How important is Paul McDonald’s first solo album, the upcoming Modern Hearts?
“Making this record, it saved my life,” the former American Idol finalist and member of the bands Hightide Blues and the Grand Magnolias tells Billboard. “It got me through some dark stuff, man.”
That would be what came in the wake of McDonald’s 2014 divorce from actress Nikki Reed, with whom he made the 2012 EP “The Best Part.” That fueled McDonald as he began writing songs, and during the past three years he estimates he worked on “a few hundred” ideas, both on his own and with co-writers and a variety of producers — including “Call On Me,” which premieres on Billboard today (April 6).
“I was really kind of, not scared, but it’s a lot of pressure doing your own record,” explains McDonald,who returned to Nashville after moving to Los Angeles during his 2011 Idol run (he finished sixth). “I had been in bands for the past 10 years, so you had other people to fall back on and bounce ideas off of. I experimented with different producers and artists and kind of really honed my own personal sound and got back to the roots of what I wanted and why I’m making music in the first place… I’m like a brand new artist, just 10 years down the road.”
McDonald made Modern Hearts — which is finished and looking for distribution for summer release — with producer Jordan Lehnning (Caitlin Rose, Rodney Crowell, Andrew Combs) at studios in North Carolina and Nashville. And rather than lamentation, McDonald set out to make an pop/rock/soul mixture that chronicled coming out the other side from his divorce.
“Obviously you go through emotional waves when you go through something like that,” McDonald acknowledges. “If I put out the record the first year after (the divorce) it probably would’ve been more of a downer album. But I was experimenting and playing shows, and I remember I would get through the first 30 minutes fo the set and it would be nothing but downer, slow ballads and people would be like, ‘Man, are you OK?’ Then I started rebuilding my confidence as an artist and as a human being rediscovering myself, and I was like, ‘Man, I need more uptempo stuff. I want to make more uplifting songs as well.”
The swaggering, buoyant “Call On Me,” which was the last song McDonald wrote for the album, certainly fits the bill. “It was kind of a missing piece, that moment of ‘I’m back! I’m good again,'” he says. “I needed a song with some swagger in it to show I’ve re-found myself. It reminds me when I was lead singer for the Grand Magnolias and touring rock ‘n’ roll clubs and playing Bonnaroo. It took me awhile to get back to that place. Having that last piece bookended the album for me. It was like, ‘Cool, I think it’s ready to put out now.'”
McDonald is hatching plans for heavy touring to promote Modern Hearts once it’s out — hopefully with all or most of the nine-piece band he performs with in Nashville. At the moment, however, his energies are directed towards filling out his team and fortifying his push as a solo artist.
“It’s a fresh start in every sense of the word,” he says. “Right now I’m just talking to a lot of folks. Everyone’s excited. No one’s getting back tome saying the music sucks. There are people who are excited and I have options this time around, which I’m really thankful for. I took my time and I did the record right this time around, so I want to make sure the team and people around me are equally right and are pushing the music for the right reasons.”
Listen to “Call On Me” below: