Danny Clinch Marcus King
Marcus King has always known pain far too well.
The rocker with the undeniable soul watched his mom walk out of his life when he was just a kid. Then, his childhood crush died in a car accident. Soon after, he lost his brother-in-law, his uncle, and his beloved grandfather, eventually causing him to fall deep into alcohol and substance abuse.
And in 2020, it all became too much.
"My ex and I were staying downtown Nashville at the Bobby Hotel, and we got in a screaming match," remembers King, 26, in a recent interview with PEOPLE. "I went out walking and I came across what looked like a homeless person, but when they turned and looked at me, it looked as if they had a hood on, but no face and no features. It was just this void of light and it really freaked me out. I accepted it in my heart as a foreboding sign to get my s— together."
Certainly, on his new album Young Blood, one can hear the pain that still sits within King's soul, especially on haunting songs such as "Dark Cloud," which the South Carolina native wrote in the days following his eerie encounter in Music City.
Danny Clinch Marcus King
"At the time, I felt it was more of a Grim Reaper-type of situation," says King of the scary incident that inspired the song he wrote alongside Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and Greg Cartwright. "It was a sign that it was coming soon if you keep living the way you are."
But Young Blood also includes real signs of a man digging his way out of a horrendous hole, eager to find the light that he once could feel in his heart, especially sitting with his beloved grandfather.
"He turned me on to Merle Haggard and George Jones, Waylon Jennings and The Marshall Tucker Band," remembers King, who currently resides in Nashville. "But we also listened to a lot of blues legends, like B.B. King and Muddy Waters."
As he got older though, King says he turned into "just another high school outcast" obsessed with music from rockers such as ZZ Top, Black Sabbath, and the cult '70s rock band Free, whose acclaimed guitarist Paul Kossoff ultimately lost his life due to substance abuse.
"I wore tight t-shirts and Birkenstocks, and I was kind of a stoner in high school," King claims. "All I wanted was some new music to listen to and something to play it on. I'm thankful that I had music as an outlet because Lord knows what I would've been getting into if I hadn't had it."
Indeed, King was playing music at the time with a band that kept him busy five days a week while he was still a student in high school.
Danny Clinch Marcus King
"I would go just as far away from where my parents lived in order to be back home in time to go to school the next morning," King says with a laugh. "I was out making money and playing gigs and building a reputation as an artist from the time I was 14 and 15 years old." He pauses. "It gets pretty surreal out there. As a 16-year-old, people will try to take advantage of you. You grow up really quick."
In 2020, King released his solo debut album El Dorado, a collection of deep songs that began to lift the cover on the budding talent. But then, like so many times in his life, the dark cloud began forming yet again.
"I got my heart broken really bad," King says of his split with his girlfriend of four years around the same time the covid lockdowns of 2020 began. "I was really lost. I've always had a real hard time with abandonment issues and every other issue that a codependent male may struggle with."
But at the very same time, King was set to dive headfirst into the creation of a new album.
"I guess it was serendipitous as far as creatively because it allowed me to really struggle," says King, who snagged a Grammy nomination for El Dorado back in 2020. "I fell really deep into drug and alcohol abuse. I had been dancing with it on and off, and then it really turned into a tango around that time."
But once again, King found a way to fight his demons and continue work on Young Blood, which by all indications just might change the trajectory of his entire career. But he didn't do it alone.
"Still water runs deep," reflects King, who cites Auerbach as a personal savior of sorts. "Dan is a really consistent friend to have because he keeps it real 100% of the time. He was really beneficial, not only as a producer to help me get this music out, but as a buddy. I was really thankful to have him and the rest of the guys to keep me from jumping entirely off that cliff into the deep end."
And so too was his girlfriend Briley Hussey, whom he recently made his fiancée. (The two plan to marry next February.)
"She's just so grounded," King says of Hussey. "She's just really warm and really funny and really silly. She really whipped me into shape and I'm so thankful for that."
Heck, she might even get him to write a happy song.
He quips, "I might need to learn how to do that."