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Marcus King on Working With Rick Rubin to Probe New Sounds, Heal Psychological Wounds in Forthcoming ‘Mood Swings’ Album (EXCLUSIVE)

Singer-guitarist Marcus King had previously signed with Rick Rubin‘s label, American/Republic, in time for a previous release, but his just-announced “Mood Swings” album marks the first time he went into Rubin’s famed Shangri-La Studios in Malibu to actually make a record with the producer. It promises to probe new depths for King, both musically and psychologically, as Rubin encouraged him to dig deeper into his soulful side as a musician, as well as explore his personal demons as someone who is finding his way away from self-medicating.

The candid results will be heard when “Mood Swings” comes out April 5, preceded by a title track being released today. With King being not just a hot-shot guitarist but a preternaturally gifted vocalist, the album can overall best be described as: What if Al Green also played a mean axe and made a record about dealing with anxiety and depression?

The new project will be followed by extensive touring this year that will have him deadlining for months on end as well as joining Chris Stapleton on selected dates. (Scroll down for the full itinerary.) Says King of Stapleton, “I’ve been out on the road with him on and off since 2019 and we’ve always been good friends, he and his wife Morgane, they’re always so sweet to us and just so lovely, every time we have the opportunity to work together.”

Variety caught up with king on the phone as he was returning to normal daily life after a busy Grammy week that had him being touted by top Republic brass, covering Bon Jovi for a MusiCares audience that included Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen in the front rows, and covering Paul Simon at AmericanaFest’s Grammy eve salute.

Keeping that kind of company is indicative of a desire to move King beyond any limitations he might have faced having previously been considered a “bluesman,” “Southern rocker” or player in the jam-band scene — not that there’s anything wrong with those, but he’s bringing in pure soul, Americana and other styles besides. “Musically, I think it does resists some of those stereotypes that have been put on me before, but I just want people to hear it for what it is. Some of those categories can be a little bit restraining, because it kind of puts you in a smaller and smaller box. I’ve always just liked to play… or I’ve always just liked to say that I’m just an American musician  — and now I’m an American artist, and that’s American/Republic,” he adds, referencing Rubin’s longtime imprint. “So it’s perfect.”

 

The title for the new album is a bit of a pun, or at least play on words, as King is not shying away from exploring the depths of his own sometimes tortured psychology in this set of songs. (See also song titles like “Bipolar Love,” in the full track list below.) But, yes, the record swings… so, there you go.

King tells the story of hooking up with Rubin: “We connected for the first time in late 2019. Rick saw a video of my Grand Ole Opry debut and he kind of cold-called me, and we just hit it off right off the bat and spoke on the phone for an extended period of time. I was just in a hotel room somewhere, beside myself with disbelief. I was in the middle of looking for a new publishing deal and he kind of threw his hat in the ring, and then the same situation where, a few months later, I was in between labels. So it worked out and I really love all the work that Rick does, with the Republic team and UMG. And Rick and I started working together pretty immediately. It was during the Covid pandemic, so a lot of it was done remotely and out of Shangri-La and Malibu.” (At that time, King already had his second Dan Auerbach-produced record in the can, which became his first release on American/Republic.)

Working initially during the pandemic “was all sequestered. So as terrible as it was, it was a good opportunity to isolate oneself and just start writing. And Rick’s involvement there was kind of pushing me deeper and deeper into myself to where I felt like I was kind of mining within the caverns of my own soul, as it were. The course of the record kind of spans from the end of a relationship through the aftermath of the ending of that relationship. And it’s also, on the other hand, about my personal relationship with mental health and how it affected my behavior in past relationships, and what he helped me capture by pushing me further into myself than I’d ever been.”

King had dealt with subjects of depression and drugging on his previous album, but it was more while in the midst of that than yet emerging on the other side, with the fresher perspective he has on “Mood Swings.”

“I think it is more of an evolved approach, in that, on the last records that you mentioned, I was kind of self-medicating — or maybe self-medicating on top of the wrong medication. I wasn’t doing therapy consistently and I wasn’t treating my vessel, my temple, as well as I should have been, and I was suffering as a result of my own actions and as well as chemical imbalances that I was allowing to remain unchecked. So with a lot of the songs on previous records, I touched on some of my mental health issues, but I didn’t really have the self-awareness or the tools that I needed in order to heal myself — and writing was the only tool that I had.

“In this record, I had more of the mental clarity, because it’s after I’d met my now-wife. I met her the second show I went out after the pandemic. And my whole intention on that tour was to really just drink and drug myself to death.” And then he met her at that show, at a period when he was waking up in cold sweats, and had a reason to live: “I told her that night I was gonna marry her, and she thought I was crazy.” He missed her so much that he flew her out to Rubin’s Malibu studio for their third date, where she got to learn a lot about him by previewing the new material in person.

“I was being really open and really honest on this material about my own actions in my past relationships. So, I mean, it was really like one of the best dates ever for her to hear about how I could have been better in my past relationships and for me to be completely, transparent and completely open about how I would approach another relationship, whether it be with a partner in life or whether it be with my mental health or substances. So it was a really good way for her to learn everything about me, because I’d always been pretty closed off before that in relationships. And just the self-awareness and having her in my life was probably the two main things that helped us dig a little deeper.”

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