There was a time when Lakelanders sought out musicians from across the country, and throughout the world, to entertain us. Recently, however, talented music artists have been flocking to, and springing up from, our city. With the release of his album Magnolia, Michael McArthur shows us that trend isn’t going away anytime soon.
photography by Philip Pietri, Michael Flores & Robert Madrid
In just a matter of years, Michael McArthur has established himself as a nationally recognized singer and songwriter. Yet, in the midst of recording and touring the nation, he continues to build his music career here, rooted in his hometown. In 2012, McArthur released his debut EP, The Year of You and Me, followed by his self-produced sophomore EP, The Home Recordings. In 2013 he won the Florida GRAMMY Showcase, was one of 10 finalists selected from 10,000 for the 2014 contest Guitar Center Singer/Songwriter contest, and by 2015 was opening for The Beach Boys.
Although it may have seemed a rapid launch into a career as a recording artist, McArthur’s music has been brewing within the city for quite some time.
After the release of his EP and traveling the West Coast, one performance at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles connected him with the Grammy-award winning producer David Bianco who has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Stevie Nicks. Bianco and McArthur soon teamed up with Conrad Johnson from Inertia Sound Studio to create Magnolia. In April of 2015, McArthur debuted his album with a show at Polk Theatre, with more than 500 fans to welcome the release.
Recorded with a live band both in Los Angeles and Lakeland, Magnolia was completely written and co-produced by McArthur. Since its release, the album continues to receive national attention.
Following his previous acoustic-driven, self-produced EP, Magnolia does what every recording artist’s debut album should: far exceed any preconceived expectation. Magnolia envelops McArthur’s wide range of musicality through an emotive mix of bluesy melodies and heartrending lyrics with songs like “Desire” and “Run Around.” The album seamlessly translates McArthur’s vocal range and agility, that of a classic pop singer, though written with a present folk narrative. In his song “Lightning Night,” you may even hear the roots of a quiet Southern city echo through.
“What inspires me changes often,” McArthur says. “One day it’s Radiohead, the next Kendrick Lamar, and the next Sturgill Simpson . . . This list is ongoing, and I hope it never quits.” In Magnolia, you can hear the timeless sounds of Stevie Nicks, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Bill Withers, and Ray Charles, all of whom McArthur credits as his inspiration. “I listen to music all the time and from most genres, new and old,” he says. Such diverse influences surely play into his ability to write melodies that stay with you for days.
Following the launch of Magnolia, McArthur has toured the nation with his music and continues to do so throughout this season, while still finding time to make music for his hometown. In September of this year, McArthur was the first recording artist to play with the Imperial Symphony Orchestra Singer Songwriter Session at the Polk Theatre, performing music from his album accompanied by the orchestra and his band.
Currently, McArthur is writing and working on his next album which is set to release next year. “There’s nothing like finishing a song, especially a good one,” he says. “It’s like discovering a part of you for the first time. And when you’re writing about personal things, happy or sad, people can relate and that’s what music is about. My hope is that by writing about my life, people find a little peace and solace.”
If it’s anything like Magnolia, you can anticipate hearing a little peace, a little solace, and plenty of soul in the sounds of his next album.