Marcus King Discusses Working with Rick Rubin on ‘Mood Swings’, the Curfew Foundation, and More: Exclusive

In April, Marcus King released his latest album, Mood Swings. The Rick Rubin-produced 11-track collection saw King stepping away from his usual sound. At the same time, it saw him digging deeply into his mind, battling demons, and coming out the other side a more healed individual. The end result is an album that is both deeply personal to King while being relatable to the right audience.

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Earlier this month, King sat down with American Songwriter to talk about Mood Swings, his partnership with Rick Rubin, his plans for the future, and more.

Marcus King and Rick Rubin’s Partnership Started with a Long Conversation

King and Rubin’s partnership started with a phone call that had little to nothing to do with making an album. Instead, they chatted about life, music, and mental health before deciding to work together.

“In 2019, I got a call from Rick. He cold-called me, actually. He’d seen my performance at the Grand Ole Opry and was really moved by it,” King recalled. “We spoke at length about mental health and about everything else under the sun. We never directly said, ‘Hey, let’s work together.’ It was like we didn’t really need to.,” he added. “We knew that’s what the natural progression of things would be. So, that’s how it ended up coming to be. I feel like Rick really helped me look within and heal from a lot of these things that I was repressing.”

Making Mood Swings Was a Healing Experience

During the conversation, American Songwriter pointed out that most of the songs on Mood Swings come from a dark place. We wanted to know if King felt better after getting it all out with the new album.

“I’m definitely doing better,” Marcus King said. “My time with Rick was like a master class in mindfulness and it changed my whole perspective on mental health and the things I was going through,” he added. “So, it was just as much a time for me to look within and grow mentally as it was a time to make this record.”

Then, he discussed the sound of Mood Swings and what went into the sonic shift. “Rick’s ability to hear what I was doing and build a band around me that he felt could really tap into what I was trying to say. I’d say he did that really well. He called in Chris Dave and Cory Henry. Those are two of my musical heroes from two different generations. They’re both just incredible and they have a lot of sage wisdom,” King explained. “They’re examples of people who make music not because they want to but because they have to do it. It’s a blessing to work with those musicians. It was such a powerful feeling.”

“Also,” King said, “Rick’s ability to push me to go deeper and deeper mentally and just really kind of confront a lot of demons that I had been ignoring or demons that I was still kind of entertaining.”

Soaking in Bob Dylan’s Energy

King and Rubin recorded much of Mood Swings at Shangri-La in Malibu, California. While there, King wrote several songs that didn’t make the album on Bob Dylan’s old tour bus.

“I’m not sure how many times it changed hands but Rick inevitably purchased it and has had it for a number of years,” he said of the studio space. “Dylan’s old bus, he parked it there in the ‘70s and never moved it. It’s kind of collected moss and dust and remained there. So, when Rick bought the property, it was still there,” King explained. “He converted it into a studio. There’s a lot of great energy on that bus. I was sleeping on it and writing every day and trying to get as close and in tune with myself as I could,” he added.

“Ironically, the majority of the stuff I wrote on that bus didn’t make the cut,” he revealed. “A lot of the writing was just stripping away metaphor. Sometimes, we hide ourselves behind so many layers of metaphor or we repress things to the point where we have to strip away layers of paint to get to the original issue. That’s what I did there.”

However, some of the songs were very close to making it onto the album. Instead, King says he may release them at a later date. “It’s funny, I had a dream about those songs last night. So I know it’s all meant to be. Those songs have more in the way of musical expression. I think they didn’t quite reach the point we wanted to make with this material. They didn’t quite fit into the sequencing. So, we’re going to save them and maybe put them out in a deluxe edition,” he said.

Marcus King Is Already Working on New Music

During the conversation, King revealed that he has been in the studio with his band. They’re planning to release new music before long.

“The band and I have actually just been in the studio together for the first time since 2018. We put down a great deal of material. I just love to write. And I love the feeling of getting something off my chest, off my mind, and onto the paper and into a microphone or out of an amplifier. It’s a blessing to be able to do that. I’m always working,” he revealed. “We’ve got a whole other project that we started putting our energy into. It’s going to be on the back burner for a little bit while we take these Mood Swings songs and bring them live to the people. That’s where they really want to be—live and in person. It’s an exciting time.”

Marcus King on Dealing with Anxiety and Stage Fright

In the past, Marcus King has been open about his mental health and his battle with anxiety. During the conversation, he revealed how he deals with anxiety before taking the stage.

“My least favorite part of the day is that five minutes before I walk out on stage. I just know that if I can get through that, I can get through just about anything,” he said. “The stage fright is my friend. It’s my writing partner. It’s the one that’s behind the scenes. And I’ve been working on trying to be as entirely present as possible. It’s an interesting time,” he added.

“I used to tap into an entirely different person almost. I had an alter ego that I called Leroy. Leroy would kind of accept the brunt of the responsibility as far as putting on a show. With this material, Leroy really can’t do that. I’ve got to go out there and be me 100 percent,” King explained. “I’m always being me,” he clarified. “That alternate persona helped me get through the anxiety. Now, I kind of want to use that anxiety as a tool to be as open and vulnerable with the audience. So, it’s an interesting time for me right now. I’m trying not to use any crutches,” King added.

The Curfew Foundation

Today (May 9), Marcus King announced he has launched the Curfew Foundation to help musicians struggling with mental health and addiction. The partnership was inspired by King’s friend Matt “Curfew” Reynolds. He was a singer, songwriter, tour manager, and pillar of the music community who died by suicide in 2017.

He also announced a partnership with Stand Together music which will focus on destigmatizing addiction prioritizing mental health, and empowering everyone to live their best lives.

“I began the process of forming my non-profit organization Curfew Foundation with my friend, writing partner, and fellow Greenville, South Carolina native, Charles Hedgepath in late 2018/early 2019. In the winter of 2020, the world shut down and put all plans on hold until further notice. I am so thrilled to finally have Curfew up and rolling again!” King said of the endeavor. “De-stigmatizing, providing outreach and community around mental health issues within the arts community: this idea came to me after the death of multiple peers and friends within the music community and a feeling that something needed to change. I’m very excited to be PART of the change and PART of the community and team working to get the message out and to help those in need,” he added.

Visit the Curfew Foundation’s website for more details.

Mood Swings is available to stream or purchase now.

Featured Image by Jason Davis/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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