SHAWN MCDONALD has created
pensive, moving, raw music since he first
came on the scene in 2004 with Simply
Nothing. The ten years since have been full
of highs and lows. While his music worked
its way into the hearts and playlists of
people everywhere, the personal struggles
of marriage, divorce and an overall sense of
darkness loomed large in his life. Despite
the challenges, Shawn continued to use his
circumstances as a muse to create music
the world needed to hear. Today, however,
that shadow is lifted. Refreshed and in a
new state of grace, Shawn’s personal joy has
come to life on his latest record, Brave. With
a more electronic, up-beat sound than on
any of his previous work, the title is not only
apt; it could serve as a moniker for Shawn
himself. CCM talked with Shawn about the
new music and about this new phase of life.
Read on to see how God has led him out of
the darkness and be inspired to break free
from your own.
CCM: The entire record is sonically very different
from your past work. What was different about
this creative process?
I never like to recreate the past. I
want to always be growing and changing.
I want my life to reflect that, and I try to
be that way in music. When I approach any
record, I want to be a better writer. This
album is that—progressively different, even
down to the melody and style of music. I
spent two to three years writing it and pulled
it together very differently than any other
record. I tried to be culturally relevant. When
it comes down to it, I’m a journey writer. I
write about my life experiences and try to
stay true to my everyday life. I don’t want to
be a hit writer because it’s cool. I have to sing
these songs, so I have to have something that
would naturally come out of myself.
CCM: You’ve worked with producer Christopher
Stevens in the past, but there were some new
faces in the production booth on this record.
Obviously, that had to contribute to the new
sounds and overall vibe. How did you end up with
the production line-up?
I worked with three producers on this
one, which was a new experience as well. I’ve
done every project with Christopher Stevens,
who also works with tobyMac, Mandisa, Britt
Nicole and other pretty big artists. He’s really
like family to me.
With this one, though, we both wanted to go
some places we hadn’t gone before. I had never
worked with David Garcia before. He’s a little
more pop than I was used to; but it was a fresh,
good match, so we gave him three songs. Then,
I stumbled upon Jamie Kenny. I’m the first CCM
artist he’s ever recorded. I felt honored that he
gave me a chance and some time.
All three producers are different, but
musically we tied the whole project together in
a way that feels like one piece.
CCM: You’ve always been driven by your live
shows, which probably look pretty different with
this batch of songs. What changes have you
made to your shows?
It is different. I’m using a full band
and integrating a lot of things I’ve never used
before, like tracks. I really even hesitate to say it
because musicianship is so important to me. But
some of these songs are so big, it’s hard to pull
off that kind of instrumentation with a couple of
guys. Finances aren’t always there, so you have
to get creative. This music has more electronic
components. My drummer fires tracks in real
time. It’s a really engaging show. I’m a guitar
player by nature, but this round we wrote a lot
on piano. Now, I’m trying to learn to get out
from behind the guitar and move a lot and
interact with the audience. It just lets people
in. The sweet songs are even more tender; and
overall, it’s just a more exciting show.
CCM: Excitement doesn’t come from nowhere.
Is it fair to say that your personal happiness in
phase of life has played out on these tracks?
I’ve been in a very joyous season.
There’s been a lot of time for healing, and I
really don’t think there’s one specific thing
you can put a finger on. I don’t even know
when the shift happened. After a lot of
processing and really figuring myself out,
I found my passion again. I appreciate the
darker season. It makes you stronger, but I
was ready for some light.
I called the album Brave
not just because of
a song; the entire album was a departure of
what I’ve done in the past, and that’s scary.
Music always comes with a bit of judgment.
I’ve lived a lot of my life in fear of what
others would think of me, and I made a lot
of mistakes along the way. Part of bravery,
for me, is simply laying down my fears,
inadequacies and thoughts, believing that
God will use a broken human heart even if I
don’t have it all together.
I’m always trying to discover what God
is to me; what He wants me to share and
what that looks like. As an artist, we’re put
on a stage, and it’s easy to get lost in all
the expectations of what we’re supposed
to be and lose who we really are. We
overcomplicate our lives with whatever until
we realize that God accepts us. He loves our
hearts. All of us are broken. All of us need
to discover our need for God. I want to be
someone who can communicate messages
that will help people heal.
One of the stories I continually think about
it in pursuing music is the story of the master
and the talents. One of those guys actually
invests the talents and brings back more. I
think God gives us all gifts and talents, but a lot of us don’t pursue them and tend to bury
rather than invest them. I take the content
of my songs very seriously and try not to
exclude people but invite them in so they,
too, can realize what God is all about.
CCM: Who has represented bravery in your
Jason Holtridge is a pastor of
a small church in Michigan. He’s very
open-minded, and he brings in a lot of
messy people. He has a gift for loving
broken people. When I was going
through a rough time, he let me live
in his basement, be involved in his
community and let me have a normal
life. He really impacted my heart
and my mind and was one of the key
people who helped me come out of the
season of fog.
CCM: Now that the fog is lifting, what does
your world as a father and friend look like?
Home is awesome. I have a
beautiful little boy who is a big part of my
life. We’re involved in a really awesome
community. They’ve accepted me and
brought me in to exist with them.
They’ve not been fans; they’ve been
friends. It’s a good season of life.