Vista Brewing Presents: “Driftwood Nights” w/ Aaron McDonnell
Singer and guitarist Aaron McDonnell was born and raised in Oregon’s rural Willamette Valley to a mill-working father and a God-fearing mother. He bought his first guitar, a knock-off Telecaster, when he was 15 years old and proceeded to learn everything from Garth Brooks to Nirvana, however it was the sound of the older generation that captured his imagination; George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Conway Twitty songs drifted from the radios and turntables of his grandmothers’ kitchens and living rooms. This heritage is alive and well in McDonnell’s earnest and straightforward songs, and strong, clear baritone.
Aaron formed the Pop Country band Gin Betty! shortly after moving to Seattle in 2004 recording two albums and quickly found himself with a following playing several top local venues including The Showbox, and The Triple Door. Gin Betty! was featured on a national college radio campaign and received good responses particularly in Texas and other areas in the Southeastern United States. Personal turmoil within the band lead to its unraveling and the formation of The Grandtours in 2009 (named after the classic George Jones tune “The Grand Tour”). This band explored darker territories lyrically and more complex sonic arrangements all the while staying rooted in a Classic Country Music format and flavor. Again, a local following was formed and two records were recorded, unfortunately they dissolved due to conflicts within the band in 2011. Undoubtedly the best thing to come out of The Grandtours was the fact that Aaron met his wife-to-be, Dani Michalak who sang back-up in the group. After taking some time off from playing music publicly, Aaron moved towards a solo project named Aaron McDonnell & The Gospel Plow which released an EP in January of 2013. The project was met with positive feedback from local club owners and members of the Seattle Country music scene receiving praise from veterans in the industry.
Since quitting his corporate job of 13 years to pursue music full time in 2013, Aaron has released four solo EPs; “Follow” (2014), “Battle Bend” (2015),”Get Gone” (2016), and “Lucky Me” (2017). Each exhibits a progression musically and lyrically, but also show the influence of Aaron & Dani’s relocation to Austin, TX. Texas has has undoubtedly touched the music and become a source of inspiration, while pushing the feel of the songs in a more dance-able and toe-tapping direction. After arriving in Texas it was apparent that the old Seattle sad-bastard music was not gonna fly in the dance halls! Aaron’s most recent release and title track for “Lucky Me” has seen some good success on the Texas Radio Charts breaking the top 40 on both the TRRR and CDX Charts.
Aaron’s emergence as a full solo artist is the culmination of a tough yet inspiring road which has spanned nearly a decade, including the formation and dissolution of three bands, recording of five records, and work with several top engineers/producers including; Tom Pfaffle (Nirvana, Black Crowes, Heart), Steve Aguilar (Dave Matthews Band, The Head & The Heart), Phillip Peterson (The Posies, Portugal. The Man), Bob Hoffnar (Hem, Norah Jones, Ryan Adams), and John Evans (Billy Joe Shaver, Kevin Fowler, Hayes Carll). That said, Aaron’s story would be incomplete without mentioning the impact that Dani, his wife has had. They have sung together since first meeting in The Grandtours, and she was instrumental in encouraging Aaron to quit his day job to focus on music as his primary career. She is a major source of inspiration and his muse.With true purpose, Aaron’s songs explore age-old themes of love, heartache, failure, and faith. They are classic in their influence and unpretentious in their delivery. At once familiar and fresh, Aaron McDonnell is both an authentic homage to the sounds of the past, and an exciting example of what is to come.
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