Track By Track: Marcus King ‘El Dorado’
Today we kick off our Marcus Monday series on The Relix Channel. On March 23 and March 30 we’ll be offering free rebroadcasts of the Marcus King Band’s sets from various venues across the country. Performances will include sets from The Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion at The Historic Scoot Inn at SXSW 2019, The Capitol Theatre, Brooklyn Bowl Williamsburg, and Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas. The series kicks off today, Monday, March 23 at 1:00PM ET with The Marcus King Band’s jam-packed performance live from Austin during last year’s SXSW. You can watch it here.
Marcus King was in Phoenix, during an extended touring stretch, when he received the call.
“I was told that Dan Auerbach wanted to get together and do some writing,” King discloses of the 2017 call. “It blew my mind. I was already a fan of his music but we had never actually crossed paths before. At the time, we had been on the road forever but I said, ‘I’ll change my trip.’ I went straight to Nashville without taking any time off. It was an honor to be able to stop what I was doing and go there. Time off is important to keep your mind sane, but this was a pretty special opportunity. Dan and I struck up a very good friendship, as well as a musical relationship that grew organically into the making of this record.”
The result is El Dorado, the 23-year-old musician’s first solo effort, after recording three records with his Marcus King Band. He reflects, “At first, it wasn’t completely clear if Dan would even produce an album for me. Then, naturally, it just felt right for it to be the debut solo album. I’d like to preface that this is not a departure from my other band—it’s just good for us all to have separate projects as well as our combined efforts, which is the Marcus King Band. There’s plenty more Marcus King Band stuff to happen. I am young—I see this as my version of Laid Back, the Gregg Allman solo album that was released in ‘73. I believe he was around my age or a couple of years older.”
King acknowledges that El Dorado has a slightly different focus than the Marcus King Band recordings: “This album is collaborative but with other artists and writers and a producer that I respect immensely and trust with the sound. There wasn’t a concerted effort to put more focus on the vocals and the lyrics, but that just kind of happened. We decided not to shine as much of a light on the guitar, and allow the songs to speak for themselves.”
The initial writing sessions for the record coincided with a period of personal transition for King, leading the Greenville, S.C. native to pull up stakes and relocate to Nashville. “Soon after I flew out to work with Dan that very first time, I also cut a record with my band in Nashville [Carolina Confessions],” he recalls. “I fell in love with the town and, shortly after that, I moved to Nashville. Maybe a month later, we started the writing process for El Dorado.” His move is referenced in the album title—the term “El Dorado” evokes a city of gold. In King’s case, this reference is part of a trifecta that also involves an automobile as well as a guitar that had originally belonged to his grandfather.
“The guitar in question had been my father’s in the ‘70s, and it’s an Epiphone,” he notes. “One of my first cognitive memories is of this guitar— opening the case and crawling up to it. So it was always a special guitar to me. They gave it to someone else in the family and I don’t think they realized how special the guitar was to me when that happened. Then I moved to Nashville, which always seemed like this spot for opportunity and a place to really make something of yourself. It seemed like my city of gold. I also happened to buy a new car, a 1980 El Dorado, and the town seems like an El Dorado. That’s when this guitar made its way back to me. My parents brought it to me as a housewarming gift, and my girlfriend pointed out that it’s called an Epiphone El Dorado on the inside. So that’s how I landed on the title for the record.”
Young Man’s Dream
This was the first song that Dan and I wrote together, with the help of Pat McLaughlin. I hopped on a plane from Arizona, went to see Dan in Nashville and we started writing this song. Dan played a little riff in the key of D, and the first thing that came to mind was: “I left my home when I was 17.” It just all fell into place from there. This is the first song that brought to mind this theme that kept showing itself: a coming-of-age story.
We wrote this one with Ronnie Bowman. I love Ronnie—he’s very animated. He came in and he said, “Man, I had this idea. One for the money, one for the show.” I said, “Cool, we can work with that.” I think I came up with the riff and just started harping on it. When I think about guitar players who can really create memorable riffs, I think of Hendrix—who’s just a machine—and Jimmy Page, but also Dan Auerbach, who has got some really badass riffs. So, it felt audacious to ride that riff, though Dan seemed to dig it. What you hear on the record is what we played that night. We all left that night feeling like, “That’s the track,” and we didn’t have to go back and put any finishing touches on it. It’s just as raw as it could be.
Wildflowers & Wine
“Wildflowers & Wine” is another one we wrote with Ronnie. He’s got this way about him where he can really read the situation. He pulls ideas out of me and comes up with ideas where I’m like, “I can’t believe I didn’t think about that.” We were talking about this particular trip that I took to visit my girlfriend in Virginia. I picked some wildflowers on the way up there and I got a bottle of wine. It was the first time I drove that far to see someone that I cared so much about. It was just a special trip.
One Day She’s Here
This was written on a day when I was a little late to the writing session. When I showed up, Pat had this bouncy chord progression that was kind of a groove. A theme of the record was Cadillacs. We all drove Cadillacs, and we just like them. [Laughs.] Pat was the first one that said, “Pretty little girl in a Coupe de Ville.” I just really liked the way that sang. From there, we built on this idea of something being so close to you, but not really ever being quite in reach. I can relate to that feeling where something is so close, but it’s never in your grasp and things are slipping away from you.
This was originally an instrumental song that I had written a few years ago. An ex-girlfriend of mine’s grandmother was this incredible human being, and her name was Mariona. I wrote the piece after she passed away. It was interesting because I hadn’t spoken to her recently, but I felt impacted by the situation. So I wrote “Sweet Mariona,” but it never really worked with the band, which I didn’t understand. Usually, when something is powerful like that, it tends to work pretty naturally but, for whatever reason, it never worked.
I don’t like to force ideas, so after years of keeping it in my back pocket, I brought it into the writing room one day. Instead of playing the melody, I just sang the melody as “Sweet Mariona” and built it from there. Ronnie came up with the line “from California.” He had no connection to the situation; he kind of threw that out there and it was right on the nose because that’s where she lived. I said, “Wow, man. There’s some heavy shit at work here.”
I believe this was the first song I had the pleasure of writing with Paul Overstreet. His catalog floors me—every time I hear something else that he’s written, it’s just staggering to me.
The song is about a beautiful stranger— someone that you see from afar but you never really get to speak to. Again, it’s something that’s just out of reach, but you know how strongly you feel about it. It’s the kind of song that, just like in all my other writings, is meant to be left to how you perceive it. Even members of my band have asked me about the song and pointed out how they feel about it.
The production value of this song is something that really grabs me because I went out on the road after we cut it. When I came back, Dan had added the background harmonies and the choir sections, which just stunned me. This song really grabs me in the best of ways.
This was a song we wrote with Bobby Wood. It’s always such a different situation when you’re writing with a keyboard player and they’re writing on the keyboard itself. It takes you into a whole new territory and allows you to think about things differently. This song was meant to be really low in volume and evoke that feeling of vulnerability. It’s basically about two emotionally unstable people that are in a relationship and neither of them are really good at being in a relationship. They are in a place of emotional instability, saying, “I know your heart is going to be broken, but if anybody is going to break it, let it be me.”
Say You Will
This is just a rock-and-roll tune. This is another one we wrote with Paul, and it talks about leaving Greenville and coming to Nashville. It’s one of those tunes that makes you want to get up and clean your house. It’s supposed to be a motivational track—at least that’s how it is for me. When I hear it come on, I feel excited. The band on this track was firing on all cylinders, and I think you can feel that.
Turn It Up
This was another Paul Overstreet one, and it was a learning curve for me. We were going for an old-school talking-on-the-track kind of thing. Some of my favorite artists did that—Bobby Womack, Tony Joe White—but it’s not really my vibe. This was the one time where I felt a little nude in the studio. I told them it was as if I tried to do a show without a guitar around my neck; I’d feel extremely exposed. We worked really hard on this particular track, as far as how I wanted to go about doing it. Ultimately, it came out pretty close to what we had in mind and I was comfortable doing it.
Too Much Whiskey
The idea here is you’re feeling down and out because you just lost your significant other. It’s a nod to Willie Nelson, who wrote one of the greatest songs ever, “Whiskey River.” This is us saying, “I’m feeling really low down and I’ve been listening to this song way too much and it’s bumming me out.” We were blessed to have Paul Franklin come play on it, as well as Mickey Raphael, who’s been in Willie’s band playing harmonica for the last 40 years. We mention Willie in the song and it’s just meant to be a good drinking song, to be honest about it.
This was a song that I wanted to write about my girlfriend. It can be difficult to be with a writer because, when you hear their songs, you might remember particular situations and say, “Don’t just go writing about everything in our life.” In this song, the first line kind of sums it up: “I want to write something special for you— something to call your own.” It’s a love letter with some music behind it.
I started writing this one in a crummy little greenroom in Toronto. It wasn’t a particularly great day. It was gloomy outside —really gray, cold and windy. This song kind of just jumped into me and I had to get it out. I started laying it down and it felt good. It was one of the last writing sessions with Dan and Pat at the studio before we cut the record—I brought this one out and they jumped all over it. We put all of our minds together to finish the tune. It’s practically my interpretation of someone that has had enough of this world and knows if they lean into their dependencies, then they’ll at least feel good on their way out.
This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more subscribe below.