change something. That’s always just production wise. As long as I was completely truthful in the moment, I feel relieved and absolved and cathartic.

Do you ever worry that by reliving this stuff night after night in a live setting, that it’s a wound you keep picking at and it’ll never heal?

MARCUS: I try to practice mindfulness every day and within that I try to practice gratitude. I feel like I’m able to be a lot more present in that gratitude if I’m able to reflect on things that I’ve come through and what better way than to do that than through art and music for people.

I think it’s an important topic to discuss and as someone with a voice that can reach people, I appreciate you doing this. But, I’ll admit, as I listened to the album, I felt a little guilty because I was getting pleasure from your pain.

MARCUS: I think that’s great. I love it.

Do you have artists that you turn to when you want to feel some type of emotion?

MARCUS: Sometimes it can be a film, like a comfort food. I get that way with a lot of films. Forrest Gump is one of those films. I think that’s one of the most perfect films ever made. It’s such a cathartic release. It can open that air bubble and allow you to be emotional because, if you’re like me and you’ve repressed it, it’s kind of hard to open that up. Musically, I’ll put on a Bill Evans Trio record. I’ve got a tattoo on my chest that says, “My foolish heart” and that’s in reference to the Bill Evans Trio song. I’ll throw on that Village Vanguard collection and the emotions in that record are really powerful. I’ll cry and cry.

I get that. I cry during the American Idol tryouts when they pull at your heartstrings.

MARCUS: It’s vulnerability, right? We can all tell if something feels staged, but seeing vulnerability that raw can bring about some emotion.

You’ve been very open and honest in the lead up to this album. Were you ever at a point where you felt like giving up on life or was it more a point of wondering what the point in doing all this was? I think there’s a difference between heading down a bad path of self-destruction and just a resignation of feeling like there’s no point in doing what you’re doing.

MARCUS: I think that’s a great question and it is a big distinction. For me, I was thinking that there is so much more I’d like to say but I can’t do it. I didn’t want any attention when I was feeling like that. I just decided to leave things on my own terms and I kind of had my mind made up about it. That’s just kind of where I was at with it. That’s what’s really scary and I try to be mindful of where I was when I’m thinking about anyone else who may need help. Usually the people saying they’re going to end their life on Facebook aren’t usually really going to do it – not to say that they wouldn’t, not to discount that, but a lot of the time it’s the people who are smiling biggest. Once your mind’s made up, if you’re that kind of person, you tend to go through with your decisions but I had a lot more art to create and I felt like I had a lot more to say so I stuck around.

I’m glad you did. You’ve said this is a new chapter in your career. On Mood Swings, there’s some pop, some R&B, even some hip-hop elements. Five years ago, would you have said this is the direction you were headed or do you feel like it was time to wipe the slate clean and start over?

MARCUS: I do love wiping the slate clean. It’s really all about what the music wants, right? And I know that’s a vague answer, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to your wheelhouse. You shouldn’t limit yourself to one style of music. I usually write at a piano or on a guitar. With this collection of music, I didn’t really have any production in mind at all. That was helpful because it allowed Rick more of an open canvas and the musicians who played on it, Chris Dave on drums and Cory Henry on Hammond Organ and keyboards, and in some instances, I played piano, like on “Delilah,” it allowed us to go where the music wanted to go.

Youngblood has a very ‘70s classic rock sound. If you could drop Mood Swings into a different decade, somewhere where it would impact somebody in another time, where would the album fit in?

MARCUS: Well, I’d hope that it would have a foothold in any decade. I try to utilize new technology, but at the same time, I like to approach an album to where it can be timeless if not because of the content, because of the instrumentation. Everything we used on this record would have been available to the modern consumer in the past 40 years, all the way down to the drum machine. I very seldom read Instagram comments or whatever. Actually, I have reminders set on my phone not to read comments because it’s not helpful for me to read positive ones. It’s not helpful for me to read negative ones so I just don’t do it. But I broke my advice one day and someone was angry with me for using a drum machine. It’s the same drum machine that Sly Stone used on Family Affair so I figured it was hip enough for my record if Sly Stone used one. This album has a lot of elements that could be available to anyone in the last 30 or 40 years.

You’ve talked about mindfulness and being on a constant journey. Do you feel like you’ve got your feet on the ground again and you’re in a good place? Or do you still have some work to do?

MARCUS: I think there’s always work to do and there’s always changes to be made. It’s like listening back to your old records, there’s always something that you would have wanted to do differently, but it’s printed in wax. I just want to do mindfulness for the working man, for the common man, because not everybody has the schedule to allow for them to meditate three hours a day or they don’t have the facilities that are readily available to other folks. I’m just trying to preach mindfulness for the common man. That’s where I’m at.

There’s a diversity in the songs on the new album. “Fuck Up My Life Again,” “Hero,” and “Delilah” are three of my favorites, but they are all so different. I love the vibe you’re laying down. It’s a little bit unexpected. It shows a different side to your songwriting. It’s coming from your heart and soul. Does that pose a challenge for you live since the music is different than your previous stuff?

MARCUS: We’ve been testing it out. For songs like “Fuck My Life Up Again,” I’ll sit down at the piano. It’s really more of an effort for me to let the song be the center of attention because my skills on piano leave a little to be desired. I don’t consider myself a soloist on piano. When I’m playing on piano, it’s more to let the audience know it’s all about the song now. Whereas, when I’m on guitar, I can have that security blanket and fall back on it if things go poorly or if my microphone cuts out. With the piano, I feel more vulnerable. There’s nothing to hide behind for me there and I can emote something a little more vulnerable. The material has been received well live and my band is just so great, they’re playing the material really well. It’s a lot different live. There’s no horns on the album but I’ve got an incredible horn section and it’s just really thrilling. I can’t wait for people to hear it live.

Was getting back out on the road in 2022 healthy for you?

MARCUS: The 2022 tour was bad. That’s the first time we went back out after the pandemic. That was kind of how I decided to check myself out of this temporary vessel by doing the things I enjoyed, substance wise, while doing the thing I loved, which was music. That was the only thing that was keeping me around. I figured I could just go out and just do all of those things in excess and have a good time on the way out. The second show of that tour, I met the person who is my wife now, and she was a beacon of light in a really, really dark place. Over the last couple of years, I dug myself out of that, and wrote an album about it. I feel a little absolved from that place. When I’m on the road now, it’s a much different itinerary. Each evening’s capped off with two-and-a-half hours of complete mindfulness, transcendentalism. Playing music with my guys for a captive audience is just great medicine.


2024 Tour Dates

April 13 – 10 Annual Major Rager – Augusta, GA
April 19 – Moon Crush “Pink Moon” Festival – Miramar Beach, FL
May 06 – The Moore Theater – Seattle, WA
May 07 – Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR
May 08 – Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR
May 10 – The Masonic – San Francisco, CA
May 11 – Grand Sierra Ballroom – Reno, NV
May 14 – The Wiltern – Los Angeles, CA
May 15 – The Van Buren – Phoenix, AZ
May 17 – The Complex – Salt Lake City, UT
May 18 – Fillmore Auditorium – Denver, CO
May 22 – The Monument – Rapid City, SD w/ Chris Stapleton
May 24 – Denny Sanford PREMIER Center – Sioux Falls, SD w/ Chris Stapleton
May 25 – Harrah’s Stir Cove – Council Bluffs, IA
May 26 – EPIC Event Center – Green Bay, WI*
May 29 – The Pageant – St Louis, MO
May 30 – GLC Live at 20 Monroe – Grand Rapids, MI
May 31 – Blossom Music Center – Cleveland OH w/ Chris Stapleton
June 01 – Railbird Festival – Lexington, KY
June 02 – Salt Shed – Chicago, IL
June 04 – College Street Music Hall – New Haven, CT*
June 06 – Freedom Mortgage Pavilion – Philadelphia, PA w/ Chris Stapleton
June 07 – Jiffy Lube Live – Bristow, VA w/ Chris Stapleton
June 08 – Landmark Theatre – Syracuse, NY
June 10 – Ruby Amphitheater – Morgantown, WV*
June 12 – T-Mobile Center – Kansas City, MO w/ Chris Stapleton
June 13 – Thunder Ridge Nature Arena – Ridgefield, MO w/ Chris Stapleton
June 14 – The Criterion – Oklahoma City, OK
June 15 – Globe Life Field – Arlington, TX w/ Chris Stapleton
July 11 – Darien Lake Amphitheater – Darien Center, NY w/ Chris Stapleton
July 12 – The Pavilion at Star Lake – Pittsburgh, PA w/ Chris Stapleton
July 13 – Palace Theatre – Albany, NY
July 16 – Egyptian Room – Indianapolis, IN
July 18 – Huntington Center – Toledo, OH w/ Chris Stapleton
July 19 – Schottenstein Center – Columbus, OH w/ Chris Stapleton
July 20 – The Fillmore Detroit – Detroit, MI
September 04 – Orpheum – Vancouver, BC
September 06 – Grey Eagle Event Center – Calgary, AB
September 07 – Midway Music Hall – Edmonton, AB
September 09 – Burton Cummings Theatre – Winnipeg, MB
September 13 – Massey Hall – Toronto, ON
September 14 – London Music Hall – London, ON
September 17 – Kemba Live! – Columbus, OH
September 19 – Warner Theatre – Washington, D.C.
September 20 – Warner Theatre – Washington, D.C.
September 21 – The Ritz – Raleigh, NC
September 24 – Avondale Brewing – Birmingham, AL
September 26 – Riverside Theater – Milwaukee, WI
September 28 – The Sylvee, Madison, WI
September 29 – Vibrant Music Hall – Des Moines, IA
October 07 – Roxian Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA
October 09 – State Theatre – Portland, ME
October 11 – House of Blues Boston – Boston, MA
October 12 – The Fillmore – Philadelphia, PA
October 13 – Brooklyn Paramount – Brooklyn, NY
October 17 – La Riviera – Madrid, Spain
October 18 – Sala Apolo – Barcelona, Spain
October 20 – Fabrique Milano – Milan, Italy
October 21 – Komplex 457 – Zurich, Switzerland
October 23-Le Transbordeur – Lyon, France
October 25 – Essigfabrik – Cologne, Germany
October 27 – Markthalle – Hamburg, Germany
October 28 – De Roma – Antwerp, Belgium
October 29 – AFAS Live – Amsterdam, Netherlands
October 31 – Metropol – Berlin, Germany
November 01-The Grey Hall – Copenhagen, Denmark
November 03 – Bataclan – Paris, France
November 05 – Eventim Apollo – London, UK
November 06 – Albert Hall – Manchester, UK
November 07 – Barrowland Ballroom – Glasgow, UK
November 09 – O2 Institute – Birmingham, UK
November 10 – The Great Hall – Cardiff, UK
November 12 – Olympia – Dublin, Ireland


SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

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