John McDonough’s Second Chances

John McDonough spent most of his last 30 years in Austin, Texas as a part-time musician/full-time psychotherapist in one of the most intensely creative cities in the world. Nine years ago he committed himself to the full-time music life. During that time he has written and recorded five CDs (including his latest, Second Chances), played over 500 gigs, performed in eleven major music festivals, several times appeared and performed on local and national radio, and embarked on successful tours through the United States. Recently has relocated to Chicago (for family and new musical opportunities). But along the way, he staked a claim to his very own piece of country music territory with a unique combination of compelling acoustic guitar playing, passionate vocals, and personal lyrics.

After getting burned out as a counselor, John remembers that “music was the only thing really calling my name.” His departure from the profession was initially meant to be just a hiatus. “I was like, ‘Well I’ll just jump into this [music] full-time and work on it as hard as I can.’…I thought maybe it would last a year, maybe five years, and I’d go back to therapy, but here we are 10 years later and I don’t think I’m going back…”

John is comfortable with the classification of singer-songwriter. He has drawn comparisons to Elton John and Harry Chapin for his vocal style and abilities, while his emotional storytelling has been compared with that of James Blunt and Damien Rice. At the inevitable comparison to Jame Taylor he responds, “It’s always frustrating and hard to try to pigeonhole yourself, but when I do have to, I always say I’m a singer-songwriter at heart…and James Taylor is one of my favorites; “Fire and Rain” was the reason I learned to play guitar…” At about age 12, John realized he wanted to be able to play along with himself as he sang the songs he loved (often very loudly, with his stereo cranked, as he recalls), and began guitar lessons. His college years saw him intensifying his focus on the instrument and producing his first original songs.

John has developed a pretty disciplined approach to writing those songs. “I’ll think about a song for a long time before I even start trying to write it…I’ll think a lot about what I want to say, not specific lyrics, but in general, what I want to communicate, and also how I want the song to sound…By the time I actually sit down to write it, I have at least a pretty good idea of where I’m going with it.”

Although he has spent a lot of his gigging time giving people the familiar tunes they want to hear, his CDs feature only his originals. His most recent effort, Second Chances, is comprised of previously released songs, re-imagined in a minimalistic, “unplugged” setting, limited to two acoustic guitars, two vocals and a small string section. This acoustic collection includes some songs that John felt would benefit from updated arrangements, based on a dramatic improvement in his guitar playing in recent years, along with other previously electric guitar-based tracks.

By Dan Walsh

Check out John McDonough’s website here. Listen to the full interview here.