A personal thaw gives renewed life to 'Steven King on Ice'

Andy Downing
Steven King

Growing up, Steven King was enamored with Disney on Ice, which, to the youngster, appeared to be the biggest creative spectacle possible. So as King put the finishing touches on his years-in-progress new album, which he viewed as the most grandiose, over-the-top release to this point in his music career, there was little debate over the title he would give it: Steven King on Ice (Broom Closet Records).

“After putting out the last acoustic EP, I was like, ‘I think it’s time for On Ice,’” said King, who will headline a release show at Rumba Cafe on Friday, Dec. 6.

Sonically and thematically, the new full-length is completely removed from the Earth Hurts EP, released earlier this year, which King recorded acoustic and mostly live. On the EP, the musician exorcised the various personal demons that arose following a 2018 van accident on tour that caused him to briefly question his career path. “All the bugs have left us/It’s only mammals now/It seems we lost the species/It’s over now,” he sings on the typically caustic “It’s Over Now.”

On Ice, in contrast, largely refrains from personal revelations, with King inhabiting a range of characters who are trying to find a better way forward amid a sometimes messy existence. The album’s bookend tracks, “Water” and “Wine,” hint at a sense of transformation that takes place within these vignettes.

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King said the songs are partly the result of trying to write a bit more broadly in the hopes that the end product would feel more universally relatable to listeners. “The acoustic EP was very personal and dark, and it wasn’t very likable, which I actually liked about it,” said King, who recorded On Ice alongside producer Maddy Ciampa of wyd. “I think I tried to learn to not be so niche. … I’m happy to not always be making it about myself, like, ‘Feel bad for this person you don’t know, or maybe you do know.’”

For a time following the March 2018 accident, which occurred when a tire on the band’s van came lose while driving through Tennessee (nobody was injured, though a resultant lawsuit dragged on for more than 18 months), King questioned whether he wanted to continue making music. The album he’d spent months laboring over hadn’t generated any interest from labels, and King found that in his free moments he was picking up his guitar less frequently, taking up painting to fill the creative gap. (King’s impressionistic painting of a figure skater decorates the cover of his new full-length.)

“There were a lot of times in the last year or two where I was ready to drop this full-length record, and when I say ‘drop’ I mean just not put it out,” said King. “In efforts to take care of myself, I moved away from music a little bit, and that took me away from wanting to write or play, ever.”

Releasing the EP, however, made King want to revisit and finish the full-length, which, in turn, made him want to play shows, which has led to him writing new songs for the first time in months. At the same time, King said he’s doing so with a slightly healthier mindset than he did in his initial go-round.

“I’m still in it for this same reason — I think it’s what I’m supposed to be doing — but my attitude is different,” he said. “I used to be really cynical, and I always had this chip like, ‘I can’t believe nothing huge is happening.’ … The first time we spoke, I had just moved [to Columbus], and it was tough. Now, I really like it here and I feel good about it. There’s zero sense of competition, where at first I was intimidated. I guess I'm more at home here … and things seem to be working out better now that I feel that way.”

Rumba Cafe

8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6

2507 Summit St., North Campus


Steven King Band album release