Paul McDonald Talks ‘Modern Hearts’ Reissue and the Never-Ending Journey to Being a Better Person

Paul McDonald by Mike Dunn

“Before the pandemic, in 2018, I released Modern Hearts independently,” Paul McDonald began. “I was on the road supporting Hanson and was planning on going out and doing some of my own shows when everything just… stopped.”

As it was for a lot of musicians, the COVID-19 pandemic felt like the rug was being pulled out from under McDonald’s life. First rising to prominence in 2011 as a contestant on American Idol (he placed 8th), he was in the midst of rediscovering himself when everything started to shut down. After a difficult—and quite public—divorce that was finalized in 2015, he poured himself into the songs on Modern Hearts… when the pandemic hit, he was just beginning to share his newfound perspective with the world.

On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a pretty significant economic hurdle as well. “I had just bought a van to go touring with,” McDonald explained. “So, I was like, ‘I’ve gotta figure out a way to keep this thing moving while everyone’s at home—I gotta pay off this van!’”

In unprecedented times, McDonald did something unprecedented for himself: “I started reaching out to people on Instagram through posts and stuff like that, saying, ‘Hey guys, I’ve never done this before, but I’m thinking of doing some house shows. Would anyone be interested in that?’ Thank goodness, after all the years I had put into everything, I had a lot of people hit me back saying ‘Hey, we’d love to do this!’ Me, my girlfriend at the time (now-fiancé), and my dog got in the van and traveled across the country during COVID, playing backyard parties and stopping at every National Park along the way.”

Beyond just helping McDonald pay off his van, this house show tour proved to be a life-changing journey. “We traveled across America in a way I had never quite experienced before,” he said. “When you’re just regular touring, you pop in and out real fast. This time, we had more time to connect with the people. It was really special.”

During this time too, a Scottish label called Vacancy Records found Modern Hearts online and reached out to McDonald. “They stumbled upon the album and asked ‘Hey, what’s the deal with this?’” he said. “I told them, ‘There’s no deal—I released it independently.’ They said they were interested in getting it out again, which led to this.” Now, “this” is finally about to arrive—on October 1, McDonald will put out a deluxe reissue of Modern Hearts via Vacancy Records. On September 1, he shared a new music video for the single “How Long?”

“I was coming out of that dark breakup going, ‘Who am I?’” McDonald said of the song’s origins. “The hook of the song, How long does it take to make a man? was like, ‘How long does it take to become a solid human being? Someone who can learn to love in the right way and keeps things together? How do you grow to be this person you’ve always envisioned?’ It’s just a constant search. I’m still in that search, you know? Now, I’m in a beautiful place and I’ve learned all of these lessons from all these chapters of my life. They taught me what I need to know in order to get here. So, I’m actively trying to just push forward. And it’s amazing that it’s coming out now and I’m seeing it in a whole new way. Songs tend to do that—they shift over the years.”

To that end, the grand house show tour McDonald, his fiancée, and his dog embarked on really did bring the 37-year-old to a brighter place in life, in a sense augmenting everything he writes about on “How Long?” 

“It was like I had climbed a mountain and now I’m in this beautiful valley, spending the moment meeting people and having a great headspace,” he said. “It’s kinda like I had gone through the darkness and started to see the light again. The experience of the past year and a half has really slowed me down and given me a whole new perspective on why I’m making music and just the kind of human being I want to be moving forward.”

With the deluxe version of the album to come in just a few weeks—and a slew of shows on the books—McDonald is so excited to continue on this path of healing and self-betterment.

“I love it,” he said. “I thought this record had run its course, but now it’s having this whole rebirth. To be able to put it out into the world again and get another shot for folks to hear it is really special for me and for the people who worked on it. I’ve been texting all of them saying ‘Hey guys, out of nowhere, this record we made a few years ago is brand new again, getting promotion and the whole deal.’ Everyone’s so excited about it. These songs were such a real moment in my life—there’s so much in them. I hope I never have to write them again because it was from a period of my life I’ll never be in again. I’m just excited and super grateful for everything.”


The deluxe reissue of Paul McDonald’s Modern Hearts is out October 1—in the meantime, check out his upcoming tour dates HERE and explore the original album below:

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