Back to the Wilderness

With a notebook full of songs, an exceptional line up of musicians, and a quickly growing fan base, Morgan MacDonald is well on his way to bigger and better things. Recently AE spoke with the Nova Scotia songwriter about his professional aspirations and his debut EP Back to the Wilderness.

How, when and why did you get involved with music?
Music was always something that grabbed my attention - to this day I can't have a serious conversation if there is music playing. Back in school music really dominated my thoughts. My dad taught my sister and I to play guitar when we were kids and forced us to sing along or he wouldn't teach us. My sister and I would take short summer trips where there were lots of bonfires and barn parties with full bands playing all night. I never had lessons I just slowly learned the basics through osmosis. I had never thought about doing music for a living or even as part of my living until a couple of years ago. I started writing music on my acoustic that sounded more like the music I grew hearing, it came naturally and I liked playing it. I started going to see all different kinds of local music and became friends with people who were working musicians. I hopped in a van with Steve Gates' Band band Caledonia for one of their tours. The first show I joined them on stage was is in Toronto to a packed house and I was hooked.

Are they the same reasons that you do it today?
Absolutely. I have no idea if I will be able to make an exclusive living from music but I will always write music and preform it for people.

What else inspires you these days?
The things that everyone thinks about and few people don't talk about openly; the environment, politics, social pressures. I love seeing people walk away from there screens for a bit and get involved in their community. Playing in small town and house concerts you always see a few people that are having such a good time they have a "why have I never done this before" look on their face. Also watching the way great artists put the audience in a trance. I want to do that.

What are the biggest challenges of the profession?
Trying to do it as a profession. Getting people to listen to new music and give it a chance is way harder than it should be. Some people who discover local or new musician they like often become die hard music fans and seek out new music wherever they go but for most people that is not the case. Also I love playing music but I'm not so much into sitting in front of a computer all day writing grants, applications, ordering things, updating many social media sites and there is a whole lot of that needed as an independent musician. Getting started costs a lot more money and takes a lot more time than I ever imagined.

What are the rewards?
I get front row seats (often it's the only row) to some of the best discovered and undiscovered songwriters in Canada. I get to meet them and ask questions about how they write and who their listening to. I get to see lots of different places and meet great people areas that you can barely find on a map and learn about the area and their lives. I just played the Kispiox Music Fest in northern BC and a big burley woodsman came up to me crying and gave me a hug because he liked a song about the tribulations of my Dad as an environmentalist/woodsmen. He told me about the cutting he's seen in northern BC and The Enbridge pipeline how hard it is to speak up about it.

What have been some career highlights?
Since this spring I've had three CBC interviews and consistent play in different areas of Canada. That has been an exciting development. I've spent so many years playing music for my friends and family and the last few months I've had a chance to have a much bigger audience hear my music and I've been getting a great response from listeners and critics.

How have you grown as a player over time?
I still have a long way to go but everyone in my band is so talented that I better just trying to keep up.

What inspired Back to the Wilderness, and what are some of the themes of the recording?
Back to the Wilderness is a short EP and the songs are about where I'm from and my family. It wasn't planned that way they were just the songs that fit when we did the per-production. 

Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?
Most of my writing starts quickly with little effort and then has to be worked to an end except Back to the Wilderness, I wrote that in minutes.

What makes a good song?
I really have no idea but I know when I hear it.

What are your thoughts on the state of music in Canada today?
Well I only know it from the beginners prospective but there are certainly a lot of barriers getting started. There are lots of excellent bands and individual songwriters in Canada and we only hear a small portion of them. With the growing popularity of community concert series and house concerts and think small pockets of the general public are becoming interested in seeking out music they like as opposed to passively consuming it so I guess that's a start.

What can we be doing better?
I think granting support for music could be more focused on a projects artistic merit and less on its business model. If music granting becomes a competition to get hits on a website or initial downloads we might end up with a lot of new music that sounds like an imitation of whatever is currently popular.

What's next on your creative agenda?
I'd like to finish writing and record songs for a full album and tour through Canada, the US and Europe. The logistics and expense involved with that will keep me busy for quite a while.