I stopped watching American Idol after Season 8 or 9, so I narrowly missed Paul McDonald, a top-10 finisher in the 10th season of the still-running show. That is until I had an opportunity to listen to his new single, “Bright Lights” from his debut solo album, For You, and interview him for Gadfly Online.
The track starts off with McDonald’s voice singing two words, “cover you,” repeatedly, reminiscent of James Blunt’s “you’re beautiful” in the track of the same name, with echoes following and an upbeat cadence underlying the vocals.
McDonald has also been compared to Passenger, but the comparisons have never affected McDonald from staying true to himself as an artist.
“It’s always humbling to get compared to popular or successful artists and I’m a fan of both of James & Mike’s work,” McDonald said. “Both are extremely talented songwriters and have a very unique and distinct style. I’ve received a lot of comparisons over the years, but I never let that affect me positively or negatively or push me in a new creative direction. I just try to stay true to myself as an artist. My goal has always been to create art and music that feels unique and original to me.”
The upbeat tempo is what distinguishes McDonald’s track to Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” which features a more subdued and raw musical track. It is also one of the few pop-sounding songs on McDonald’s album.
“‘Bright Lights’ is one of the more ‘pop’ songs on the record,” McDonald said. “I liked the idea of trying to incorporate big hooks and cool production over a lyrical depth that could be played stripped down on an acoustic guitar as a folk song. The album is like a roller coaster ride of emotions and sounds and ‘Bright Lights’ sits somewhere around the middle.”
Indeed, in the music video for “Bright Lights,” McDonald becomes increasingly emotional as the song goes on and almost finishes with tears in his eyes as the female protagonist in the video has left his side literally and figuratively because she was never spatially next to him on his bed—she was just a figment of his imagination. Although McDonald sings, “If the bright lights take you to the dark side, I’m never a far cry, and I will cover you,” it is too late.
“These songs are raw, honest, and very real,” McDonald said. “I’d like to think that this music will relate with people that have been through the certain things that I’ve been through the past year. I hope these songs will help people, make them smile, cry, laugh, or just reassure them that they’re not alone. We’re all human and we all go though similar things and situations in life. These songs are from my soul and hopefully they’ll inspire people in some form or fashion.”
Not only is McDonald’s music relatable, but he is also a relatable guy who has taken the non-traditional route to becoming a musician. From Huntsville, Alabama, McDonald started playing music at a later age than most musicians. At the age of 15, his parents gave him a guitar for Christmas and the rest is history.
“A few of my good friends were in a band and I wanted to start learning to play,” McDonald said. “I started writing songs immediately and started a band for fun with my friends. It was always a hobby throughout high school and college until a local club owner heard me play at a house party in college and offered me a gig at the local bar. I had to play for four hours, and they paid us with free food and booze. The gig was packed out with all my friends and that’s how it all started. I think that was the night that I knew I wanted to pursue music full time.”
The band McDonald played for in college was Hightide Blues, renamed The Grand Magnolias in 2010. At the age of 26, McDonald took a shot at a solo career and competed on American Idol, where he finished eighth. Through Idol, McDonald met former wife and Twilight star, Nikki Read. The two released an indie folk EP together in 2012 before separating earlier this year. Now at the age of 30, McDonald is set to release his first solo album, due out in early 2015.
“It’s a huge milestone,” McDonald said. “I’ve been writing music and touring for almost 10 years with different bands and projects. I felt like I’ve grown musically over the years and it was finally that time to try to create a sound of my own.”
Drawing on his past experiences and citing Ryan Adams as one of his many musical influences, McDonald describes his sound as “a fusion of genres—a mixture of rock, pop, folk, and blues.”
“I live and breathe music,” McDonald said. “It’s the sound of my soul, my best friend, and my favorite vibration. It’s what I feel, what I know, and what I’ve experienced thus far in my life all intertwined with melodies.”
For more information about Paul McDonald, visit his