Photography by Michael Flores
The soulful and profound music of Michael McArthur is a familiar sound to the Lakeland community. When we last sat down with this local singer/songwriter, McArthur had just released his self-produced EP, Magnolia, and performed with the Imperial Symphony Orchestra at the Polk Theatre. It’s safe to say he has stayed busy since and we’re thrilled to be one of the first to let you in on what he’s been working on.
After releasing his last EP, Magnolia, Michael McArthur embarked on a season of touring. This primarily took the form of house concerts — playing solo-acoustic shows in fans’ homes. He reflects on this as a special time in his musical career, one that greatly impacted him and left a significant mark on his music. “It’s kind of like performance boot camp, though,” McArthur says. Even with recently playing to a full room of endearing fans at the Polk Theatre, he notes that nothing is as intimidating as playing for a small room of 20 or so. “It’s so intimate, and there’s nothing to hide behind. There’s not a loud sound system; there’s no spectacle,” he says.
After returning home in 2017, McArthur spent a lot of time writing. He would eventually fill a binder’s-worth of songs over the course of that year. Each song was birthed out of a deeply vulnerable place in McArthur’s life that preceded his year of travel. “The past 12 months of my life have probably been the hardest 12 months of my life,” McArthur says. This challenging time caused him to turn inward and write.
And it was from this place of deep honesty and reflection that the main inspiration for his newest album came to be.
“When you first start doing something as vulnerable as writing music, you’re really just cutting your chest open and saying, ‘Go ahead! Have a look inside,’” McArthur says. He has always written from a similar place as this, oftentimes inspired by his own circumstances or by someone he knows personally. However, he claims this album to be one of his most honest creations yet.
// IN MOTION
Recording and producing music isn’t a new feat for McArthur. He has toured and released self-produced EPs throughout his 20s. He released his debut EP, The Year of You and Me back in 2012 and shortly after released his sophomore EP, The Home Recordings. He has worked with Grammy-award-winning producer David Bianco, and has traveled and performed throughout the West Coast even prior to his 2016 release of Magnolia.
So McArthur had an idea of what he was getting himself into when he decided to reach out to L.A. producer Ryan Freeland. Freeland is a multi-Grammy-award-winning producer best known for his work with Ray LaMontagne, Bonnie Raitt, The Barr Brothers, and Aimee Mann (to name a few). McArthur simply wrote him, and Freeland responded. “Basically, I have this really modest studio at home where I record my demos. And I just sent him a bunch of my stuff,” McArthur says. Freeland was intrigued and eager to take on this project with McArthur.
They then talked on the phone a few times and began to plan the future of this album. Freeland worked on assembling what would be a solid band to accompany McArthur’s music. “He put together this great group of musicians who have played with everyone you can think of,” McArthur says. The group included Paul Bryan, bass player and Grammy-award-winning producer to artists like Norah Jones, Allen Toussaint, and Aimee Mann; Steven Nistor, drummer who has played with the Avett Brothers, Gnarls Barkley, Brandi Carlile, and Emmylou Harris; Lee Pardini, keys player from the band Dawes; Jebin Bruni, keys player who’s played with Bob Dylan, Fiona Apple, and Snow Patrol; Josh Davis, electric guitarist and Lakeland native; and Dan Kalisher, electric guitarist and pedal steel.
With an incredible group of musicians lined up for recording, McArthur packed his equipment and headed west. He booked a rental home in the hills of L.A. and spent the next two weeks recording at the famous United Recording Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. “You walk in and there are black-and-white photos of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, and all these people have recorded there. I was losing it a little bit,” McArthur says. Within four days, he and the band recorded 13 songs. “It was unbelievable; it was like a rollercoaster.”
The whole album was recorded live as a band, “which is sort of becoming a lost art,” in McArthur’s opinion. He emphasizes how the sound feels real, being able to hear audible breaths and minor imprecisions throughout. “It sounded incredible. And when it works, it works,” McArthur says. With all members of the band coming from varying backgrounds and degrees of experience, McArthur was impressed with the ease in which everyone worked together. “Everyone was super cool, and we all got along and made some great music, and I think you can feel that when you listen to [the music].”
Recording the album live as a band was important to McArthur. “There’s a culture of pop music being so perfect that it doesn’t feel real,” says McArthur. He wanted to capture a sound that coupled with the level of authenticity found in his lyrics. The sound of the album is like “soulful rock music played by an orchestra, but the orchestra is a band,” as described by one of McArthur’s bandmates. McArthur took this as the greatest compliment. “Because that’s what it feels like — the music breathes, and it gets louder and softer. It’s like a symphony,” he says.
DARK RIVER RECORDS //
This album will be the first release of McArthur’s record company, Dark River Records. McArthur started the record company last February with the initial purpose of releasing his own records, which is not uncommon in the music industry. “I had to get to the point where I figured out how to create a business that was sustainable and perpetual, so that every time I went to make a new record, I had the money and the resources to do it,” McArthur says.
Michael McArthur started his record company, Dark River Records, last February. His newest album, Ever Green, Ever Rain, will be the first release under this company, and McArthur hopes to release a new album under Dark River Records every two years.
He recounts the temptations he had when he first started pursuing music to chase after opportunities. However, there came a point when he realized that he had to take matters into his own hands and could no longer wait for everything to come to him. “I was waiting for that golden opportunity, that one open door that’s going to change everything for me,” he says. “The more you get into it, the more you realize that the only door worth walking through is in the house you build yourself.” So that’s why he started Dark River Records.
The plan for now is to release this newest album and then another one in about two years. Eventually, McArthur hopes to sign on other singer/songwriters. “I’m most affected by and drawn to music that is made by a person, music that feels handmade,” he says. He is interested in bringing on artists who aspire for a handmade sound, regardless of genre.
“When you first start doing something as vulnerable as writing music, you’re really just cutting your chest open and saying, ‘Go ahead! Have a look inside.’”
EVER GREEN, EVER RAIN //
After two weeks of recording in Hollywood, McArthur is back home and gearing up for the release of his newest album titled Ever Green, Ever Rain. As he reflects back on his time during his house concert tour, McArthur desires to have a release show that is reflective of this same intimacy. “I’ll probably play some solo-acoustic songs, and that’s because that time playing house shows was so special.”
After connecting with multi-Grammy-award-winning producer Ryan Freeland, McArthur spent two weeks recording 13 songs in L.A. at the famous United Recording Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
The album is scheduled to release Friday, January 25, 2019, with a release show also scheduled at the Polk Theatre the following night. Along with promoting the release of Ever Green, Ever Rain, McArthur hopes to make space for multiple local musicians to perform at the show, too. He is envisioning this album-release show as a celebration of the Lakeland music scene.
“I’m most affected by and drawn to music that is made by a person, music that feels handmade.”
Preorders of the album will begin on October 5, 2018, accompanied with the release of a single, too. Between October and January, McArthur plans to also release plenty of content to build anticipation for Ever Green, Ever Rain. So be on the lookout for more singles and music videos to be revealed leading up to the album’s official release.
McArthur has come a long way since his debut release in 2012. He has grown and learned from multiple professional and personal experiences over the past six-plus years, and he is thankful that Lakeland has been home through each season. As intimidating as it may be to share a vulnerable piece of work, McArthur is overall excited for fans to experience the authentic, handmade sounds of Ever Green, Ever Rain.