Mike McDonald is no stranger to the Edmonton music scene. His band Jr Gone Wild formed in 1983 on McDonald’s 20th birthday and, with a sound driven by the Beatles, Bob Dyan and Neil Young, plus a little punk thrown into the mix, introduced cowpunk to the masses. Long story short, the group disbanded in 1995 before reforming this past spring. In the meantime, McDonald has continued with the career he committed himself to as a teenager with his power-pop trio Bunch of Marys and various solo gigs around town—yet he has never recorded a solo album.
That’s about to change, though. McDonald’s show at the Blue Chair Café this weekend has a dual purpose. Sure, it’s a chance to see McDonald play, but he’ll also be recording his first solo album with the help of Miles Wilkinson, who had wanted to record some of McDonald’s solo material for his radio show. The idea to record an entire album came about during a conversation between Wilkinson and McDonald, who admits that while he has been playing solo gigs for years, he had not considered it a career path.
“Whatever I do at the show is what’s going on tape, so I’ve got to be on the ball,” says McDonald, admitting the thought of a live album is nerve-wracking due to its unpredictable nature. Not to mention, there’s more room for noticeable errors in a solo show. “With the band you get to peacock everything up and you’ve got guys with you and you’ve got backup sounds and things like that, and if you trip and fall it’s not a major disaster—unless you’re the bass player. If the bass player drops a note the entire planet knows about it, and if a solo guys buggers up the planet knows about it because there’s nothing to cover it up, right? You’ve got to be fleet-footed, I guess.”
A self-professed perfectionist, McDonald acknowledges he needs to lighten up a little and go with whatever may come his way that evening, joking that he may just be doomed to never be satisfied with the recording.
The material on the album will be a snapshot of McDonald’s writing from its early days to more recent compositions—including a few tunes from his bands that he’s stripped down for a solo set.
“It’s folk-rootsy, but not cutie-pie folk-rootsy—I’m not a tree-huggin’ type,” he chuckles when describing what people are in for. “I try to be as gritty as I am with my bands. My subject matter doesn’t change, my cynicism doesn’t change and the way I do rhyming doesn’t change. It’s just the presentation, I guess, that’s the fundamental difference between my solo gig and my band gig.”
This album may be a first in McDonald’s solo discography, but if all goes well—”and it won’t,” he laughs with a hint of cynicism—there may be a new Bunch of Marys EP and a new Jr Gone Wild album released by the end of 2014.
“This is my year of tying up loose ends and starting new things.”
Sat, Jan 18 (8:30 pm)
Blue Chair Café, $15