Vegan and rock’n’roll seem an unlikely combination, but somehow Matt McDonagh the 21-year-old pianist/singer from East Kilbride manages to pull it off. His performances combine original songs and well loved covers to give audiences a unique look at his style and personality. Performing several gigs as part of the free festivals, we put Matt through the wringer to find out more about his music and his skills with the ladies.
How did you get started in music? How did piano end up being your instrument? Was there ever a chance that this show could have been Matt McDonaugh: Master of Tubas?
I’m from a very musical family, at least on my Dad’s side. So music has always been a huge part of my life! I’ve sang as long as I can remember, and Dad always wanted me to play guitar, like him. When I was about 8 he bought me a Guitar. He tried to teach me to play for the longest time, but I just never took to it. Eventually when I was 11, my parents got me a keyboard for Christmas. I think it was kind of their last-ditch attempt at getting me to learn an instrument. When I was 14, they got me a digital piano for Christmas. I thanked them profusely and they just smiled and said “It’s an investment. You’ll make us a lot of money with this one day”. I think my passion for playing comes from the music but their belief in me certainly keeps me motivated! I eventually did go back to the Guitar, only seriously this year as I wanted something a bit lighter than my stage piano to bring to open mic nights when I started playing them. Guitar is now a big part of my set, though I’ll always be more comfortable behind the keys. I’ve had a habit over the years of collecting other instruments and I do have the intention of eventually learning them. There’s a violin sitting in my bedroom that I swear I’ll learn one day. But now that you mention it, maybe Tuba should be my next venture….
In the age of oversharing, there isn’t much about you online. Have you ever killed a man?
Um… No comment. But seriously – who have you been speaking to!?
How do you pick the songs you cover? What’s your favourite song to cover and why?
I do my best to find songs that people want to hear, but I also like to cover songs that I can make my own. There’s a fine balance to be struck because playing a song that people want to hear, they probably want to hear it the way they know it. Performance wise, my favourite cover at the moment is Mr Brightside by The Killers. It’s one of my favourite songs and I enjoy playing/singing it. But in terms of energy and crowd reaction it has to be Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets. I think it takes a lot of people by surprise when I start to play it and generally garners the best reaction with people dancing and singing along.
Why do girls make you nervous?
I wrote that song when I was about 15/16 and I introduce it at every show being “as true now as it was then” which is painfully accurate. The kind of socially awkward/nerdy persona that I don on stage is really not a persona at all. I am actually that person and accordingly have always very much struggled to talk to girls.
Being a west-sider, how are you adjusting to life in Edinburgh?
I love Edinburgh. I’ve been here a little over three years now, and it’s an amazing place to live! Sure there were a few adjustments to make, I had to learn the lingo of course and there were some cultural changes. But now I ken that it’s braw to get chips with salt n’ sauce.
You have a packed schedule this month. What gets you through it?
It’s hard work to keep up with everything that’s happening. As well as working full time, and playing my solo Fringe shows, I’m also a member of the Clark Community Choir who are performing three times during the festival (Mercat Stage – 13:30 on the 9, 16, and 30 August) and rehearsing for Loserville (a musical I’ll be in at the Churchill Theatre in October), and at the end of the month have auditions for another Theatre company. I love to perform and this month I really get to indulge myself which is an amazing experience. Alas, it’s a lot of work and if it wasn’t for my incredibly supportive friends and family, I’m not sure that I would stay sane through it all.
Who (or what) inspires you?
I have a lot of inspirations largely in the form of other artists some; super famous, some relative unknowns, and some incredibly talented amateurs (many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with). But honestly, and I’m sorry for the soppy answer, more than anyone or anything else: my musical inspiration has always been my Dad. He’s genuinely one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met. He has an amazing voice and the ability to just pick up almost any instrument and get a tune out of it (a feat I am very envious of!). He is an incredible songwriter too. Since I was a little boy watching and listening to him play I’ve been inspired by what he does. Maybe I have family-tinted glasses (and hearing-aids), but I don’t think so. He is fantastically talented and undoubtedly started me on this amazing, musical path.
Describe your musical style.
This is a really difficult question. I think my music is quite varied in style because my taste in music and the artists that influence me are from such a broad range of genres. Undoubtedly my music is quite “poppy” and usually upbeat, and I like to think there are elements from the side of me that has more Jazz and Blues type inclinations. I think I’ve really matured as a songwriter in the last few years though, I mean – once upon a time I was an angsty teenager who wrote songs about girls, and now I’m an angsty twentysomething who writes songs about girls. Ok so things maybe haven’t changed that much. But still, I write what I know and try to tell stories with my music. I can’t promise that I’ll always stick to one genre and I find it hard to define what it is I do but I make music that I’m really passionate about and I just hope that comes through.
Tell me about your best and most embarrassing moments on stage.
In spite of my ridiculous nerves, I love being on stage. And there are so many great moments, one of the best was at a charity gig I put on a few years ago at the Barrowlands 2 in Glasgow. The place was packed and the atmosphere was electric. I hosted the night, introducing the acts, running the raffle, etc. And at the end of the night I headlined as the lead singer with my then band. The crowd were incredible, and so receptive. I’ve never felt so much like a rock star in all my life. I’ve had plenty of embarrassing moments too though. I’m a very clumsy person so I have often spilled a drink near expensive equipment or tripped over a cable. As for the most embarrassing…. That might be a story for another day!
As a Fringe first timer, what are your initial impressions?
This is my first year as a performer in the Fringe and it’s all a bit daunting, but it’s so exciting! I’ve been to see events in the Fringe before and the atmosphere is always incredible but I didn’t realise how different it would be as a performer. I didn’t really know what to expect but everyone involved has been very supportive of other shows and keen to help out where they can. I think one of the great things about doing the Free Festivals as that they are largely (if not exclusively) run by volunteers and everyone pitches in and wants to help out. The sense of camaraderie is amazing, and the level of talent that some of these performers have is just outstanding. Free definitely doesn’t mean second rate when it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!
Several performances as part of the free festivals. Most up to date gig list here.