When Michael McArthur takes the stage to perform in his hometown for the first time in nearly three years on September 24 at the Polk Theatre, the audience will recognize the familiar ethereal ambiance, soulful melodies and deeply personal lyrics, but the artist who takes the stage is not afraid to admit he is on a journey where he is continually learning and evolving.
The artist who often describes his music as Americana and folk amongst other genres, drove 11 hours north to Nashville, a familiar ride for him and his friend Josh Davis who accompanied him. They were meeting a producer in Franklin, Tenn. – just south of Nashville – to record what would become “Milky Stars,” McArthur’s second full-length album which officially releases on September 16.
“The drive itself is a reset in a way,” McArthur says. “An opportunity to settle my mind before beginning.”
When they arrived near the Music City, they recorded in a studio fashioned from a 125 year old house. Its master bedroom and kitchen were soundproof for recording sessions.
It became home for McArthur. It was vastly different from recording his debut album at United Recording Studios in Los Angeles, where many famous voices still echo their classics in spirit.
He would enter through the backdoor, make some tea or coffee and relax his mind before recording. After they recorded the material for the day, a group of friends would grab a drink in town and meet new faces.
The producer, Jacquire King, and McArthur were in touch for nearly a year in preparation for the recording. It all began when McArthur sent four acoustic demos to King.
King, a hero of McArthur’s, is a Grammy-award winning producer who has worked with a wide variety of artists including globally revered phenoms Norah Jones, Kings of Leon, Shania Twain and Modest Mouse. King’s method of engagement with McArthur was to become friends with the artist and hone in on his distinctive style.
“‘It’s my job to make your best album,’” McArthur recalls King saying. “Not to put my stamp on it.’”
With King’s unique approach, by the time they finally met in person in Franklin, McArthur felt like he already knew him.
It took McArthur three weeks in Tennessee to finish “Milky Stars” at its original 10 song length. When King sent some of the tracks to Transoceanic Records the company asked for more, and McArthur and his band were called back to Franklin for another week to record two more songs.
When “Milky Stars” was finished, McArthur headed west to promote the album, conduct interviews with radio hosts and perform gigs.
The early success of the album and several singles is quantifiable.
The lead single “Lady Luck” debuted in the top 40 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Airplay chart, “Winding River” was included on Apple Music’s “Best New Songs” list, and “Run Around” has been played in 68 different countries.
Most of the songs were written during the pandemic, one of the toughest times in McArthur’s life, but he doesn’t label it a “pandemic album.”
“I don’t want to label it that. I feel like it takes away from the significance of it,” McArthur said.
McArthur’s grandmother passed away shortly before the pandemic, and his family wasn’t able to celebrate her life due to the lockdown and restrictions. The song “Oh, Sedona” is McArthur’s way of memorializing her.
The album title “Milky Stars” is in the very last verse of the song “Winding River,” which is McArthur’s favorite song in the album.
On the cover, McArthur is staring at the starlit sky in the form of himself on a journey. The artwork is meant to portray a universe within every person.
“There’s a whole universe inside ourselves too, and I think we are all battling with coming to terms with who we are as people and how we fit in this world. Who we’re supposed to be and how do we contribute? How do we bring something positive? How do we make a difference? How are we not just taking up space? And that can become overwhelming.”
Tickets to McArthur’s official album release show at the Polk Theatre on Sept. 24 are on sale for $20 and include a copy of his latest CD. For more information or to purchase tickets visit polktheatre.org/michael-mcarthur-album-release.