Tom MacDonald is starting to be regarded in this current generation as one of the most controversial rappers on the scene. But anyone who is familiar with his work would be doing him a great disservice by calling him anything other than a visionary hip-hop artist. Although his refusal to conform with the “societal norm” will leave listeners shocked at first, much like any controversial lyricist, the clever word play shows a deeper meaning and understanding of social issues underneath his provocative storytelling. Recently, I sat down to talk with him about his journey as an independent artist, some of his personal struggles, his brash and nuanced music style, and more!
Which musicians inspired you to create music?
Primarily like classic rock guys like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Joe Cocker, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Black Sabbath, and Aerosmith.
Never would have expected you to be a classic rock guy, to be honest with you.
I just think that music is really expendable these days and it’s really hot for like 3 months or 6 months and then it’s gone forever. Guys like Zeppelin and the Beatles; their music has been around for 30-40 years and it’s really timeless. It gets passed down from parents to their children and when those kids grow up, they are probably going to pass it down to their kids. That’s really what I’m trying to do. I wasn’t musically inspired by these people but by what they stand for and the way they went about their business. That’s what I take from those guys.
Speaking of your producing, do you prefer being an artist or producer?
Honestly, I wouldn’t classify myself as a producer. I just produce my own stuff and some stuff for [my girlfriend] Nova as well. I don’t produce other people. So, for me the production stuff is just part of me being an artist. It’s something that I just have to do. We’re just so obsessed with doing everything ourselves because we don’t want to pay off producers and deal with that whole thing. I really do enjoy the production aspect of my music but that’s pretty much where it ends. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t do it and this is just where I’ve found myself.
Do you tend to rely more on hardware or software when creating/producing your music?
Primarily, I do everything in box, in Logic. I just have a lot of MIDI controllers that are in string-packs and sample packs. I don’t really use a lot of hardware.
Although you don’t use a lot of hardware, what is one piece of gear that you do wish you had in your collection?
Hmmm…That’s a good question. If I’m being completely honest about the whole thing, I’ve never been interested in hardware. I like having a good mic and a good interface, and I have a good mic. I have a good interface. I’ve always wanted a keytar for some reason. I like old-sounding stuff, like 70-90s era style sh*t. I’ve always been curious about having a keytar.
I’m sure you’ve played a lot of gigs in the past. Based on your experience, what are some of the best and worst gigs you’ve every played?
Yeah, I’ve done a few for sure! I mean all the shows you do when you’re first starting out are the worst gigs because, typically, they aren’t your shows, the people showing up aren’t your fans, and they aren’t there to see you. With those shows, its about proving yourself as a performer to a room full of people who have no idea who you are. Those are difficult shows starting out and I never had that much fun doing them. So, I definitely have to say the worst gigs were the ones early on in my career when I was figuring myself out, figuring out my music, and finding my fans.
It’s really hard to think of the best shows because our last couple tours, like the Helluvit tour, were amazing. It was the first time I had a real fan base and it was the first time people were showing up to support me and my music. It’s really surreal when a roomful of a few hundred people are all singing every word to your songs. I’ve also gone to Europe and those shows were amazing. I feel that the music fans and venues are a lot more receptive to new music and they are just there to have a good time, whereas American are a lot more judgy. Europe and the last states tours were definitely incredible.
Do you have any stories, anecdotes, or memorable experiences shopping with Sam Ash?
Honestly, this past Christmas I was trying to get my girlfriend a new guitar because she had been talking about wanting to learn acoustic for quite some time. I had narrowed it down between Sam Ash and your competitor, and one of the guys from Sam Ash ended up doing me a solid and giving me a Gibson for her that they also had across the street. But he ended up cutting me like a really, really awesome deal, so yeah it was dope! I also got some of my tour gear there last year, just some live vocal pedals. Like I said I don’t really shop for gear but the guitar thing was pretty major. They held me down for sure, it was cool.
That’s really sweet!
Yeah, I was stoked. Guitars ain’t cheap.
If you’re getting it for your girlfriend you definitely want to make sure it’s the perfect one for her.
See that’s the thing: the whole thing is that I don’t know a whole lot about guitars so, it was a lot of talking to the sales associate and calling her dad and figuring out sorta like what was the best, what was the right move, etc. She knows guitars and she plays guitars so, I can’t go in there and get, like, some budget f*****g guitar for Christmas. It had to be THE one, you know? I mean, it was an expensive and stressful journey but we got it worked out!
That’s really awesome! I’m so happy that one of our sales associates was able to help you find everything you needed.
Hell yeah! Me too.
Hip-hop has always been a way for artists to tell stories about themselves and their experiences. In many cases, it comes from a deeply personal place or experience and we’re starting to see more music share incredibly honest and forthcoming perspectives than ever before. Where have you found the inspiration to do that with your own lyrics and what types of stories and messages are you trying to deliver in your music?
I think I’ve always kind of been that way, not just in my music but in my life. If you talk to a lot of my friends or my girlfriend or my family, most people would say I’m very consistent with the way I am. It doesn’t matter who I’m around or what room we’re in or whatever. I just am the way I am and it’s been honestly for my whole life. But I just always live my life like that and my music didn’t always reflect it because I was younger and I was just growing and learning about myself and stuff like that. I told a lot of stories about the same thing that other rappers were talking about: money and girls and cars and clothes blah blah blah; that’s what I was hearing when I was listening to hip-hop. So, I thought, “Okay, if that’s hip-hop music, that’s what I need to talk about,” even if it wasn’t true to who I was. Then, I mean, what essentially happened was I made music that wasn’t just an act. It became who I am as a person for a long time. But then I had this crazy mental breakdown a few years ago and it just radically changed my life. I just stopped drinking, stopped smoking weed, stopped partying, stopped a lot of things. For a long time, I was in a really bad place where for a better part of the year I stopped making music because when something like that happens in your life, you figure out what’s important to you real f****n quick. Making music with all the things that I didn’t believe in and that weren’t authentic to me became entirely unimportant to me so I stopped making music for probably 10-11 months. I learned a lot about myself while I was recovering and figuring everything out. But I’m still recovering, I’m still figuring things out, but, like, that was my darkest hour. When I came out the other side, I knew what was important to me, who was important to me, and the things that I wanted to say. The following years I started integrating those things that I believed into my music.
A recurring theme in your music focuses on mental health. By bringing awareness to this issue, what is the ultimate goal you’re hoping to achieve, both for your fans and the listeners?
Essentially this started off, in regards to mental health, as a selfish thing. I was just talking about things that I was going through because I needed other people to reach out to and say, “I’ve dealt with that too”. I needed to know that there were other people out there struggling like I was; that’s how it started. Soon, I was talking about all those things in my music because it felt good when I would put my music out into the world and people who were struggling similar would hit me up and say, “Yo, this song like saved my life, I heard this song and now I’m 8 months clean,” or , “My mom passed away and I listened to this song every night for 2 weeks and it’s the only thing that’s been keeping my head above water.” I make the music to feel good, I give it to people so that they feel good, and they tell me that it helps and it makes me feel good. It’s just this cycle of ,like, paying it forward and making each other feel good and at the end of the day, I honestly feel like people make music about all types of different things and they have all types of different motives for making the music they make which, it takes all kinds, but I feel like if you’re not making music, if your goal in making music is not to help other people feel good, I don’t think you have any f*****g business making music. So that’s really the goal. I make the music for people that are fighting all the same battles. So, if it helps them that’s the number one priority.
How do you feel fans have responded to the other social issues you have written about besides mental health?
I mean, a lot of people like it. If people weren’t reacting positively then we wouldn’t have sold out shows, you know? We wouldn’t have hundreds of millions of views and stuff like that. There are people out there who definitely like it. I mean, my people like it, the people who think similarly and feel similarly to me like it and that’s been great. That’s the best part of all of this. On the opposite side of that coin, there are a lot of people that don’t like it. A lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of people who don’t like it. But it’s fine, I don’t want to be like some passive artist for people to go, “Oh, what do you think of Tom Macdonald,” and they’re like, “You can take him or leave him”. I don’t want that. I want people to go either, “Yo, I love that guy”, or “Yo, I f*****g hate that guy.” I want an emotional response to this stuff. Yeah, there are a lot of people who don’t like it, but it kinda goes back to the first question about my inspiration for music. The old rock guys, I’m not a rock guy. I make hip hop but I’m trying to make my sh*t like rock and roll. Rock and roll is less about making music and more about screaming your truth at the top of your f*****g lungs. That’s what I’m doing and if you like it that’s great and if you don’t like it that’s great too.
As an independent artist, has the opportunity to be signed to a record label arose? Is that something you may be interested in in the future or is it something that simply isn’t on the table for you?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve had tons of different offers, meeting requests, and stuff like that. It’s not really my thing. I’ve always had a problem with authority since I was a kid. I just didn’t let anybody tell me what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it, like f**k that sh*t. There is nothing that a label can do for me that I can’t do for myself. It’s 2019. Its like f*****g revenge of the artists. You don’t need a label anymore. We have the internet, we have the technology, we have the gear. If you possess the talent and the drive and the hard work there is nothing that really anybody can do for you besides give you some money. If you can find a way to secure your own bag then, your kinda off to the races at that point. I wouldn’t do very well with the label atmosphere. There are times where I record music for four days straight and then I don’t record music for 3 weeks because I just don’t f****g wanna do it. There are other things I wanna do, you know what I mean? I’m not trying to have a label telling me, “Oh, we have seven sessions lined up for you in the next few weeks with this producer, and that producer, and this writer, and bill those guys.” It’s not the work for me. I’m not gonna be writing songs that writers are gonna wanna be a part of. I’m not gonna do it. I’m just going to do this sh*t my f****g way that’s it. My way or no way.
I’m sure some artists going to read this and say to themselves, “Well, if he can do then, I can definitely do it.”
That’s the whole thing, man. I think a lot of people don’t realize that. They wanna be a famous rap star or famous rock star or whatever the case may be with stars in their eyes thinking that the end game is to get a record deal and that’s just not true. As an independent artist, I know that for a fact because I have friends that are signed and I’m making 3-4 times the amount of money they are. It’s not about making tons of money because at the end of the day, like I said, if you have a mental breakdown or something then you’ll find out real quick how f****g much those couple of dollars mean. It doesn’t mean a g*d-d**n thing. But what you can do is, when your making your own income, and you’re not under the spot light of a label or company, that’s the way to make music. It’s a ticket to freedom and you can create in an environment with the money you’re making on your own and you can set yourself up to have complete artistic freedom; you can literally do whatever the f**k you want. That’s just not the case with record labels. It’s a hard thing to understand until you get a royalty check. I wanted a record deal for a long time but once I had a couple songs really hit and I started doing things, the checks came in and I was like, “Whoa. Okay. Nova don’t return any of those emails. We are not going to those meetings. We need to do this on our own.”
Finally, do you have anything you’d like to say to fans who are aspiring to be like you or the fans who are currently struggling?
Okay, for the best piece of advice that I can give to new artists is the most cliché sh*t ever but it’s the realist piece of truth: You need to be yourself. Don’t be the guy that you heard on YouTube or the guy that you heard on your CD player: be you. If you work at Walmart, rap about that. If you fix refrigerators, rap about that. If you’re a dog walker, rap about that. It’s very easy to tell when somebody is lying on a record and people gravitate towards the truth; they gravitate towards what’s real. So, just be you, do you, be real and people will come.
In terms of anybody that wants to be like me, I would probably advise against that. [Chuckles] Especially making the type of music that I make and stuff. It’s a heavy, heavy burden to carry. You have to have a real, real thick skin and angriness to some degree. So, I would say don’t try to be like me. Do whatever it is you do because you’re better at being you then I am. So just do that.
And to the fans that are struggling like that, it’s crazy because people watch you on TV or they see you up on stage or they connect with you through a computer screen, and they have this idea of who you are and what you may or may not have dealt with. The biggest f****g movie stars, the biggest artists, the biggest race car drivers, biggest athletes, etc. are literally just people, man. The way you feel when you’re not feeling good is the exact same way I feel when I’m not feeling good. We are all just people struggling with the exact same sh*t. Some of us are just on f****g YouTube or TV and that literally doesn’t change anything. I spent my whole life thinking that if I get a hundred thousand likes on Facebook, I’m gonna be this guy. If I get a million like on Facebook, I’m going to be that guy. I’m gonna be in such a better place when I get a million views on blah blah blah: it literally never changes. I feel the exact same way that I did 5 years ago when I was really struggling. Just understand that everybody is dealing with that sh*t. You’re not alone fighting these things. There is a f****g army of people all behind you fighting with anxiety or depression or OCD or PTSD or whatever. Just stay strong. I know it sounds corny, but even the bumpiest roads will eventually run smooth. The clouds will break into light, the sun will shine again. Take it from somebody who literally almost was not here to give this interview or to record music, period. If I can make it outta that, anybody can make it outta that.
Check out his latest single, “Sad Rappers”, below on Spotify:
You can keep up with Tom Macdonald at any of the links below: