Singer-songwriter Mark MacDonald returns to Ottawa for show

University of Ottawa alumnus Mark McDonald has some advice for anyone looking to make it big in the music business.

The post-graduation job hunt has rapidly become an infamous part of the Canadian university experience. Some fight for internships in Silicon Valley, while others try to polish their language skills to qualify for a government placement. But MacDonald took a less-conventional path, launching a fledgeling music and recording career under the stage name Hollow River.

After graduating from the U of O’s creative writing program in 2016, MacDonald relocated to the Greater Toronto Area, and started to make a name for himself in the local recording and producing scene. After securing an internship at a studio, Macdonald was quick to launch his production endeavours to fund and support his music career.

MacDonald stated that he “never planned on making an EP” when he started working his first position at a studio in Hamilton. He recalled the moment it all started to come together.

“So, I was hanging out with some of the guys and the other studio intern, and I showed off one of the tunes which actually became the first song (on the album). They hear it and immediately just go ‘you have to record this,’” Macdonald said.

Although his time working in a recording studio was pivotal, MacDonald was quick to point out that years of build-up went into launching this album and his career.

One particular skill he gained in the studio was his ability to network and appeal to people on a personal and professional level. Those skills were critical in securing the internship that made it all possible.

“You’ve got to network,” MacDonald said. “You’ve got to get in charge of your university career, and you’ve got to integrate into the culture. They could have hired any graduate from any top university in Canada. But they hired me because I knew the system and I know how to deal with people.”

MacDonald mentioned that many of his activities didn’t even seem related to music at the time, from being a 101 Week guide to running his fraternity. But he clarified that the soft skills he learned from his university days are universal and invaluable in any field.

“They sat me down and said ‘we can teach you everything you need to know in the studio, but we can’t teach you how to deal with people,’” MacDonald recalled.

The album itself is titled Spider Web Eyes and is a compilation of work done by MacDonald over the last year and a half. The EP consists of only five songs, but MacDonald sees it as a launching point for a long and robust career.

“It has been a long time coming,” MacDonald said. “I am just really glad to have this out to everyone and to really get the ball rolling.”

Drawing on the likes of Father John Misty and Andrew Jackson Jihad, Hollow River presents a paradoxically disjointed but cohesive combination of lyrics and instrumental backing that makes for some compelling modern folk.

A follow-up EP is already in the works for the end of 2017.

Hollow River is performing in Ottawa on Oct. 16 at Live! On Elgin at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $10. Spider Web Eyes is available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.