David Robert King remembers the moment he knew he'd lost his passion for music. It was November 2010, and the Idaho-born songwriter's album Midnight in Gloryland (self-released, 2011) hadn't come out yet.
"I was in San Francisco and playing a couple shows," King said. "Thanksgiving Day, I was like, 'I just want to go home.' I think ... I needed to rest, and I didn't know that's what my body was telling me. So I gave up instead. I just kind of threw in the towel."
Following the release of Midnight in Gloryland, King wouldn't write or play music for almost four years. He moved to Boston with his wife Marita and enrolled in graduate school, but when they moved to Decatur, Georgia, so Marita could attend Emory University, King "got the itch a little bit again."
Around that time, King met one of his musical idols: Nashville-based folk-country artist Mary Gauthier. His music impressed Gauthier so much, she asked him to be her lead guitarist.
"I saw she was doing a songwriting workshop in Nashville, where she was," King remembered. "And I asked my wife, 'Hey, can I spend a little money and [go] on up there?' I went up there and connected with Mary and reached back to the muse and started writing seriously again—and I haven't stopped."
Due out Friday, Feb. 16, King's new album Idaho (self-released, 2018) offers ample proof he has reconnected with his muse. The album features understated production by award-winning producer Darryl Neudorf and guest vocals from The Blind Boys of Alabama, and its spare melodies, intimate lyrics and other-worldly vocals make it King's most powerful work to date.
Mary Gauthier called Idaho "a stunning soundscape of whispered confessions and poignant observations." On Jan. 22, Glide Magazine premiered the video for "Are You Thinking About Leaving?" from Idaho, praising King's "ability to conjure beautifully haunting Gothic folk tunes."
King will bring Idaho to Idaho, with an album release show at the Sapphire Room on Saturday, Feb. 17. Earlier in the day, King will host a songwriting workshop at the Riverside Hotel. (Attendees get a ticket to the show that evening).
Idaho might take some fans of Midnight in Gloryland and King's 2009 self-released EP Take Me Home by surprise. Throughout the new album, King's voice is so low and raspy, he almost sounds like a different person.
"Over those seven years, my voice changed," he said. "I lost some of my range, and I picked up a little grit on the road."
King's new deeper voice—which has helped earn him comparisons to Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen—is well-suited to his new material, which explores themes of death, loss and guilt. King's writing has gotten deeper, too. Songs like the title track, "Goodnight Darlin'," and "Lower Lights" have a directness and a level of specificity that surpass his earlier work.
"I think some of that is having the luxury and the honor to be next to Mary Gauthier while she's singing her songs night after night," he said. "I think that comes from her influence a lot. ... Mary Gauthier says, 'Get me an address and a smell [and] a street name.' These sorts of things—I think there's really something to that."
King said Idaho is already resonating with listeners.
"Obviously, there are a lot of Idaho details in the record, but I'm out here in Georgia and people here latch onto details just like they do [in Idaho]. There's something about detail that people can really sink their teeth into, and I find that's what I like in songs."
The raw immediacy of Idaho hearkens back to what drew King to music in the first place. He grew up in Idaho Falls and as a boy, he was a huge fan of Nirvana. While King was playing in his rock band, Lystra's Silence, his brother introduced him to the music of artists like the Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family, Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt.
"All these old groups and artists, [they] connected with me immediately," King said. "It was so visceral. It felt [like] life and death. It felt dangerous. Like this person was doing something dangerous, and we get to sort of benefit from it."
Fans of King will get to benefit from more of his music soon. He already has ideas for a follow-up album.
"I feel like there's still some stuff to work through from the Idaho days," King said. "It might show up. Who knows? But I'm always writing and always trying to push it to ever truer and ever more personal [places]. So we'll see."