Twenty-five is an age at which most people hope to find themselves comfortably into their first career. But for Damian McGinty, 25 already marks the start of his third act.
The Irish-born, now L.A.-based singer-songwriter got his start at just 14 years old, when he became the inaugural member of popular Irish vocal group Celtic Thunder. At that point, though, it was less about a career path and more about following a passion.
“I was just thinking about, ‘I get to get out of school and I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do,’” McGinty admits with a laugh. “The only thing that I sort of realized and recognized was that I loved singing and I wanted to sing. My mom and dad were huge supporters of that, [but] we just never really considered it like, ‘In 10 years from now, I’m going to be doing this as a career.’”
After spending his most of his teenage years touring the world with Celtic Thunder, McGinty started thinking more career-focused and decided to go out for the Oxygen competition series The Glee Project in 2011. The show allowed him to further explore his interests as a singer as well as his acting chops, and upon winning The Glee Project just months later, McGinty then began his second major career move with a role on Glee.
The hit Fox musical series highlighted McGinty’s Irish roots, as he played foreign exchange student Rory Flanagan. What was supposed to be a seven-episode stint turned into 19 in the show’s third season — as well as a return for Season 4’s Christmas episode — proving that McGinty was as captivating on screen as he was on stage.
As his time on Glee was coming to an end, McGinty had the opportunity to return to his beginnings Celtic Thunder, an offer he was quick to take, as he missed performing. All the while, he had been writing his own music for four or five years, and in March, he launched his third career venture with the upbeat debut EP, No More Time.
“This definitely stands true to where I’m at as an artist, and what I want people to perceive me as,” McGinty says of the five-track project. “Every song has a different story to it, with a commercial vibe.”
One of his personal favorites is a track called “You Should Know,” a love song that was inspired by his girlfriend of four years. Today (May 3) McGinty releases the video for the tune exclusively on Billboard, which marks his first official video as a solo artist — an experience that was mostly exciting, other than the scene where he jumps into the pool with his onscreen lover (“It was just so cold — like slushie on Glee cold,” he quips).
McGinty is currently on a North American tour in support of the EP. As if the singer doesn’t have enough going on, he added another acting role to his already impressive resume last fall: He stars alongside former Glee costar Heather Morris in the family holiday film Santa Fake, which will hit theaters this November.
With everything McGinty has going on, Billboard chatted with the singer-songwriter about all of his experiences, and how they’ve gotten him to No More Time. Check out the “You Should Know” video and our interview with McGinty below.
While you were in Celtic Thunder the first time, was there ever a point that you realized you wanted to do something as a solo artist?
Celtic Thunder is a really special concept where we’re definitely an ensemble, but at the same time, within our concerts, we have four or five solo performances each night. So you kind of have to hold your own — it definitely gives you flavor of being a solo artist in front of 2,500 people each night. As I got older, hitting 16, 17, 18, naturally my thoughts evolved: “Obviously I would love to do this as a solo artist, to build my own platform and build my own brand.” Which was kind of then the natural step onto The Glee Project.
Was there anything you learned from The Glee Project or Glee that helped you develop who you wanted to be as an artist?
In terms of music, I actually learned more on The Glee Project than Glee itself. When I was on The Glee Project, they threw songs at us on a weekly basis of songs I didn’t even know existed. Like Week 1, I was in the bottom three, and I had to sing a song [by Rick Springfield] called “Jessie’s Girl,” and I’d never heard the song before — I know that sounds crazy to an American audience. I had an hour and a half to learn that entire song and perform it for Ryan Murphy.
It was so unbelievably intimidating, but at the same time, what I learned from that was unbelievable. I didn’t quite learn it right, because I said “I wish I was Jessie’s Girl,” instead of “I wish I had Jessie’s girl” — even on this current tour, I’m still reminded of that moment [Laughs]. But I learned a different variety of music, different sounds, different styles on The Glee Project, which then kind of carried me into Glee.
Were there any songs you sang on either show that was kind of an “a-ha” moment for you in terms of finding your own sound?
I sung “Home” on Glee, the Michael Buble song, which I also sang in Celtic Thunder when we made one of our PBS specials — that song has followed me around a little bit. It definitely speaks true to my story, because I don’t get to go home as much as I would like. So when I got the song for Glee, it definitely felt like a moment like, “This is me in my purest form.”
At the same time, if I had a regret from Glee, it was the fact that every performance I was doing was kind of just about me and the choir room. I would love to have shown a bit more personality and a bit more of the performer side of me — I’m an entertainer, that’s what I love to do.
You got to work with Heather Morris again on Santa Fake. What was it like reuniting with a fellow Glee star years later?
It was so great to see Heather again — I hadn’t seen her in years. It’s so great to be able to do scenes with her again. Also, since I’d seen her last, she has two kids now. She looks the exact same. I was like “Where’d those kids come from?” [Laughs.]
On a personal level, it was kind of nice because I felt more prepared. I felt older, more capable. Working with Heather three, four years ago on a national TV show and then sharing a movie with four years later, it absolutely felt full circle. There definitely was a moment where [I had] a realization like, “Oh, I’ve grown a lot since four years ago. I just feel more confident, I feel better, I feel like I know more. I’m more experienced.” It was just a natural evolution, and actually getting to experience that and realize that was pretty cool.
Have you kept in touch with any other Glee or Glee Project costars?
One of my very good friends is Bryce Vine, [who] was actually out on week one of The Glee Project. He’s killing it right now, and he’s one of my really good friends. Outside of that, everyone is working on their own careers, doing their own things. A lot of times on TV shows, it’s a working relationship. That was kind of my deal on the show with a lot of people, which is kind of sad.
One of the guys I really liked was Cory Monteith. He was awesome, such a nice dude. And he was really welcoming to me specifically, he made me feel really comfortable and really nice. e’s That was really sad story, [when he] passed away [Monteith died of a Heroin overdose in 2013].
Glee Project in particular, most people aren’t even in this business anymore. It’s like a lot of people are chasing the idea of fame, rather than a passion — until they realize how much work this is.
I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism, but that’s the way it is. That’s the way our world is right now — fame is so accessible with all social media things going on, and different reality shows. It’s a lot easier than it used to be. I just believe that in general, some people chase the idea of fame, because they see something through their computer screen and they think, “I want that.” It’s actually not that glamorous, it’s just a lot of work behind closed doors. People only see the final product of projects.
I have a little bit of that and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Like, I would prefer to do my career completely unknown because it’s not about business. I do this because I love it. I’m not doing this for any other reason than that.
Are there any artists that served as inspiration for finding your own sound?
I love everything Coldplay does. I love Snow Patrol as well, that type of vibe. But my main passion is finding independent artists that kind of do their own thing. Like a Steve Moakler, Ben Rector, Mat Kearney — that kind of pocket is what I really like and what I really like to listen to.
I also love country music. Not to the point where I’m going to release a country record, but to the point where I’m happy with it influencing some of the stuff I release. So when we went into the studio for the No More Time EP, always under the surface was country music. It was always influencing the stuff I was writing, whether it be melodies I was creating or the style of stories I was telling.
How did you get into country music growing up in Ireland?
The first time I came across country was when I was probably 2 ½ years old, it was one of my first memories of music. We had a cassette tape in our house of a Garth Brooks record. I had this little toy cassette player with a plastic microphone attached to it, and I learned very quickly that I could record over cassette tapes. So Garth Brooks had a song called “Standing Outside the Fire” and I, 2 ½-year-old Damian, decided to record a minute and a half of himself on top of the song. So it was a running joke in our house for years that my mom and dad would put on the cassette tape and the first minute-and-a-half would be me singing “Standing Outside the Fire,” and it would revert back to Garth Brooks to take the rest of the song.
It became a passion at a very young age because of him, and that evolved as I became an adult. On a regular basis I would listen to Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan — I really enjoy listening to how specific the stories are in those songs. I think that’s what it is — the melodies are really good, but it’s the stories that drive me to it. I would say about 60 percent of the [music soundtracking the] driving we’ve done on tour is country music [Laughs].
Even though you initially didn’t envision a singing career when you were 14, once you were kind of thinking about the future, how does where you’re at now compare to what you had in mind for Damian McGinty, the 25-year-old?
To be honest, I couldn’t have even dreamed of some of the things I’ve done. What I really love about it is that I can still dream more and that’s still what I do on a daily basis. I have bigger dreams now. When I was 14, I didn’t really have any of those. The only thing you can dream of at a young age is this idea of your name up in lights, of being the biggest artist in the world. They’re very shallow, they’re very vague. When you grow up, get older and experience things, you sort of realize that “I have dreams that don’t look like that.” My ultimate goal now is to grow this. If I could do this as an independent artist for 1,500-2,000 people a night, that is the dream for me. My main goal is just longevity.
If you had told me at 14 that Celtic would [end up] selling 3.5 million records, that I’d have won Glee Project, that I’d have been on Glee for two seasons, that I would now be releasing my own EP and touring America by myself … I mean, that’s just outrageous to me. I don’t reflect that much and think, “How cool am I?” type of thing. I think about, “What’s next year?” That keeps driving me.