Interview | FFS 5 with Michael McArthur

Photo: Michael Flores

Songwriting has always been a form of therapy for Michael McArthur. Over the past decade, the Florida native has filled a handful of EPs with his own mix of raw soul and lushly layered folk, working with producers like David Bianco (Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams) and Greg Wells (Adele, One Republic) along the way. He makes his full-length debut with 2019’s Ever Green, Ever Rain, an album that’s by turns warm, woozy, and wistful. The album shows the full range not only of McArthur’s voice — a gorgeous instrument that soars and swoons, flecked with vibrato and palpable emotion — but his songwriting, too, bouncing from the soft acoustics of “Elaine” to the percussive pulse of “Save Me From the Fire”.

Recorded with Grammy-winning producer Ryan Freeland and inspired by McArthur’s long period of isolation and self-repair, Ever Green, Ever Rain is both earthy and anthemic — the sound of a songwriter who’s unafraid to shine a light on his own faults.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep relationship with music. Music is the one thing that has always had my back. Like a mother’s hand, it’s a place to feel comfortable and safe and together. Music isn’t an escape for me, but a coming home. I got my start the day I realized so long as I had music, I’d never be alone. It’s been my soul’s desire to give to people that which other artists have given to me.

I still live in the city I grew up in. Lakeland, Florida. A lot of my family are here. It’s home. There was a time when I thought seriously about moving to Nashville, but decided to do it differently. When you have to hit the road, you have to hit the road no matter where you’re from, so you might as well live where you want. The coming home never gets old.

Year over year, I’ve managed to continue down a river that I don’t know where it leads. It used to make me uncomfortable, but I like it better now. I’m learning to trust the vessel. One of the most important moments along the way was playing my first public concert. In the beginning, I had terrible stage fright. Throwing up before shows, blurry vision, blood rushes, all of that. I still have some anxiety before performing, but it’s a friend. Lets me know I still care.

As an artist, how do you define success?

Success is finding the courage to be who you are and who you want to be at the same time, while remaining unwilling to sacrifice the truth in your art for spotlight. True art takes you somewhere you haven’t been and shows you around. Then it stays with you like a childhood memory. Almost as if you’ve known it all along. That’s the kind of art I aim to make.

What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?

My greatest struggle has changed over the years, but it always seems to be some form of knowing what the highest and best use of my time is aside from writing songs and performing. I’m an independent artist and now also run a record label. So, I stay pretty busy. A lot of which is figuring it out as I go. I imagine that’s what we’re all doing anyway.

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist/band? What do you hope to achieve?

From the start, my goal has been to build a comfortable and meaningful life writing songs and performing them for people. I lay a brick each day. I’d rather be treasured than popular. I’m willing to go as far as I’m able, but my hope is that one day life will take me to playing in theaters around the world.

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

I listen to her laugh. I pay attention to the sound of the wind finding its way through the live oak trees. And despite the fact that I have 100 things on my mind at any given time, I make the conscious effort to put them away so I may be clear and present for those I love. I think a lot. I ask questions. I watch movies. I go for walks. I sit on my front porch. Songs aren’t easy, but they’re simple if you pay attention.

Words by: Jonathan Frahm (@jfrahm_)

Photo: Michael Flores