NASHVILLE SINCE 2009
Artist and songwriter Paul McDonald has had high highs and low lows. On his upcoming new record Modern Hearts, he’s tackling those moments as a solo artist for the first time.
Paul grew up in Alabama. “I started a band in college, called Hightide Blues, and it changed to The Grand Magnolias,” he says. “We toured the southeast and the Bonnaroos, those kinds of festivals, and the college circuit for about six years, then moved to Nashville.” He and the band played local events like Live on the Green and gained some recognition on Lightning 100.
He was then cast on American Idol, where he landed in the Top 10 in their 2011 season. “I did that for about a year,” he recalls. “I met a girl in LA, married her, started a band with her as well.” He and wife Nikki Reed released an EP and an album with her, and a song of theirs appeared on the soundtrack for the second Twilight movie. “That record did some cool stuff, mostly TV, film stuff,” he recalls. “We broke up, band broke up, and I went back to Nashville, right back to Five Points where I was before.”
“I started writing for a solo record,” he continues. Though he’s released numerous albums through his time with The Grand Magnolias and with Nikki, this marks his first release as a solo artist. “When you’re in bands, the sound kind of morphs itself because your guitar player’s gonna come up with something and it’s based around that, but when it’s all in your court, you can go, let me put a banjo on that or let me put a synthesizer. That shifts to different sides of production, it’s like all of a sudden you’re a pop artist if you do it this way or you’re a country artist if you toss it down this path. I’ve just been trying to write better songs over the years.”
One way Paul’s been forming his sound is by pushing his own limits. “When I was in LA, I was writing with a bunch of beach pop producers and kind of going down that lane, cool this sounds like an epic thing, but then doing it live I kind of felt like ah, this doesn’t quite feel like me,” he says. “Kind of pushing and pulling my boundaries and stepping outside my comfort zone to almost kind of reel it back to oh yeah, this is what made me feel the most comfy in the first place and it’s the reason why I made music in the first place.”
Along with the much-anticipated Modern Hearts, due later this year, Paul recently started a project with his girlfriend Emily Kinney, called The Sweetheart Deal.
With any artistic career, the challenges can seem daunting, but Paul’s music has connected in some pretty cool ways. “Everyday, like all the time,” he laughs about the doubts, “it’s like, uh, should I sell real estate or something, but it’s always, the highs are real high and the lows are real low. There’s been more amazing moments ore the years, doing arena tours, late night shows… I sang with Muhammad Ali at a charity benefit show, that was pretty cool. I sang with Stevie Wonder. But then there’s also times where I’ll play clubs to the sound guy. It’s the beauty of the ups and downs – also life in general – it’s all waves.”
Follow him @thepaulmcdonald