An artist’s inspiration may come from numerous different motives: Love, loss, a traumatic experience, politics or even another artist’s work – the possibilities are basically endless. The creative process however, that is the monumental journey these virtuosos undertake to craft an expression that enamours the enthusiasts who may come from an array of distinguishing backgrounds.
For South Carolina-born blues guitarist and songwriter Marcus King of The Marcus King Band, a particular issue arose when he found himself seeking a title for one of his now globally adored songs from his second album; as he describes though, the inspiration for the title which became ‘Rita Is Gone’ matter-of-factly arose from another artistic medium.
“So, that song sort of came about because of a lot of things I had seen, some very personal to me which included a very close family member passing on.” He elaborates further after a delicate pause – “It is somewhat known that people in that situation experience feelings of loneliness right before they go and whatever they have surrounding themselves, we are all still all of the same kind and we are kind of left alone to deal with it.”
He continues – “Well, I needed a name for that song and around the same time I had been watching the program Dexter and I had made it to the end of the fourth season I think; it had snowed really heavily so I was stuck in a way and gotten heavily into the show. Anyways, the character I had cared about the most Rita was killed off and it gave me the idea for the name of the song. Truthfully, I became quite stapled to that show.”
As famed American author Henry David Thoreau once said: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” and these words are clearly more than befitting to Marcus King. However, it has not just been what Marcus has seen that is a point of interest, but it is what the world has seen in him. At the very young age of 23 when this interview was conducted, his band and himself have released three albums all of which have entered the top 10 in the Blues album charts. They have toured relentlessly around the US and even the UK and Europe, recently their headline show in New York was upgraded due to ticket demand to the prominent Capitol Theatre and the band was also invited to appear on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
“It really was a great deal of good news to get quickly and we are especially thrilled about it all. Everyone is feeling really excited, I mean I can speak for myself but I am sure the group feels the same. Playing the Capitol Theatre as our first headline show, we have played there before a few times in a support role, but it really is an honour though, it is an incredible venue with such a rich history.” And the musical guest appearance on the Late Show?
“We are stoked man! Stephen Colbert, he is a Carolina native to an extent, just like myself and most of the group! He is such a DUDE! It is such a great show as well, you can’t beat that.”
With Marcus King’s beautifully polite demeanour and classic southern gentleman portrayal, it is hard to place him as a man who has only just arrived at adult age status in his home nation. The Marcus King Band’s self-professed “soul-influenced psychedelic southern rock” and immeasurable talent showcase a maturity well beyond their actual age. This has not only caught the attention of devotees on a global scale, it has actually given opportunity to Marcus especially, to work and tour with some of the world’s greatest rock musicians. More recently this included Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes fame.
“That experience was really a rush and thrill!” he enthuses. “Everyone in that band is someone I truly admire and look up to. So to be on the road with them, each and every one of them had an enormous amount of wisdom to bestow upon me. I think in some instances they didn’t realise they were doing it, but they were helping me to learn and driving me along. Everybody I worked with played a ‘big brother’ role so-to-speak, which was a privilege for me because I didn’t have any brothers growing up. So, all these cats I work with now, Chris Robinson and Derek Trucks, people like that have taken on the role to me as a big brother – more than role models you know? Erik Krasno also who is another name who needs to be on that list.”
Did the difference in age play its part though? Was it ever disconcerting or did everyone respect each other as musicians and become more like friends, even family?
“It was definitely the latter, although I don’t have the years of experience compared to them. You see, when I was a kid, the majority of my social interactions that I had were hanging out with my grandfather, watching movies, especially ‘Road Movies’ like Easy Rider.
“For some reason I found myself studying pop culture from different areas that were not of my own, different eras mostly: 60s, 70s, 80s and even the 90s. A lot of the pop culture I had experienced and even conversations I had about music were of those areas that I was very familiar with; so the playing field as far as topical conversation, I felt I was on somewhat of an even playing field. I definitely was not in the dark but at the same time I was learning a lot from those older musicians with every conversation we had.”
The Marcus King Band will visit Australia as part of the Byron Bay’s Bluesfest taking place in April. This year, marking the 30th anniversary of the festival, boasts arguably the grandest line-up ever including: Iggy Pop, Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, Ben Harper among many others.
“Man, we are so damn excited, it is somewhere I have wanted to go my entire life.” says King about his band’s impending tour. “All those artists listed are people I respect and admire and have so for my entire career. To be able to share a stage with them is just an honour, incredible, exciting; I’m just repeating myself really, all the things!”
To those who are not able to make Bluesfest, the band have also announced two headline sideshows in Melbourne and Sydney. Unfortunately for Victorians, the show has already sold out which King is admittedly bewildered by.
“Having a sold out show already in a country I have never played let alone been before, I mean it is a whirlwind of emotions really. I mean we are all over the moon with just the invitation to come to a part of the world we have never been before. All the Australian people that I know and have met have been really charming so I know this is going to be a great tour.”
So in closing, what can Australia expect from The Marcus King Band?
“You probably haven’t experienced this yet by our band properly in Australia, but we like to stretch songs out a lot. I’m talking eight or nine, sometimes even 15 minutes. Obviously if you are trying to get on the radio or television program or something like that, well that shit does not fly (laughs). But yeah man, we like to ride it loose.”
“It is mostly improvisation, that’s part of the drive for us. A lot of it is actually based on the crowd reaction, we like to read the crowd and then build our circle and vibe of each other. It’s a conversation and we know each other and how we operate. At this point after spending so much time together, we are like brothers; we see more of each other than we do our actual families. We know each other better than anyone, we laugh together, cry together and essentially you grow together and it’s been like that for about six years, except our keyboard player, DeShawn ‘D-Vibes’ Alexander who has been with us about a year and a half. All of us together in that setting though, it feels like home.”
The Marcus King Band will play Byron Bay Bluesfest this April. The band have also announced a pair of headline sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. Dates and details below.
The Marcus King Band Bluesfest 2019 Sideshows
Monday, 15th April
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Wednesday, 17th April – SOLD OUT
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne