When Marcus King decided to reteam up with Black Keys founding member Dan Auerbach to produce Young Blood, the former’s second solo outing that came out in August 2022, the stylistic cue was to plug in and bang out a sound that hearkened back to vintage rock power trios like Cream and Mountain.
And while there are definite four-on-the-flour riffs and cuts emanating through this 11-track collection, the thematic inspiration comes from an emotional self-assessment King experienced when COVID-19 caused a global pause button to be hit. Forced isolation combined with a tenuous relationship with his then-girlfriend spilled over by the time King and Auerbach hit the studio in May 2021 to cut the new record.
“I think what was interesting about the pandemic and something I didn’t expect was that it was this moment for me to reconcile these abandonment issues I’d struggled with my whole life,” King said. “It was an opportunity for me to get into therapy and to start growing. I think performing for all those years—once that crowd noise stops and you stop receiving validation, even if it’s only for your craft, it’s some form of validation that you’re receiving. Once it went away entirely, that’s when a lot of us met a real reckoning. It was a real opportunity for us all to hit reset and look within a little bit further.”
King’s catharsis was channeled into a six-day recording binge that yielded gems like “Rescue Me,” where the opening lines “All I need, all I’m wanting/Is something sweet, to take all this pain that’s been haunting me/Hold me down, don’t let me get any higher/Turn me around, pull me away from the fire” are wrapped up with a sinewy guitar riff and hypnotic rhythm reflecting King’s admitted physical state at a time where he admitted, “I don’t think I’d slept in a week. I was concerned with how I felt and needed someone to help me. I even called a doctor.” That pain can even be heard in more upbeat fare like “Dark Cloud,” a Free-flavored shuffle with plenty of cowbell that belies the gravity of couplets like, “When you get that feeling like/You’re lost and never found/There’s always a dark cloud hanging round/Bringing you down.”
In reuniting with Auerbach, who also produced King’s more rhythm and blues-soaked 2020 debut El Dorado, King knew he had the right ride-or-die producer to guide the creative direction of Young Blood at a time when the South Carolina musician was navigating some dark times.
“Dan really curated the band because he knew what we were going for, the direction we wanted to go and during the writing process, it even more so took shape as it does,” King explained. “He knew exactly the cats that we needed. We had a full New York rhythm section. Chris St. Hilaire on drums and Nick Movshon on bass. And then we Andrew Gabbard from Ohio, who is also in The Black Keys. We had him writing and playing rhythm guitar on the record. Really, Dan’s whole approach to this stylistically was to turn the microphones on and let us go. The chemistry was there immediately amongst the musicians and the songs were there. We just needed to put it all together. What you’re hearing on the record is a lot of live takes and it’s a lot of aggression and anguish I was trying to get it out in any way that I could. And that’s the best way that I know how.”
As someone who started out as a guitar prodigy playing on his father Marvin King’s album at the age of 11, only to go on to studying jazz theory and jazz performance at the Greenville Fine Arts Center after dropping out of high school as a junior and earning his GED, King continues to push boundaries and challenge himself creatively. Live shows are packed with the kind of twists and turns not unlike Southern forerunners and peers like the Allman Brothers Band and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band would bring to the concert stage. King’s recent two-date swing through the Beacon Theater found him breaking musical bread with longtime friend/Lettuce vocalist Nigel Hall while tossing covers of Crowed House, Joe Cocker and the aforementioned Allmans into the set list. This go with-the-flow approach is especially gratifying for the newly engaged 26-year-old who finds himself in a better emotional and psychological space that dovetails into his current mindset.
“I’m trying to be open to the moment,” he said. “Keeping my wits about, but being open to the opportunity. It’s easier said than done because it’s almost going against everything mom and dad taught you. Don’t trust anyone, but be open to the situation.”
In the meantime, he was more than happy to share with Long Island Weekly his favorite rock trios.
Jimi Hendrix Experience (1966 to 1969)
“The Jimi Hendrix Experience is an obvious one. I love everything about the group all the way from the musical prowess of Hendrix to the fact that he hired Noel Redding to play bass because of his hair and he was a guitar player before that. He had an image, an approach and a style that he wanted to meet and he did it. He ended up being a lot of people’s favorite bass player and he was a guitar player.”
Robin Trower Band (1973 to 1976)
“That’s a great three-piece with bassist/vocalist James Dewar. You listen to [Twice Removed from Yesterday] and Bridge of Sighs and that’s a really great example of a power trio.”
The James Gang (1966 to 1977; 1991; 1996; 1998; 2001; 2005 to 2006; present)
“They really changed the game up because Joe Walsh would play organ or guitar. To me, it was really proto-punk rock the way Joe Walsh’s vocals were. Listening to Rides Again and Live in Concert, when they were playing live at Carnegie Hall. I really love the album artwork with the juxtaposition of the horses parked outside of the venue in the city.”