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Marcus King didn’t plan on making his new album Mood Swings. He didn’t even plan on living much longer before he started working on it…
Heartache, addiction, and mental health brought him to the brink in 2022. However, it’s more than fair to say that music brought him back. You can hear it in his grizzled, yet honeyed bellow across these eleven tracks. The album feels like the moment of baptism when water washes away a life’s worth of sins and degradation and all that’s left is a revived, yet still real-as-hell primal scream.
It’s as if Marcus strained raw soul straight from his gut up through that broken heart and on to the record under the watchful eye of Rick Rubin. Pain quakes below the vibrato of his voice, and his delivery weighs heavy with booze-drenched regrets and mistakes in lonely hotels. Emphasizing his vocals front-and-center more than ever before, the trusty guitar he’s so often associated with plays the sideman this time around (though there’s no shortage of impressive shredding).
For as dark as everything seemed, you can’t help but feel a sense of hope in the power of Marcus’s voice.
During a North American tour, Marcus had designs to drink himself to death. He admits, “I had an escape route already decided for myself and a backup if that didn’t work.”
Nevertheless, fate stepped in.
Rubin saw a performance at the Ryman and decided to cold-call Marcus and they quickly agreed to work together on Marcus’ next project. During the promotion of his critically acclaimed album Young Blood, Marcus and Rubin covertly holed up for sessions in Italy and Malibu. Instead of crumbling under the weight of his anxiety, Rubin inspired him to shift his perspective. Drawing on dark moments where King was plagued by suicidal thoughts, dealing with addiction and in mental health crisis, Mood Swings also shares a message of hope. Rubin helped King find a new personal and sonic approach to the turbulent period in his life that also inspired songs on his previous album. “He helped me view mental health as a writing partner in a way,” recalls Marcus. “I’ve learned it can give me that creative spark.”
In the studio, he opted to spotlight his voice as well. “There was no hiding behind the guitar at all,” he grins.
The single “F*ck My Life Up Again” finds him in a space of reflection, recognizing a predisposition to chase codependent relationships. Strings accent the smoky jazz beat, while his soulful delivery booms, “Come fuck my life up again, don’t deserve to live without pain.” A guitar solo “played backwards” channels stark confusion offset by the unshakable hook.
Elsewhere, his high register towers over the bluesy guitar of the title track “Mood Swings.” He adds, “In a nutshell, Mood Swings is about a guy with ups and downs and his relationship with mental health.”
On “Hero,” co-written with Young Blood cohort Dan Auerbach [The Black Keys], his croon rises over acoustic guitar towards a fluttering crescendo. The song tells the story of “a free-spirited young girl who’s not looking for a man to be her hero.” The same naked emotion defines “Delilah” where he depicts “a coming-of-age tale about learning how to love and how to allow yourself to stay still long enough to be loved.”
Given his personal challenges, his success is all the more impressive. King is a GRAMMY® nominated fourth generation musician from Greenville, SC, who started playing guitar at 8 years old following in the footsteps of his guitarist Father and Grandpa. Logging thousands of miles on the road as “The Marcus King Band,” he established himself with unparalleled performance prowess and a dynamic live show. During 2020, he linked up with Dan Auerbach and cut his solo debut El Dorado, garnering a GRAMMY® Award nomination in the category of “Best Americana Album.” In between packing venues on his own, he performed alongside Chris Stapleton, Greta Van Fleet, and Nathanial Rateliff in addition to gracing the bills of Stagecoach and more with one seismic show after the next. He has been open about his mental health in his songs and has launched various mental health initiatives as well, most recently a guitar auction collaboration with MusiCares (he is scheduled to perform at the MusiCares person of the year event during the GRAMMY® awards week.)
In the end, Marcus is bruised and a little broken, but he’s still here, gracefully standing in his own truth, accepting the challenges he’s faced and coming out the other side as a man renewed. Mood Swings is a rebirth of both his sound and mind.
“Without this assembly of songs, I don’t think I’d be around,” he leaves off. “I hope this album can act as a safety blanket, a rescue, or a refuge for anybody struggling with mental health, substance abuse, or relationship issues. That’s what it is for me, man.”