One of the last business decisions John Prine made with his son Jody Whelan at their respected independent record Label was to invest in the talent of Ohio-native, Arlo McKinley. The artist spent the last 40 years of his life piecing together the musical influence ranging from the church house gospel music to punk and metal collections in his older brother’s bedroom.
Today, McKinley shares a music video for the title track from his upcoming record, Die Midwestern, due August 14 via Oh Boy Records.
“It’s a song about choosing to take chances and getting out of your comfort zone,” McKinley offered of his second single from the upcoming album. “it’s also a love-hate love song to the place that made me everything I am.”
“Die Midwestern” is a check-in point. A back-and-forth banter, a ticking clock, or a window that just might close if he doesn’t take a leap. The video reveals scenes of the Cincinnati with an unflattering lens. As the landscape changes, it becomes evident that he no longer identifies with this place that raised him, and rooted him musically.
“I’ve been thinkin’ that I should go / ‘Cause if I don’t leave now / Then I’m never gonna leave Ohio/ Oh, Lord / And that’s a chance that I just can’t take / Now that I’m getting older,” McKinley sings.
The song is a thematic fit into the ten-track collection. All penned by McKinley, some date back fifteen years, offering depth to the storyteller who stepped into the spotlight in his forties. The hardship and heartbreak of rustbelt town bleed through, track-by-track. He continues to grapple with his hometown, “I love it because it’s everything that I am but I hate it because I’ve seen it take my loved ones’ lives. I’ve seen it make hopeful people hopeless.”
Featured songs like, “Bag of Pills” and “Suicidal Saturday Night” cover addiction with arresting honesty. His goal with the collection is to rebuild hope, using his story to inspire others. Lead single, “Walking Shoes,” moves away from the pain, recognizing the necessity of leaving to make a better life.
Die Midwestern follows his 2014 self-titled debut record with his band, The Lonesome Sound. The years between were spent on stage with the likes of John Moreland, Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, and Tyler Childers. These circuits drew attention from Whelan, who introduced his work to Prine. The legendary singer-songwriter signed McKinley in March of this year, just weeks before his untimely passing.
“John was reserved in his praise for songwriters. I played him a couple of Arlo’s songs and he heard ‘Bag Of Pills’ and said, ‘that’s a good song’ which for him, was very high praise,” Whelan shared in a statement. “He loved Arlo’s voice, this big guy with a sweet, soulful, gospel voice. He loved the dichotomy of the hard life lived, presented through such beautiful songs and John was very excited about the promise of the album’s release.”
Die Midwestern was recorded at Memphis’ legendary Sam Phillips Recording Service and was produced by GRAMMY award-winning Matt Ross-Spang along with an all-star Memphis band of Ken Coomer, David Smith, Will Sexton, Rick Steff, Jessie Munson, and Reba Russell.
“I don’t know why the world works the way it does but I’m beyond grateful to be in this situation,” the artist offered of his late start. “I’m a little wiser in my ways and a 20-something me would’ve found a way to destroy the one dream that has stuck with me my entire life. Being a working musician.”
Watch Arlo McKinley’s music video for the title track below and pre-save Die Midwestern before the August 14 release.