For the last two years, Steven King has been fully immersed in creating what he described as “a very dense full-band LP.” So, on the first weekend in January, as a bit of respite from this madness, King joined with friend and bandmate Pat Schlafer to record eight stripped-down, acoustic-leaning tracks for a spontaneous new album, Terse Terrors, out this week.
“I’ve kind of been exhausting myself with [the full-band album], but I’ve continued to write and play, so I just have so many songs, because I’m working on them all the time,” said King, who will celebrate the release of Terse Terrors with . “So, I talked to Pat, who plays guitar in my band, and asked if we could just pick a date and record some stuff. … Then between Saturday and Sunday we tracked the whole thing.”
This off-the-cuff, low-key vibe permeates the recording, King unearthing a series of lived-in vignettes, a handful of which find narrators wrestling with the concept of mortality. “Good Stuff Ends” opens with a man “coughing blood in a cheap napkin,” while “Revolving Door” takes a matter-of-fact approach to death. “This is cyclical,” King sings, his quivering voice offering shades of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst. “I’ll be gone one day.”
“I think that comes from growing and aging. … I’ve gone through periods of being uncomfortable about getting older, but I’m more comfortable with it now,” Kind said. “I’m okay with where I’m at, where, for a very long time, I was like, ‘Oh, if I don’t do this by this age, I’m done.’ And now I’m kind of realizing that my body of work, my life of work, is just gonna exist. There’s not really giving up. I stuck my name on this and kind of signed a contract to do it for life. So, this will be my life, and in death this will be what I have to show for it.”
These kinds of big-picture revelations have come gradually to King, who now feels like early on in his career he was trying to play the type of character that others expected of him as a young working musician.
“From the time I was a kid, I was always like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be this music guy.’ And I transformed into all of the stuff that I made up, which got to be confusing as I became an adult, because I felt like a cartoon character,” King said. “I glamorized not having much money, hanging out in clubs and bars, getting into trouble. And now I just want to be okay, to do the right thing. … I’ve been through the ups and downs, and because of that I think I’ve started to find the authenticity behind it all.”
The slowdown forced by the pandemic certainly helped, giving King more time to sit and consider his place, and what he wanted from a career in music. But even more so, stay-at-home afforded the musician the time to dedicate to songwriting, of which he took full advantage. In addition to this melancholic batch of new tunes, King is also polishing off the aforementioned full-band LP – a concept record, of sorts, filled with the most anthemic, pop-oriented tunes that he’s crafted to this point in his career.
“It’s almost like a rock opera,” said King, who had been struggling with writer’s block in the months leading to the pandemic. “And then I have 50-odd other songs that I’ve written since then. … Artistically, professionally, there was no competition during the pandemic, so I was just kind of free writing. And in that, I feel like I’m getting things more than I used to.
"When I used to listen to my songs, I’d be like, ‘What is this guy saying with this?’ And there are still questions out there, but the more I’m writing the more I’m like, ‘Oh, this has a deeper meaning.’ … I do feel like there’s more now to say.”