Interview: Paul McDonald
Friday, November 7, 2014 at 10:54 AM | Molly Boekenheide
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Ah, American Idol alums...such talent, but where do they go after the show?  We suppose some sign with indie labels, some try to break-out on their own and some take some time to reflect and refine their sound.  One alum in particular started flashing on the industry radar recently...2011’s, Paul McDonald. McDonald, the adorable, scruffy-faced, Alabama-native with the mega-watt smile, captured viewers hearts with his killer pipes and boyish charm. Fast-forward to 2014.  McDonald is back and better than ever; wiser certainly, and complete with a matured, evolved sound which will be released on his new album via a Kickstarter campaign (which you can donate to HERE). McDonald recently released the music video for the LP’s first single, "Bright Lights," which illuminates the whirlwind surrounding his past couple of years. The track sees McDonald dipping his toes back into the proverbial pool of pop music, but tweaking it, to incorporate his passion for folk into the mix. 

We had a chance to speak with the talented artist about Idol, going independent, and what comes next...

Thanks so much for speaking with us! How have you been?!

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me! I’ve been busy. Traveling, writing, playing shows, and in the studio. I’m really focusing on this new music and getting this album finished.

Your new single, "Bright Lights" just premiered on Billboard the other day - it's awesome! Where'd you pull inspiration from for the track?

Thanks so much for the kind words! I’m glad you like it!  I wrote "Bright Lights" back in March. The song is pretty simple. It’s about love and how you’ll always be there for someone, no matter what the circumstances. If things go wrong, or you ever lose your way, if time’s get hard - because they always will. I’ll be around, I’ll have your back, and I’ll cover you.

The video for "Bright Lights" was released this week - where'd you come up with the concept for it?

The idea really just fell into place with my good buddy and director Sean Hagwell. He was in town for a few days and we came up with a simple concept and some cool visuals that would get across the emotion of the song. We shot the bedroom scene in my friend Marc Scibillia’s studio/bedroom - the same room that we wrote "Bright Lights" and recorded the track.  That night we went into the CMT parking garage around 2 in the morning to snag the parking garage shots. It was a fun day.

You released a great EP and full-length with Nikki Reed a while back. What's the biggest difference recording as a duo vs. recording as a solo artist?

The music I made with Nikki was and still is very special to me. It captures a beautiful moment in time. Those songs were a huge part of who and what we were over the past 3 years.  Our approach was also very organic. We wrote the songs together at our house in LA and mostly tracked everything live in the studio with a band.  We used more country and blugrass instrumentation to make the soundscape.  The solo stuff Is a definite departure.  Before the project with Nikki, I played in a rock band called The Grand Magnolias that I loved as well. I like electric guitars and rocking out with a band, running around stage and having fun at shows. I was ready to do that again, but I didn’t want my solo thing to be the same thing as the Grand Magnolias or any of my previous bands, because it's not. I wanted big songs that held lyrical weight, and that could be broken down on an acoustic guitar and still have the same impact, but I also wanted to build the soundscape with a more modern production.

Back in 2011 you were a finalist on American Idol. How did being on the show shape your sound? What's the most valuable thing you learned during the competition?

To be honest, American Idol never really shaped any kind of “sound" for me. Idol was more of a fun break from the creative side of my brain and a heavy lesson in life and the music business. I learned so much from being on that show and met some phenomenal artists and people - some of my best friends. I also learned how to perform on television and in front of a large audience. I learned about major labels, big contracts, working with high profile people, attorneys, and seeing how a big business like 19 is really run. Shaping your own sound comes from years of development and trying new things on your own. Putting out records that fail, putting out records that people love, and exploring with your creativity and inner self- really finding exactly who you are as an artist. It doesn’t just happen overnight. I had been touring for almost six years full time and we were playing almost 200 shows a year before I auditioned for idol.

I also had put out multiple albums out and was really into songwriting, so I was already in the process of finding a sound, but I’m always growing as an artist and experimenting with sounds. I never want to stay stagnant - I want to continue to grow and explore - and push my own boundaries. I do know where I’m comfortable now and what feels good to me, and at this point in my career, I just want to create art that feels good and genuine to myself. I’d like to go to sleep at night feeling proud of the music I’ve written and know that I’m always moving forward on my personal musical journey. I feel like this new batch of songs has really done that for me.

 What's been the biggest challenge and the biggest reward of being an independent musician?

There’s both heavy rewards and challenges about the indie world. I’ve been doing it the better part of 10 years, and I know that you have to work hard. It’s a constant hustle, but it’s your own business. There’s no ones else telling you what kind of music you need to make or telling you to wake up at 6 in the morning - you make the rules. You control your own destiny. The more work you put in the better your chances. Sometimes it’s a really long road, but when you win...or IF you win big. 

What's next for you?

I’m focusing on this solo record- I’ve been writing for almost a year so I’m a bit stir crazy. As soon as it’s finished I’m planning on hitting the road to tour as much as possible. I’m exciting about 2015 and getting back to some of these places I haven’t played in a long time.

Anything you want to say to your fans?

Thanks to all the fans that continue to support my music and my dreams. You are one of the main reasons I keep pushing forward, writing songs, and doing what I do. None of this would be possible without you. So I hope that this new music finds you, inspires you, and makes you feel something special. 

Tags: Daily Pop, nikki reed, paul mcdonald, american idol, sean hagwell, cmt, marc scibillia, the grand magnolias