If John Prine digs your songwriting, why shouldn’t everyone else? Near the end of the Americana hero’s life, his ears perked towards Arlo McKinley, who he’d ultimately signed to his label, Oh Boy Records. The resulting album, Die Midwestern, dropped just two weeks ago, and it wears McKinley’s Ohio roots on its sleeve. Honest-to-goodness country-folk music at its best, this contemporary Americana album instantly launches McKinley into the same stratosphere as the likes of Lori McKenna, Jason Isbell, and the late, great Justin Townes Earle.
For Folk’s Sake is privileged to have Arlo McKinley as a part of its ongoing ‘FFS 5’ interview series, in which each artist is asked a series of five questions. His answers inform his listeners more of the man behind the music, from his hobbies outside of songwriting to his definition of success. At the end of the day, McKinley is an artist who is doggedly pursuant of his craft, if only because it’s what he adores.
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?
Arlo McKinley. 40 years old from Cincinnati, Ohio. I started singing in a Baptist church when I was around 8 or 9 so I would have to say that’s what sent me on the path I’m on because, since then, I’ve never wanted to do anything else. A defining moment for me would be when I was asked to join the Oh Boy Records Roster.
As an artist, how do you define success?
I define success by knowing that I’m connecting with other human beings that I know nothing about. Knowing that my music has impacted someone in a positive way is success to me.
What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?
Luckily I have a wonderful team behind me so I don’t have to get too caught up on the business side of things. For me it’s the temptations on the road. Everyone wants an Arlo story it seems, so staying focused on the task at hand “playing music” is what I try my best to do. I don’t need anymore wild nights stories. I’ve got enough of those to write 5 books.
What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist? What do you hope to achieve?
A lot of people go into music for different reasons. I can only speak for myself. My one and only goal with playing music has never changed. It’s to be able to do the one thing I’ve always loved to do, and be able to live comfortably by doing so.
Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?
I spend my down time listening to records and reading books. Both of those activities inspire me often. Whether it’s reading a line in a book that I relate to and deciding to write about it through my experiences or hearing a melody that makes me want to do the same thing.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm