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Arlo McKinley's new album reflects on loss, addiction and self-forgiveness

(SOUNDBITE OF ARLO MCKINLEY'S "I DON'T MIND")

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In songs like "I Don't Mind," Arlo McKinley reflects on loss, addiction, self-forgiveness and navigating this post-pandemic world. His new album is called "This Mess We're In."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T MIND")

ARLO MCKINLEY: (Singing) Goodbye never is the easy part.

MARTIN: Here's NPR's Chad Campbell.

CHAD CAMPBELL, BYLINE: He sounds like a country singer, but Arlo McKinley doesn't necessarily look like one.

MCKINLEY: Just a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy, long hair and a beard and tattoos. I think look a little like Bob Seger.

CAMPBELL: In fact, he looks more like the kid who years ago played in punk and metal bands around his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. But McKinley says music of all kinds helped shape him.

MCKINLEY: A lot of old country I listen to, but I also keep up with hip-hop and metal, punk music still.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEALING DARK FROM THE NIGHT SKY")

MCKINLEY: (Singing) I sleep to dream in this old house, only wake for the night. The city's queen, and she holds me till the first sight of daylight.

CAMPBELL: A few years ago, he caught the ear of John Prine. McKinley was the last artist the legend signed to his record label.

MCKINLEY: To get noticed and get on his radar, probably the biggest success for me. And everything else is kind of just extra.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEALING DARK FROM THE NIGHT SKY")

MCKINLEY: (Singing) And that's why we'll run from the shine of the sun. Stealing dark from the night sky.

CAMPBELL: John Prine died two years ago after being hospitalized for COVID. Around that same time, McKinley also lost his mother. Then several close friends died of drug overdoses. McKinley himself has struggled with addiction, says it's an ongoing struggle. But he says he's working hard to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUSHINTHERUG")

MCKINLEY: (Singing) Scared to death I'll always be what I've always been.

CAMPBELL: McKinley says he still makes mistakes, but his eyes have definitely been opened.

MCKINLEY: You know, after so many funerals or friends go to jail, you know, start looking at yourself and hoping that each day I'm a little better than I was the day before.

CAMPBELL: And really, that's all any of us can hope for.

Chad Campbell, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUSHINTHERUG")

MCKINLEY: (Singing) 'Cause I've heard this one before... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chad Campbell