Donkin native, and front man for local funk rock icons Slowcoaster, Steven MacDougall has already found 2010 to be one of the best years of his musical career – and it’s only March. In the past few months, MacDougall has spent time in Montreal writing and recording music for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver; has continued traveling to Nashville to collaborate and perform with various songwriters there; recently served as the musical director for the East Coast Music Awards Gala; and is a finalist in the 17th annual Canadian Radio Star National Songwriting Competition which concludes this weekend in Toronto. If his activities as a solo artist weren’t enough to keep him busy, Slowcoaster released a live acoustic album in January and are preparing for a summer release of their fourth full-length studio album.
WGO: What is your involvement with the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games?
MacDougall: “I was approached by a production duo from the Yukon who had heard through the grapevine and through YouTube videos that I would be the guy to write songs that are chant-able and simple. It was a great experience which I hope to repeat over and over. The songs will be mostly used for the Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver on March 12th, but some of the songs were being used during the Olympic hockey games, perhaps to test them out.”
WGO: What was your involvement with the 2010 East Coast Music Awards Gala?
MacDougall: “While I was writing and recording for the Paralympics in January, I was asked to be the musical director of the ECMA gala awards show which was a huge surprise. My job was to book all the acts who appeared in the show, arrange some of the multi-artist numbers, and direct the house band which was Slowcoaster. The goal was to produce a show that showcased the history of our east coast talent. Compared to my usual role as a band leader, this has been an intense introduction into the world of large scale shows.”
When not providing the musical vision for large scale events like to Paralympics and ECMAs, MacDougall has continued to work on his songwriting career, work which has begun to include regular visits to Nashville, TN to collaborate with artists like Gordie Sampson, Patricia Conroy and a handful of other full time songwriters from Canada and the US.
MacDougall: “I find the writing process in Nashville very artistically liberating because even though it’s you writing the song, it’s not really for you so you can have a little disconnect from the final product. I tend not to over think the writing too much in Nashville. I’m not trying to save the world with those songs.”
Another highlight of his time spent in Nashville has been a song circle at the world famous Blue Bird Café, which MacDougall describes as “absolutely amazing”. The Bluebird Cafe has been known for almost 30 years for intimate, acoustic music performed by aspiring, and established, composers and is the place where artists like Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift among hundreds of other songwriting stars have been discovered.
A song MacDougall wrote in Nashville last February, “Cruel and Unusual”, helped him win the regional portion of the Canadian Radio Star National Songwriting Competition in January. MacDougall is heading to Toronto this weekend to compete against the other 11 Regional Finalists who will be showcasing at Canadian Music Fest for a grand prize of $10,000 in cash, thousands of dollars worth of recording equipment, and the opportunity to have their material heard by Canada’s leading radio programmers and recording industry executives. The winner will be announced this Saturday, March 13th. A combination of public voting and a panel of industry judges will determine regional and Grand Prize winners. To vote for Steven MacDougall, visit radiostar.ca/voting.
When asked about the genesis of “Cruel and Unusual”, MacDougall says: “I began the concept for this song on the plane ride down. I wanted to describe a longing and/or punishment of a relationship and being ‘cruel and unusual’. I may have heard that phrase on the news or somewhere about a case in the States where it took 20 minutes for a man to die in the gas chamber or something. When you’re a songwriter and you throw yourself head first in to the world, everything can become a song.”
MacDougall made this same trek to Canada Music Week in 2005 when his song “Spanish Bay” was a regional winner. “In 2005, I came in second. It was an amazing experience. I really look forward to going into this final round with a more radio friendly song.”
While making waves as a solo songwriter and show producer, MacDougall is best known for his role as front man for Slowcoaster. The recent release, Live + Acoustic, has been a hit with fans as it showcases the strength of the songwriting and the band’s musicianship without being obscured by the “crazy dance party” atmosphere of the typical Slowcoaster live show.
“The live acoustic Slowco project was a long time coming. It was a fun night and a great way to bridge the gap between studio records. It’s filled with older songs revisited and a few new ones.”
While MacDougall is clearly happy to have the acoustic live album available for fans who have long requested it, it is the new record he is most excited about. “The new record is clearly the best work we have ever done. It was recorded at Lakewind Sound in Cape Breton. We went into the studio very well rehearsed and with a lot of vibe. I really wanted this record to have the raw energy our very first record did.”
With this aim in mind the band spent relatively little time in the studio as compared to previous efforts. “We recorded the bed tracks for the entire album in five days and spent another week tweaking and mixing. We had a blast and felt very little pressure to please the industry. I truly believe that this is the best written record we have ever done.”