Local songwriter Steven King at Rumba, 'It's Over Now' video premiere

Joel Oliphint
Steven King

In late winter of last year, singer/guitarist Steven King embarked on a Southern tour with a five-piece backing band, and it began as the most fun, rewarding string of gigs King had played to date. People were coming out to the shows and responding to the songs. King and his band got to share the stage with other talented songwriters. It felt charmed.

Then in mid-March, while driving through Tennessee, a tire on the band's borrowed van came loose, bounced across the median and hit a car going 70 mph. Nobody was hurt, but King had to cancel the rest of the dates, which brought an abrupt, dispiriting end to the tour.

“It broke everybody's heart in the band. A lot of them had never been on tour before. I felt like I lost some of their trust, because it was very traumatic,” King said recently.

Back in Columbus, King, 24, regrouped and finished working on his sophomore album, which he'd been recording with engineer/producer Maddy Ciampa, who played cello in his band (Ciampa is also in WYD, a 2019Alive Band to Watch).

“It's really high production quality, and I really like the songs on it. I think it's my best work. Maddy really killed it,” he said. “It's huge. It sounds very big. There's a lot of people playing on every song. It's as big as I dreamt to go.”

By June the record was finished, and in July King set out on a solo tour out West while shopping the album around. But despite King's confidence in the songs, labels weren't biting. A year later, much to King's frustration, the record remains unreleased.

“It's tough to be motivated creatively and simultaneously be working the business end. It's kind of soul crushing,” he said.

Returning home from the solo tour, songs began spilling out of King — several in one day. Rather than sit on them and hatch a plan for studio recordings, King decided to quickly cut a mostly live, acoustic, five-track EP,EarthHurts, which he'll celebrate with a release show at Rumba Cafe on Saturday, May 25.

Unsurprisingly, given the van accident and the frustration over the unreleased album,Earth Hurts begins on a dark note with the Oberst-ian “It's Over Now,” a song that describes a world in a downward spiral: “All the bugs have left us/It's only mammals now/It seems we lost the species/It's over now,” he sings over a lightly strummed acoustic.

“I think I'm hoping for some sort of change or redemption,” King said. “If I kill something off, maybe something new will come.”

By the end of the EP, on “Holly,” King seems to have found at least a partial peace. The song closes with pretty, muffled church bells that used to ring outside King's window at his old apartment. It's the sound of quiet hope.

While King continues to hatch plans for the finished record, he's content to releaseEarth Hurts into the world and allow it to be whatever it's supposed to be. “This is the only time in my life I've done a music project where there's no stakes,” he said. “I have no expectations for what will happen with these songs, and that's a good feeling.”

9 p.m. Saturday, May 25

2507 Summit St., North Campus


ALSO PLAYING: Speaking Suns, Glenn Davis

Rumba Cafe