'Anticipating Life's True Colors'
Broken Poets songwriter, singer and guitarist, Tim McDonald has always had an innate sensibility for creating strong melodies and verses, but it’s his gift for poetically expressing an almost transcendent philosophical insight that sets his songwriting apart from others.
“For me, songwriting is as much about location as it is about my personal experience,” McDonald says. “I’m always looking for some interesting new place to write and rehearse my songs. I’ve ended up under freeway overpasses, in parking garages, and remote areas of the desert -- anywhere I might find some good acoustics or a unique atmosphere to tap into.”
In 2000, McDonald was touring solo and needed someone to accompany him for a performance at The Gaslight, Dylan’s old haunt in NYC. A referral from a friend led him to classically trained Russian pianist and vocalist, Svetlana Antropova, which created the impetuous for Broken Poets. Off the success of the duo performance, McDonald sought out studio bassist Michael James and session drummer Russ Phaneuf to complete the band’s line-up.
Together they have created a modern alternative rock band, but one that still acknowledges the importance of the standards set by the greats that came before them; that every song on the record should be good, and that every record should actually mean something.
It is that standard that shines through in the band’s third full length album, Optimism in E Minor, as well as translates into the band’s live performances. There is no doubt that Broken Poets is an exceptional band to watch out for.
Taking it from the top and what were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? Tim McDonald - "Growing up I was force fed a lot of the classic singer songwriters from the 70's. The ones who were inspired by Dylan, like Karla Bonoff, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell...etc. I say force fed because I was just a kid and would have never listened to that kind of stuff if not for my older sister forcing it on me. My older brother was more into early prog rock like the band, Yes, so I'm sure that had an impact on my arrangements as well. I'm grateful for it now since I always have those standards for songwriting looming over me. It really helps to have that influence as a foundation when it comes to writing lyrics and composition."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your latest CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "Everybody seems to get something different from our music, but here’s a shot: Rock Alternative with a strong emphasis on lyrics and melodies, backed by a powerful rhythm section. It’s wide-open and powerful without big hair, womanizing, drugs or drinking. That’s all been done to death. I try to write songs about real life. Broken Poets makes music that reminds you there is something beyond that horizon."
Your album title 'Optimism In E Minor' is an interesting choice, but perhaps it originates from a more personal standpoint for you? Is there a theme to it, perhaps? "I remember we had all the songs picked for the record and were listening back to rough mixes when I started noticing that most of the songs seemed to have a melancholy tinge to them. I had been aware of this for a while in regards to my writing and had resigned to it long ago, but it was then that it hit me that I'm usually pretty optimistic in my normal life. So the title seemed to fit. Come to think of it, that might change if I stopped writing songs."
Being that this music is - for all intents and purposes - poetry turned into song, what comes first when creating your songs: the spoken word or the musical melodies? "I usually just sit with my acoustic and work on whatever melody and chords that to come to me. Then the words start to follow if I'm lucky. Sometimes I start with an idea for a song and search for the right chords to express it, but mostly the other way around."
Also, how easy (or hard) is it to constantly create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderment's/accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "I really just try to let it inspire me. But it is hard sometimes. For example, I recently went back and got a few classic rock records to see what I might have missed. ‘Blood On The Tracks,’ by Bob Dylan, and, ‘Wish You Were Here,’ by Pink Floyd. I mean, after listening to the those two records you could really let yourself sink into a severe depression when you realize what you would have to create to even get close to something as amazing. But I'm sure they listened to incredible musicians before their time thinking the same thing. You just soak it in as best you can and push ahead with the best you have to offer."
Please tell us which song off this new album is your current favorite and why? "‘Higher Than The Sun’ is one we've been enjoying at our live shows lately. On a musical level it's a more difficult composition, so it's fun to play. On a more personal note, I wrote this song as a way to express my disappointment regarding most of the major religions. Not to demean any ones personal religious beliefs, or my own for that matter. But it's incredible to me how most major religions have been high jacked to promote some personal man made, and often negative agenda. To be honest, the subject has been on my mind quit a bit lately so playing the song has been a good way to vent."
It's been claimed that where you guys choose to begin the songwriting and such has to be a personal experience. So, as some places have included underneath freeway overpasses, in parking garages, and even remote areas of the desert, I'm wondering where the inspiration was culled from for this new record? "I wrote at least half of the songs for this record under that freeway bridge I spoke of.
It was a dead end road that went under a highway overpass, and you could only find me down there if you got lost. It's been demolished since, but it was an interesting and strange place to write while it lasted. It just felt good down there and the acoustics were amazing. Once the songs were written, as a band we thought a lot about the beat we wanted behind the record. Both U2 and Coldplay's latest records served as good examples to what we had in mind for the rhythm section. We decided that it was important to have that drive behind every song in some form or another so that even the slow songs seem to pulse and drive you forward. That was our goal anyway."
If you were asked to for a charity record, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "Lana wants to do a rock version of Cindy Lauper’s, “True Colors,” and the rest of us would back here on that. Come on…it's for charity!"
Lastly, and throwing in a comedic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "We actually love over sized Pelicans, but I think we can say we're close on this one. :)"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Back To Archives