While most career musicians are just getting their start in their 20s, Margot MacDonald is a veteran having just turned 20 years old. MacDonald has recorded four albums to date, and is a regular performer at Washington, D.C. area clubs like Iota Club and Café, where she will be headlining a holiday show this week.
Her first professional singing engagement was with the Washington National Opera when she was 10 years old, but her love of music started so early that she can’t remember when it first came about – though she does recall with some laughter her grade-school passion for singing and recording, like writing songs and taping them onto cassettes for her “Margot’s Third Grade Hits.”
As a second-grader, MacDonald had a teacher who encouraged her to pursue music as a creative outlet; it was in her class that MacDonald wrote her first song. The teacher suggested that MacDonald’s parents enroll their daughter in piano classes, a decision which began the child’s formal study of music.
“My parents were like, ‘oh, I guess, sure,” Margot said. “Neither of them are very musical, so it was a bit of a surprise, but it all started there.”
MacDonald said that early encouragement began a career propelled by her determination, her love of music, and “lots of lucky moments.”
Take when John Jennings, Grammy-nominated producer, came across a demo CD by MacDonald – “coincidentally,” she said. “He loved the songs and really wanted to be the person to put my first debut recording out there.”
That album, 2004’s Rising, bears a cover photo of the 12-year-old singer and contains songs all written by the young artist.
Now – three albums, countless hours of study, and a 2010 Artist of the Year Wammy later – MacDonald is a multi-instrumentalist known for her powerful, soulful voice that, while classically trained, doesn’t shy away from rock and roll.
She’ll showcase her latest musical venture, using a loop pedal when performing, at her holiday show with the song “Just for Now” by Imogen Heap.
In order to perform the song live, because of its stacked vocal lines, MacDonald must record the different parts of the song live and layer them one atop the other.
“Being able to orchestrate the different parts of the song with my voice just gave me so much opportunity to express those different parts that I always heard in my head, but never could bring to a live show,” MacDonald said of using the loop pedal, though she admitted that her first live experience using it was “little bit nerve-wracking” because any mistake made in her recording would be repeated throughout the performance.
Songs like “Just for Now” and “River” by Joni Mitchell will make up what MacDonald considers a secular set list.
“I really wanted to plan something that would be open to anybody wanting to celebrate the holidays,” MacDonald said. Still, Christmas classics will make their way into the lineup, including her take on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
The show, dubbed the Margot MacDonald & Friends Holiday Party, will also feature Matt Hutchison of Fools and Horses, and the Phillip Noss Band.
MacDonald, an independent artist, is currently recording her fifth album due out in early 2012 thanks to a fan funding campaign that helped her raise $15,000 for the project.
“It will be the first record that has my loop pedal work on it,” MacDonald said. “It’s just been an amazing experiment – working on the different songs and bringing in different elements and getting to do what I love.”