WR830: Doug McArthur

Episode 830 September 23, 2023 00:33:21
WR830: Doug McArthur
Witchpolice Radio
WR830: Doug McArthur

Sep 23 2023 | 00:33:21

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Hosted By

Sam Thompson

Show Notes

I sat down with singer-songwriter Doug McArthur to talk about his new solo work, years after initially hitting the scene as frontman of local alt-rock act Broken Halo (and later with Soapbox).

Here's a conversation about Doug’s collaboration with Rusty Robot, navigating the strange new world of digital singles and TikTok hits, needing to express himself creatively post-pandemic, and much more!

Note: I must have had more coffee than usual the day we recorded this, because my already-rapid speaking seems even faster on this one. Sorry. 

This episode brought to you by our pals at Devine Shirt Company!

Huge thanks to everyone who supports the podcast on Patreon! You can help out for as little as a couple bucks a month if you like the show and want to throw some change in the guitar case!

As always, if you like the podcast, please tell a friend or 20! Rate and review on your podcast player of choice! Word of mouth is still the main way Witchpolice Radio reaches new ears. Thanks for listening. 

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Welcome to Witchpolice Radio. I'm here with someone who is new to the podcast and relatively new to me, too. One of the things that's kind of cool about doing this show for as long as I have done is that I get a lot of people reaching out and saying, hey, check out my music. You have any interest in talking to me? Here's my album, here's my single, here's what I've been working on. And I've discovered a lot of really cool projects that way over the years. And some bands that have ended up being among my favorite local bands are just people who reached out to me. So I always encourage that. It's always nice to see that happen. And so the guest on this episode is someone who did just that. You reached out and sent me some links to your music and asked if I needed a guest on the podcast. And so here we are. DOUG MCARTHUR: Here we are. WR: Exactly. We're doing it. The real thing is happening. So I guess the best way to start this off is if you want to introduce yourself and give a bit of background about what it is you do as an artist. DM: Sure. My name is Doug McArthur. I'm a singer songwriter, born and raised in Winnipeg. I've been playing in bands since 2002. Ish. My first band was called Broken Halo, and we were like a hard rock band, kind of straight down the middle, sort of mainstream, commercial, hard rock type stuff. We had some singles on Power 97... They used to do those 'Class Of'... WR: I remember those. DM: We were in the class of 2010, which that was a very interesting time. It was a lot of hype that fizzled out very quickly, but it was super cool to just to be recognized like that, for sure. And we had some airplay locally, which was great. Got some notoriety that, know, we toured western Canada, we put out a couple records, played some bigger festivals and stuff like that. And then that band dissolved, maybe 2011, 2012 ish, and then didn't do much for a while, was being a parent and having a career. My other life is I work as a digital marketer for a bunch of different companies. WR: Sure. DM: And so I was doing that and being a dad and stuff so I didn't get back really into music seriously for a couple more years after Broken Halo kind of dissolved. But after that I had a whole bunch of songs that didn't really fit the style of Broken Halo's music. And so I got together with a couple of guys who I knew from when I was in elementary school who also happened to be musicians. I'd never played with them before but we just gelled really well because we'd known each other for a long time. WR: Well, that helps, right? If you have that preexisting connection. DM: Yeah, absolutely. And they had also played in bands together off doing other stuff and so I started a project with them called Soapbox and we actually brought in the former bass player from Broken Halo, came on to Soapbox to play lead guitar so switch instruments and he added some interesting song ideas as well. We put out a record, self produced record in 2015 and unfortunately that band we were all sort of busy with families and stuff like that. It was very difficult for us to play shows and to sort of push promotion of our music and stuff. So I feel like that's the one where we put out an album and I don't know if anyone's ever really heard it. WR: Well, it's interesting you say that because when you messaged me and you started talking a bit about sort of what your musical history was in the city I'd heard of Broken Halo, but the other one yeah, it was a new name to me so that kind of makes sense. DM: And I think it's probably just because we had a hard time booking shows and being as active as you need to be to sort of gain any kind of notoriety and stuff like that. And then the reason that that band kind of fizzled out was because everyone in the band kept having kids. We were all in our mid to late 30s and so it was just that phase of life where everyone was off doing family stuff. But after that I still was continuing to write music on my own and had a handful of song ideas that I'd been working on for a long time. Just sticking them in a drawer, that kind of thing. I would go to the occasional open mic and play solo or anything like that, but there was a long period of time where I just wasn't really doing music with any kind of intentionality I was still interested in writing and performing but I wasn't doing it actively like I am now. And sort of what changed for me was that there came a point where we went through the pandemic where it wasn't even possible to do that and that was during a time where I wasn't really active anyways. But coming out of that I realized that there's a huge chunk of who I am as a person and what makes me happy that I was just completely ignoring and that's making music and performing and just sharing music with people and just being part of that community. And so I just realized, like, why am I denying myself this big part of who I am and just decided that I should just approach it with a lot more intentionality. And I knew that I had material that I thought was good enough to do something with. And while I was kind of going through that process of like, what am I going to do with this? Am I just going to try and spool up a solo career, put my old band back together? I have no idea. I had a lot of different ways that I could have gone. But it just so happened that when I was thinking about that more intentionally, that I saw that Rusty Robot was posting about how he does production. He works with lots of different bands, musicians and stuff. So one day, kind of just out of nowhere, like, Rusty and I didn't really know each other that well beforehand, but I just sent him a message on Instagram with like a video of me playing my song Hermit Phase. And I said, hey, man, do you think this is anything? And it took him a couple days, I think, but he did get back to me. He's like, yeah, that's a good tune, man. I'm like, cool, well, do you want to help me record like a studio version of that song? He's like, oh, that's why you sent it to me? Because at first there was no context for it. I was just sending him this video of me playing this song. He's like, oh, that's cool. But no, after that I was like, no, I want to hire you to produce this song with me. So we did that and we wound up actually doing another one after that called Draw the Line. And working with Rusty was just one of the best experiences that I've had making music. WR: Well, I mean, I think locally, if you want to work with someone who has been through it all as far as being a musician and experiencing all sides of the thing as a performer, as a producer, all of those different roles, I mean, he's one of the guys who has had that experience in spades, right? DM: Definitely. Absolutely. WR: It's hard to go wrong with having him on your team there. DM: Yeah, and I think unbeknownst to me, when I started working with him, he and I have a lot in common just in terms of how our brains work, our different experience going through music and stuff like that, and just some personal stuff, too. We just sort of connected on we're roughly the same age. We kind of have all the same pop culture references burned into our brain, stuff like that. So we became fast friends while we were working on this music together and it's great. That's awesome. And continuing that into doing a second song was just a natural thing. That's kind of where I'm at now, is that I'm still just a solo performer. I'm still writing music just on my own and I don't know, right now I actually am not sure what I'm going to do next. And that's because Rusty is on hiatus. He has very consciously taken a break and stepped back from doing music, like basically any music project so that he can, number one, take a breath. And I don't blame him, he's a very busy guy. Number two, though, is to focus on the climate crisis. And so I'm sure if you follow him on Instagram lately you've been seeing him post a lot about definitely his work with the Climate Action Team and I've actually spoken with them and I'm volunteering with them a little bit as well. But yeah. So in terms of what my plans are for the next music that I'm going to produce, I really have a big plan for that. Right now. WR: You're kind of jumping ahead of the question I was going to ask, but that's fine because yeah, in connection to that, I guess with this solo stuff, I mean, you have these two songs that are done now. Obviously, you've had all these songs you've been working on just like you said, kind of hobby like at first over the years, and now you're sort of taking it more seriously as an ongoing project. But how do these songs differ whether it's thematically, sonically, anything like that from the songs you'd written before with these other bands you were in? Because obviously, sound wise, it is different. You're playing a different style. It's you rather than a unit, a band as a unit. But is there a different approach? You're older, you've gone through more things, you have a family, you been through the pandemic. Has all of this affected sort of the way your songs are put together and the way that they sort of spring out of you? DM: Yeah, I think it has. I think as with probably anybody who does creative work, your perspective is going to change over time and it's going to change what your output is. But for me personally, the big shift in my experience making music, if you compare stuff that I did with Broken Halo or with Soapbox, there's actually kind of an evolution or just a gradual sort of move towards me doing more and more of my own creative music. When I started, I was a vocalist. My main role in Broken Halo was vocals. WR Okay. DM: I didn't even learn to play guitar until I was already in that band. So supporting myself as a songwriter was something that I built up skill over time while I was already in a band, a super active band. WR: Sure. DM: And so my experience writing songs for Broken Hilo was that my guitarist, Jared, would come with basically an entire song, like a fully cooked piece of music and say, all right, let's jam this. You can figure out something to do over top of this. And more or less, that was our whole experience. There's only one Broken Halo song that we recorded that was one that I wrote, okay? And it's called Control and actually did a different version of that song with Soapbox later on. But, yeah, by and large, everything that that band did musically, I mean, in terms of playing instruments, came from the other band members. And I was just there sort of reacting to that, as it were. And then fast forward to my time with Soapbox. The vast majority of those songs were ones that I wrote, that I brought to the band. Other members did also bring song ideas, and those came into the fold as well. But most of the stuff that Soapbox did was songs that I wrote. So now, having no other people to sort of bounce off creatively, obviously, aside from Rusty, who added an insane amount of just like, he took my kernel of ideas and made the best version of them possible, which is his whole thing. WR: Yeah. DM: So that's my experience. Now, I feel a lot more confident in my ability to put a song together now than I did then, just in terms of just putting together here's chord progressions, here's how I feel like the melody should go over top of that. Here's the structure I want in terms of how I'm trying to get across an idea. And I also feel like I've slowed down quite a bit, probably just because I'm old. I'm in my 40s now. WR: Yeah, me too. It happens. I get it. DM: Synapses aren't firing quite as fast as they used to, but also just because I feel that I'm in no rush to produce an insane volume of creative output of music. So I've got a lot of little ideas and I just sort of I toy around with them every once in a while. My phone is totally full of voice memos of 30-second clips of things that I might find interesting one day. And who knows if I'll come back to it or not? But a lot of songs that I've been putting together lately are more or less an amalgam of those little snippets. It just so happens sometimes that they fit together really well. WR: I guess you're coming in at, like, almost a good time to be doing this, in the sense that the way music is consumed by a lot of people these days is very different than it would have been even when you were playing in bands a decade and change ago. I mean, the idea of releasing singles and one song at a time, doing it online, that's pretty much accepted by most people right now. And it's a very viable way to get your music out there. Whereas before you would have had to been working towards whether it's a full length or an EP or something, now you can actually just do this and throw the music out there and sort of see where it sticks. DM: Yeah. I do think that we're in a very different landscape in music right now in so many different ways. It's very weird now. It's super weird now that I've got these songs released and I work in marketing, so you'd think that I would kind of have this on lock. But the music world as far as marketing is concerned is so different from everything else. So, so much of people's attention is fragmented now. And because of that, the stuff that you put out there has to grab people in such a short amount of time and everything sort of seems to revolve around here's. The 15 seconds of your song that someone is going to hear on TikTok or Instagram before they swipe away. Right. And if it's not immediately going to grab their attention, they're just going to move on right away. And it's a little depressing. But I also think that there's a great deal of opportunity there to just play around with ideas, put a lot of stuff out there and you have a little bit more freedom. Like you were saying, nobody is really attached to the idea of an album being the one true container for music anymore. WR: Well, some of us still are. I still primarily listen only to physical music in that way, but we're very few and far between. Right? DM: I was speaking in broad strokes. I personally love that idea. I have very vivid memories of, for example, me and my best friend when I was in grade ten going to Walmart on release day in 1997 for OK computer. WR: Sure. DM: And just spending the entire night with that record on repeat, just driving around St Vital doing nothing, just absorbing it and it was such a cool experience and I don't know if people really do that anymore. WR: I don't think they do, which, like, as you said, it makes it an interesting time to be doing this because the way that your music is getting exposed to people is going to be totally different than it would have been someone in grade ten. Now, if they hear one of your songs the way they're going to hear it, like the platform they're going to hear it on and the amount of time they're going to devote to it and any of those things, it's all completely different. DM: Yeah, well, I have a son and he's just starting grade eight, and I took him into the studio a couple of times when we were working on this music because I just thought, this is such a cool experience. And I'm sure not a lot of kids get to sort of go into a professional studio and get to see what that's all about. And I've also taken him to times when I'm performing and stuff like that and I never know how he's going to react. He could sit there and be on his phone the whole time. Or for example, I was playing a gig on Sunday at the Cena Boya Downs and he came with me and he sat and he watched the whole show and it was super cool experience for him. He gave me a big hug after. It was a real like I was getting all misty eyed. It was a really proud moment. So the thing about it, though, is that after that I was talking to him and I'm like, hey, maybe you can tell your budies at school about my new songs and maybe they'll like them and he just goes he couldn't even justify that with the response. He was just like, that's the uncoolest thing he could possibly imagine. WR: But if they organically found it on TikTok, somehow that would be different, right? I mean, if it's something that popped up in a funny video for 15 seconds and they decided to check out the song, then it's cool, then you're in. Good. DM: Yeah. And I think I have seen a couple of songs put out there where it almost seems like the hook of the song is specifically designed for people to use in their TikTok or Instagram memes. Like there's a Michael Buble song that just came out that a lot of people have been using in that context because I can't even remember what the hook of the song is. But there's just something about it where it's almost like, yeah, it was written specifically so that people would just kind of take it and take their own meaning of it, stuff like that. WR: Yeah, it's not meant to be absorbed as a piece of music. The way that your songs are being written by, or most people's songs that we would have grown up listening to were being written for because it's okay now to hear 15 seconds of a song, and that is the entire experience you have with that song. It's very weird. DM: To be fair, I'm totally cool with that, too. Anyone who has a positive experience listening to my music, of course, for any length of time, thumbs up aces for that, that's great. This is, I think, a thing that I don't know, I'm just right now, spending a lot more time out in the music community, going back in, meeting people and sort of just understanding what the landscape is like and stuff like that. So I still don't really have the zeitgeist in the back of my brain. But for me personally, my experience or my intent going into putting out this new music and stuff was never like, I want to put out some songs that are going to be massive hits so that I can skyrocket myself into superstardom. That's not a thing that I ever considered. My goal was always, look, I have some songs, I think they're good enough that they're worth sharing. And so I felt extremely fortunate that I found someone like Rusty who could work with, who could help me make the best version of those songs, put them out there. I'm very proud of the work that we did together. And now my whole goal is not make as much money off music as possible, not amass a massive audience or following online because people like them so much. That's great if they do, but that's not what I'm trying to do. My main thing is I'm trying to make connections with real human beings. If they like my stuff, excellent. And just trying to share it with as many people who I hope will like it as possible, cool. And that's it for me. I also feel a great deal of privilege to be in that situation because I do know a lot of people who are career musicians or who've made a living in the industry many different ways. And I see what a struggle it is to do that full time. You have to do 10 million different things to make ends meet as a musician now, you have to be your own marketing team, your own videographer, your own hype person, your own social media person. There's so many different hats you have to wear now. And on top of not to mention that you don't make money off recorded music anymore like you used to. WR: The way you used to, no. So most people, I think, hearing this podcast, unless they remember your previous bands, you're going to be a new voice and face and name to them. If they did know you're with bands, that's great. They'll probably be like, oh, cool, this is what he's up to now. Great. But I mean, for everyone else, what's the best way to find out more information about what you're doing? As far as it's a podcast, someone could hear it the day comes out or they could hear it a year from now all maybe by then you got more music out, maybe you got some shows happening. What's the best way to sort of keep tabs on what you're up to online? DM: You can follow me on all the social medias. I'm at Doug MacArthur. So it's D-O-U-G-M-C-A-R-T-H-U-R on Instagram and all of the other things. I got a website, I try and keep that up to date with links to everything that I'm up to. So that's dougmcarthur.net/music. Those probably the two best ways to figure out what I'm up to. WR: Right on. And then at the time we're recording this, you have the two songs out. Are those on all the platforms? I know that they are online in various spots but where would you send someone to go to go check them out? What would be your sort of preference as far as where someone should hear them? DM: To be honest, I don't really care where you hear it. That being said, you can find them on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Bandcamp.There's probably seven other ones. WR: There's a million. DM: You know it's nice that there are this is maybe a little bit inside baseball, but it's nice that there now are platforms that make it super easy for musicians and artists to just upload their music. Put in all the info, push a button and then it just shows up on every platform. It's pretty cool. WR: So you get it out there to whatever people are using, they can still find it.

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