As students, sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine that our professors have a life outside of the classroom. But many have hobbies and passions that have absolutely nothing to do with grading our midterms and coming up with fresh ways of torturing us with homework and papers over the weekend.
The Beacon sat down with UP English professor John McDonald, who has been playing and recording music since he was in high school. McDonald played a few songs for us in the KDUP house and answered some questions about his musical inspirations and his plethora of musical projects.
Can you tell me a little bit about your history with music and the projects you’ve been involved in in the past?
I got really interested in playing music when I was in middle school and I started playing guitar, but I wasn’t very good so I switched to base. The first band I was in was called “One Death Two.” We put out a record when I was a senior in high school and did some small tours around the East Coast. We were a hardcore punk band trio. That was in the early to late 80s. Then after that was a project with a guy in the band, Brian, called Clayfoot. We recorded about 58 songs in a two month period. I remember that many because we had a song called “Number 50”. It was like a milestone. And I've been playing in bands ever since. In the 90’s, I was kicking it around in a bunch of different bands here in Portland. Grunge pop stuff. I played in the 2000s with a couple different bands on base and writing songs. And all the music is original. I haven’t been in very many cover bands for very long. It’s always been original music.
Where are you from originally?
Syracuse, New York.
What brought you to Portland?
Graduated from college in Buffalo and wanted to move from the East Coast. My then girlfriend, now wife had a brother out in Portland.
What drew you to teaching?
It was kind of accidental. Both of my parents were teachers and I didn’t want to be a teacher, but then I got into grad school at Portland State and I got a teaching assistantship. The first day I got in front of a college classroom, teaching and writing, I knew I wanted to do this. It’s creative. It’s fun. It’s about writing, which I’m really passionate about.
How do you fit music into your teaching schedule?
I’ve never had a problem fitting music into my life at all. It’s something that I get a lot of. In fact, at home, there’s sometimes a little bit of tension because of how much I want to listen to music. It’s really easy. I listen to music in the car, at home. I have a home studio. I record and I’m constantly playing with friends. It’s not like I have to sacrifice music for my career as a teacher here.
What are you working on currently?
The past year, I’ve been working on a recording project called “Acid The Bear” which is a CD. DIY. Recorded it all myself, made the covers, covered them, numbered them by hand. Some of those are up on the Soundcloud at Acid The Bear. I also went on sabbatical, recording pretty intensely, and I recorded about 13, 14 songs. I’m kind of in the process of deciding what to do with them.
Where do you draw inspiration for your music? What are your influences?
I came out of the hardcore punk scene, so I still love that stuff. Eighties SST bands. I like experimental. I like noise. Anything that’s just not too traditional or cheesy. Though I’ve been getting into classic rock a lot now that I’m older. I’m getting into classic rock and baseball. Two old dude things.
What are you listening to lately?
I just got the new Granddaddy record and I was kind of disappointed with that, but It’s growing on me. In the mornings before coming to school, on the turntable, I’ve been listening to the first Pretenders record for a couple of weeks now and the first Big Star record for a couple of weeks now. And in my car on my way to school, I’ve been listening to all the Elliott Smith records. I’m a pretty avid vinyl collector. So I’ve been buying a bunch of reggae dub records. It’s all over the place.
How do you feel about Portland’s music scene?
It’s really good. It’s really diverse. I like the young bands a lot. You can go to a number of places in Portland on any given night and see like three or four really interesting bands for seven to ten dollars.
Do you feel like you’ve been able to fit into that scene with your music?
I’m kind of on the fringe of that scene. I have a lot of friends in that scene. They’re more established, but I’ve not really ever been a part of the scene here. I’ve played music live here and I know a lot of people on the scene. It’s a good scene, definitely.
Do you ever tell your students about your music?
No, I don’t play it in class. But sometimes, they find out from students I might tell in my office. I’ve had students come see me play live.
Do you have any guilty pleasure music?
I’ve been listening to a lot of The Human League. And I love Madonna. I don’t feel guilty about either of those at all. I had a little Elton John phase a year ago where I kind of went through his stuff from about 1970 to 1975. But there are no guilty pleasures in music. It’s all good.
Where can we find your music?
On iTunes, there is “The Midget” and that’s released by Impko records and there’s three of us and we write and play everything on that.
You can also find McDonald’s music on SoundCloud under Acid The Bear.