Written by Danielle Boise
Paul McDonald has been around the music scene for a number of years. From his days with The Grand Magnolias (formerly known as Hightide Blues) to a stint on American Idol, circa 2010. The Nashville-based singer, has travel the world and now is stepping out on his own to release his debut solo album, Modern Hearts, which dropped on June 1st and is everything you could possible want in an album. I had the immense pleasure to sit down and chat with Paul when he stopped by Eddie’s Attic to talk to him about creating Modern Hearts, what it meant to do it on his own and what he hopes people will take away from it. Take a peak. Paul will be returning to Atlanta’s Park Tavern on June 24, you don’t want to miss the chance to see him perform live!
What was it like to sit down and write you new album, Modern Hearts?
Paul: Oh my gosh, it took me a long time to do. I was going through a very transitional period in my life at that point in time. I was writing a whole lot of songs. It was almost like therapy for me to write. I’d write a song almost every day, sometimes two a day. I was constantly pumping music out. When I finally finished the album, it felt like I had finished running a marathon. I had never made a solo album by myself before. I had done a bunch of albums with my bands in the past. So it was really scary, kind of stepping out and going like no one is going to help me on this kind of thing? I have to make this thing (album) all on my own. I had to create sonically where I wanted to land. I ended up working with a whole lot of people to figure out what I wanted, what sounded the best and what felt the most sincere and genuine to me.
How was it different this time crafting your latest creation verses when you where working with your former band (The Grand Magnolias)?
Paul: Well, there is no one to blame anything on this time around. It was a lot of experimenting to try to find the right sonic landscape, the right people for the band and the right producer – all those kind of things. I didn’t really have anyone to bounce ideas off of.
With all my old bands, The Grand Magnolias stuff, a lot of the sounds kinda revolved around my guitar player and the guys in the band. Even with my last band, with Nikki (Reed), it was two voices. It was two voices with two people coming together like that. It wasn’t as much pressure. It was I’m going to make sure it doesn’t suck, you make sure it doesn’t suck. Now there no one is telling you hey, what you’re doing isn’t good.
You have to feel what’s right. It took me a long time to get there. I am the most proud of this record, out of any of the ones I’ve made so far and that’s how it should be.
How did you come up with the title, Modern Hearts?
Paul: Modern Hearts is a song that I wrote in Los Angeles. Like I mentioned, I wrote too many songs for the album. It’s one I wrote with a friend in Los Angeles. I was going through this breakup at the time. The whole concept of it was this was the first breakup I had experienced in modern day technology where Facebook and all that kind of stuff (social media) and the guy I was writing the song with was going through a similar situation at the same time.
You can google to find and see everyone’s life, but a lot of that stuff you don’t know if it’s real or if it’s fake. There is a lot of noise out there.
So I wrote that song and kind of forget about it. The guy I was working with wanted to know if he should pitch it to another artist or not and I said sure. I figured I’m writing a bunch of stuff and I’m not sure if that one is for me. A few months later he wrote me back and said Rihanna put it on hold for her next record. I was like wait, what song are you talking about? I went back and revisited that song, and was like woo. I was so in my head that day we wrote it.
I kept coming back to that song. She (Rihanna) didn’t end up cutting the song, which would have been nice, but it did allow me to do my own thing. Which is really cool because it means a lot to me.
It felt like that was the one song that is a little bit different, it’s more of a ballad, than the rest of them. It felt like the strongest song out of all the songs and tied it all together in a bow
The whole album is a beautiful, emotional masterpiece. It definitely takes the listener on a journey of heartbreak and reflect. Each song delves deeper into the human experience. As a performer, how is it perform these songs over and over again without it breaking you down?
Paul: That’s a tough question. A lot of these songs, when I first wrote them, which they are about a year and half to two years old. We finished tracking the record eighteen months ago. So the album has been done for a while.
When I was first writing them, I was playing them live and a lot of people. Tonight I’m going with more of the happy stuff for this set, like I probably won’t play Tell Me Something I Don’t Already Know. That one just kind of sinks the whole crowd in. Until the album goes out to the whole world (I won’t play the song), because you have to relive it an even if you’re not completely reliving it you’re still remembering what it felt like at the time you wrote it. If you are performing it sincerely then you are going back in and revisiting and channeling that original emotion. It’s pretty heavy.
A lot of times. I used to perform a bunch when I was first writing, it was my therapy. I would get done and people would come up to me and ask me “are you okay Paul?” because I was putting too much energy into the songs.
I feel like the songs help me out a lot, through that chapter of life and after. Hopefully they help other folks going through similar situations. We are all going through this thing called life, we are all just trying to figure it out. If it helped me, I hope it can help someone else too.
For you, what is your heart’s favorite track on Modern Hearts in this moment an what was your favorite track when you were writing the album?
Paul: It’s always like the newest at the time. As I’ve been sprinkling them out, it gives them a new life, a new way to look at them. My favorite currently is a song called Always On My Mind. It is track number thirteen on the album. It ain’t radio single, it’s just a really cool tune.
That song actually came late into the game and it was stemmed from someone else’s idea. My producer dreamt that song in a dream that The Rolling Stones where singing it. He brought it to another buddy of ours, named Rayland Baxter, he’s a brilliant singer-songwriter and they started piecing it together and nothing really came of it. He was like, hey I got this thing and he pulled it up and I was like I would love to finish writing that. That is one of my favorite ones, every time I hear it I’m so happy they brought that idea to me because it’s something I would not have thought of. That’s the fun thing about co-writing on this record, outside ideas are sometimes a whole lot better than your own.
Call On Me was my favorite when we tracked that one. It was upbeat song after I had gotten through the emotional chapter.
Personally, for me, I’m all about Wildcard.
Paul: A lot of people really like Wildcard, it’s great man. That was the only song that we had someone else come in and mix. Maybe that’s what made the difference.
What do you hope people will take away from listening to Modern Hearts?
Paul: I hope it inspires them in some form or fashion. I hope that they can gravitate and understand that I wrote these song from a sincere place. Hopefully it inspires them and helps them through whatever chapter they are in – makes them dance, makes them smile, makes them connect to feel something. My music is my connection. You know?