Interview: Paul McDonald opens up about new music and more

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Before Paul McDonald throws his ATL ‘Slow Rising’ EP Release Party on February 2nd at Eddie’s Attic, he’s spending his time on the Rock Boat, playing to sun-soaked crowds seeking a vacation shrouded in music. I was excited to catch a minute of his jam-packed touring schedule for an email-interview about his beginnings in music, his time on American Idol, and his January 19th CD release. – Interviewer/author: Jena Stephens

JS: What got you started in music?

PM: I’ve always loved music. I remember as a kid my parents always having music on around the house – songwriters like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash so it was a huge part of my youth.

My dad bought me a guitar for Christmas when I was 15 and I started learning chords and writing songs. When I got to college a friend heard me playing at party and asked me if I wanted to play at her bar. She said she’d pay me and give me free food and beer. I invited out all my friends and we packed it out and I had the most fun I had ever had.

JS: I know you got started with Hightide Blues and later, The Grand Magnolias. How does the band atmosphere compare to performing solo? Which is better?  

PM: They’re both 2 different things. I love aspects of both. I love collaborating with artists, and sharing the same passion, goals, and teamwork that comes along with being in a band – but sometimes it can be hard to bring people in that share the same long-term vision and work ethic. I’ve learned that nobody is going to work harder than yourself on something you believe in.

I’ve only been in bands the past 10 years- so flying solo has been an interesting transition. I’ve had to work harder on this music than anything I’ve ever done in the past. I’ve written almost 300 songs over the past 2 years and have experimented with all kinds of musical directions and sounds to really figure out who I am – but with all of that I’ve learned more about myself as an individual and an artist than ever before. It’s taken me a bit longer to figure out the path for this solo music, but I’m really happy and excited about the direction it’s all heading.

JS: What made you want to break out into a solo act? 

PM: I’ve never really wanted to be a solo act- but all of my bands eventually broke up, so I kind of had to. When I moved out west to do the TV deal- it kind of turned me into a solo artist overnight without me planning on it so I’ve had to learn how to do things on my own.  Although, after the show I turned down solo project stuff to start a duo project and ran with that for a few years. When that one split up, I figured it might be time to do the solo thing for real.

JS: I know you did well on season 10 of American Idol; what was that experience like? Do you think it has helped in going forward?

PM: American Idol was a wild ride and it was obviously a big part of my life. Considering it’s been almost 5 years since I’ve been on that show and it still gets brought up in interviews- it must’ve been a pretty big deal. It’s a huge show with an extremely large audience so to play a small part of something so much bigger than myself was a surreal experience.  I learned a lot from being on that show.  It was full of amazing life experiences and lessons learned.

Moving forward, you never know if it’s helped or if it’s hurt- I don’t like to think of like that though. It was just another one of the many things I’ve done musically in the past 10 years. Just another crazy thing on the resume. At the moment, I’m only focused on the music I’m writing right now. All of the crazy experiences over the years have brought me to this exact moment and I feel like the music I’m making is some of the best art I’ve ever made. I’m really excited to share some of these new songs with the world.

JS: Bright Lights is a really great song! It’s super catchy, I find it’s constantly stuck in my head. Where do you get the inspiration for writing and is there a process?

PM: Thanks! I’m glad you like that one. My songs come from all over the place and I’m constantly writing. Sometimes they come from picking up a guitar or sitting down behind a piano or a melody just floats through your head. I only know how to write what I know, so all my songs come from a very personal place. It’s really just what I’m feeling at the moment. Anytime I start thinking about something or have some sort of creative spark, I try to pick up a guitar or record a voice memo so I don’t lose the idea.

JS: What about this new EP? What are you most excited about with the new release?

PM: I’m just excited to get it out there. I wrote these songs about a year and a half ago and was sitting on it dealing with labels and management so I’m just happy that’s out and about! I’ve written about 150 songs since then, so I’m just happy to get those out into the world so I can start sharing some of the others!

JS: We’re excited to have you for the ATL ‘Slow Rising’ EP Release Party performance at Eddie’s Attic! After the Feb. 2nd show, what are your touring plans moving forward?

PM: I love Eddie’s. I never got a chance to play there until I started doing the solo thing. It’s one of my favorite listening rooms of all time and has so much history. Every time I play there I think about how many great artists have performed on that stage.

As for my touring plans moving forward- I don’t have too many shows lined up as of now. The main focus is to get the right team together for this debut record. I’ve written the songs and I’m ready to get back into the studio.

JS: I know you’re currently on Rock Boat and you’ve done several music festivals. What do you think about the festival atmosphere and how does it compare to the intimate experience at Eddie’s?

PM: I LOVE MUSIC FESTIVALS! Right now I’m crammed into my cabin on this boat in the middle of the ocean doing an interview while Needtobreathe is playing 2 floors above me, blasting out the jams. The thing about festivals I love the most is meeting other artists. I’ve met some great folks on this one.  Super talented and inspiring people. I love the camaraderie that musicians have and it takes a certain kind of craziness to do what we do. I feel like we’re all in it together so crossing paths on the road is always fun and inspiring. 

JS: Tell us the craziest thing that’s happened to you on tour? 

PM: Oh wow…I couldn’t even start to narrow it down to one thing. There’s always some kind of interesting story. I’ve been on the road for almost 10 years so there’s always some kind of craziness happening. Today the band rocked some waterslides in the Cayman Islands and now I’m about to head to a silent disco and a dance off with a bunch of musicians and music fans… that might be an interesting story. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. Haha.

JS: Tell us what’s next for Paul McDonald?

PM: There’s a bunch of stuff always happening. After Atlanta, I’m off to San Francisco to perform at an event for the Super Bowl with Little Kids Rock. I’ll be sitting in with a bunch of super talented kids playing Metallica and Led Zeppelin songs prior to the game. I can’t wait for this one!

After that, I’m off to LA to play some Grammy parties and some showcases for the folks on the west coast. I’ll be out there for about a month writing songs, working with other artists, and taking meetings with producers, labels, and all that jazz. The goal is to lock down a producer that I love over the next month to solidify a cohesive sound for this debut record. It’s the most important batch of songs I’ve ever written, so I’m working really hard to find the right sound and vibe.

Also, keep a look out for new music videos and songs coming out in the next few weeks. February 5th I’ll be releasing the new music video for “Slow Rising” so keep a look out for that, as well!

Paul’s upbeat, fun-loving attitude sends positive vibes to audiences lucky enough to catch his performances. His songs, especially those released on the latest EP, Slow Rising, are written with a personal quality that resonates with his listeners. Be sure to catch Paul Mcdonald as he returns to the Eddie’s stage on February 2nd! Check out more of his music at www.thepaulmcdonald.com.

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About Author

Jena is the PR and Box Office Manager for Atlanta music venue, Eddie's Attic. She has written for Sorority Lyfe, PostGradProblems, Paste Magazine, OpenEars Music, & The Interdisciplinary Humanities Scholarly Journal.

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