Mark MacDonald showing off his skills with his Ovation acoustic guitar. Photo: Matt Zucca.
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Mark MacDonald reflects on old haunts, newfound success in the music industry

Mark MacDonald is like a character in a dream. He shows up just how you imagine him, and surprises you all the same.

MacDonald met up with me in front of Tabaret Hall on a breezy Saturday afternoon. This is a familiar spot for him since, even after graduating from the University of Ottawa in June 2016, he still comes by the campus to spread his music and good cheer.

In fact, on Oct. 7 MacDonald is set to headline one of his favourite old hangouts on campus: Café Nostalgica.

MacDonald brought along one of his old friends to our interview—his Ovation acoustic guitar, which he kept throughout his university career—and primed some passersby with some of his new pop/punk material.

“Songwriting is something I did on the backburner, and it was just something I did at home, and didn’t tell anyone really,” he shared, explaining how he got involved in the music scene. “I started playing some open mics and … people had a lot of positive feedback.”

In many ways, MacDonald is a product of the university’s creative writing program, a semi-competitive program offered in third year for english literature students. MacDonald also remarked that the tutelage of acclaimed Canadian poet and U of O professor Seymour Mayne has a significant influence on his lyrics.

“The stuff that I’ve learned there, I’ve applied to my songwriting … especially my lyrics. I put a lot of thought into every single lyric, every single word and that’s something I’ve learned in the poetry classes at the U of O.”

Like many creative individuals, he finds inspiration while confronting the darker side of life.

“For me, songwriting is a therapy. Personally I deal with a lot of mental health issues, one of the major ones being depression, another one being insomnia, so I have a lot of songs that actually get inspiration from those dark feelings.”

Thankfully, MacDonald is looking at much happier times. He said that receiving a job offer from Grant Avenue, a popular recording studio based in Hamilton, as a recording engineer in early 2016 caused him to weep. Now, as an up-and-coming musician, MacDonald believes that he is very privileged  to be surrounded by working musicians who have been playing professionally for upwards of 30 and 40 years.

“I’ve been there and I’ve been learning and working with a lot of great artists. Just seeing people come through … following their dreams, it was really inspiring and I kind of caught the bug a little bit.”

Now that he has all these new resources at his fingertips, MacDonald is ready to make the shift from music lover to recording artist, and is set to release his first EP in 2017. He claims it was his people skills and his involvement in various university opportunities that landed him his job at Grant Avenue.

“It was a dream come true for me to get a job at Grant Avenue at all,” MacDonald shared. “They could have chosen anyone from any program to come work there, but they ended up choosing me because they were like ‘you have people skills that we can’t teach, but we can teach you everything else and you’re passionate.’”

Fortunately, MacDonald had some tips for musicians who are looking to break into the industry like he did.

“Play as often as you can and play with people. The best thing you can do to improve your playing as a musician is to play with people.”

You can come check out Mark MacDonald on Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. at Café Nostalgica, where he’ll be promoting the launch for his first EP.