Earlier this summer, pop-punk rapper Hollow River — who also goes by the name of Mark MacDonald — mix fact and fiction in his latest single and video Known To Lie HERE. Today, he uncrosses his fingers and gives us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in response to my pointless questions. Unless he’s still lying. Either way, here we go:
Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base, other details you’d like to share (height, weight, identifying marks, astrology sign, your choice).
My name is Mark MacDonald, a 29-year-old Canadian/American producer and songwriter and I make music under the name Hollow River. I’m based half in Boston and half in Toronto, although the coronavirus has me staying up north for the time being.
What is your musical origin story?
I first started guitar when I was eight, after my family moved from Mississauga to New Jersey. Neither of my parents were really musicians — my mom played the accordion as a kid, but I had only heard stories, and my dad knew how to play one song on his cheap acoustic guitar at the campfire. I think it was important for them to try and give my sister and I opportunities they didn’t have, so they put us in private lessons, her piano and me guitar. My professional aspirations didn’t start until my mid-20s though. I was living in Ottawa finishing an English Literature degree and working for a craft brewery and decided I didn’t want to sell beer the rest of my life and I didn’t want to go to teachers college. So I politely left the company I was working for when I graduated and I moved back home to save money. I spent the next year volunteering at Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton, learning about recording and producing from Amy King, who is still an amazing mentor and friend. From there I was accepted into Berklee College. where I got into their Music Production & Engineering program, where I really grew into my own as a producer and songwriter. The things I learned at Berklee, I will carry the rest of my professional career.
What do we need to know about your latest project?
Known To Lie is a Pop-Punk-Rap from the perspective of a liar. It allowed me some unique lyrical opportunities that makes the song really fun. It was recorded in the weeks of isolation I spent in my apartment in Boston in the heat of the lockdown, collaborating remotely with musicians. I’m insanely proud to say that this wasn’t recorded in a fancy studio. It was me and my extremely talented friends LJ Trotta and Brad Williamson, who absolutely killed it on drums and bass respectively, sending files back and forth via Dropbox.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
My hybrid sound really sets me apart. When you think of Rap/Rock the first thing to come to mind are bands like Linkin Park and other Nu Metal bands, but my sound is explicitly not that. It’s much more like if Eminem decided to join a Blink-182 cover band. I think this shines best in my live performance, whether with my band or solo with my acoustic. I think there is an indisputable amount of talent involved with being able to balance both playing guitar and rapping simultaneously that live audiences really respond to.
What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
Songwriting has always been therapeutic for me. I’ve spent my life learning to live with my demons, and I think that comes out in the art I make. I suffered from panic attacks since I was a kid which I only understood retrospectively after the help of a really great therapist. As I grew into my teens my mental health struggles with a specific struggle with major depression disorder coupled with insomnia. Themes about mental health struggles flow throughout a lot of my work. I hope that maybe my words can provide some comfort or relief to others who are similarly struggling.
Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
My first show was in Ottawa about a year after I had graduated. I had been working at Grant Avenue for several months and ended up showing one of my co-workers one of the songs I had written in my spare time and they encouraged me to consider taking writing more seriously. I still wasn’t convinced. I wasn’t sure if I had would have an audience if I decided to take this risk, so I decided to do a test run. I booked Café Nostalgica on the uOttawa campus, found a friend to open and tried to run my first concert. I was surprised to see an overwhelming amount of support from friends in the area. I can’t say we were sold out because we weren’t charging anyone, but the place was packed. It was the first time I thought I could legitimately do this.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
I once got hired last minute to be a DJ. It was a disaster for everyone involved. Don’t hire me to be a DJ.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
The best live performance I have seen in a long time, before lockdown, is my friend in the Boston music scene, Prateek. He’s a super talented songwriter that writes these wonderfully crafted acoustic songs and his live performance gets to me every time. Like, I’ve seen his set a bunch of times and he can still bring a tear to my eye with the way he weaves his banter and stories with his songs. He just released a live album too you can check out to really hear him in his element. Something awesome for the cottage.
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I hope to have my own studio that I work out of writing for myself and other artists. Producing my own material is fun, but I really love working with other artists to bring the best out of them and make the most of their vision.
What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
Mark Hoppus. Considering I’m a rapper I should probably have more rappers on this list but I deep down I’m just a punk kid who loves Blink-182.
What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
Probably jazz. I have a lot of friends from Berklee who are some pretty phenomenal jazz musicians and due to my time at Grant Avenue before school I had a decent amount more experience recording jazz musicians then my peers. I understand how to put up microphones and capture the performance the best, so I would get booked for a lot of jazz or jazz fusion sessions. Those are some of my favourite studio sessions as an engineer because the level of musicianship is so high and the vibes are always really fun and positive. As a listener I’m always down for a well done pop record though. Been currently consuming Halsey’s Manic which is an awesome record.
What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Been listening to the Simple Creatures EPs a lot, as well as the latest PUP album. Also a lot of Bon Iver, basically the whole discography. I love everything Justin Vernon does.
How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
Books: Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
Graphic Novels: Watchmen, V for Vendetta.
Poetry: Leonard Cohen, Al Purdy. I’m also a big fan the works in Canthius magazine.
Movies: Dead Poets Society, Fight Club, Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
Who would you be starstruck to meet?
Eminem. What are you supposed to say to him? What are you supposed to call him? He has so many names they would all just form a knot in my tongue and I would say nothing.
What’s your favourite joke?
Have you heard the one about the cookie? It was crumby.
What do you drive and why?
I used to drive a red Jeep Wrangler — his name was Rex and I loved him very much even though he broke down constantly. I eventually sold him when I moved to Boston because I didn’t need a car in the city. Used the money to buy some pre amps for my studio.
What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I would want to fly Dragon Ball Z style like Goku. Extra points if I can shoot beams out of my hands but I’d be happy with just the flight part. I would fly everywhere and basically never walk again.
What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I love to cook. A lot of my IG stories are dedicated to my Fake Instagram Cooking Show where I’m just a bit goofy while making dinner. It was a surprise success on my social media and fans seem to really enjoy it. Sometimes rappers and bands social media feeds can be really overwhelming with promo, but I try to make mine more engaged and authentic. When I’m cooking ,I’m having a lot of fun and I think that energy is infectious. I think it’s something fans can relate to more than just studio pictures too. Everyone needs to eat, right? It’s also a matter of self-care for me, so I try and cook for myself as often as possible. It’s makes me feel better when I’m stressed, and when I’m in Boston and homesick its nice to be able to cook one of my mom’s recipes and make my entire apartment smell like home.
What do you collect?
Guitar pedals. Some would say I have an unnecessarily large collection of guitar pedals. Those people would be wrong. I especially love boutique Canadian pedals like the ones from Southampton Pedals and Johnny Rocks.
If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Momma Mac’s Buffalo Chicken Dip. Family recipe that became so famous among my friends it once got killed at at a Super Bowl Potluck in less than five minutes after it came out of the oven. I didn’t even get any!
What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
Not wearing masks. Protect the people around you, wear your fucking mask.
Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
I had a yellow lab growing up, we got her when I was four. We were the second owners; the first was a veterinarian student who broke up with her boyfriend and had to move in with her parents but was only allowed to keep one of her two dogs. I remember my parents explicitly telling us we were NOT leaving with the dog, and we were just looking — 45 minutes later my dad was driving around the corner to the closest ATM while my sister and I played with our new family member Abbey. Currently I don’t have any pets, but the Coronavirus has brought me back home to Canada just in time. My parents are getting a puppy in a few months, a yellow lab just like Abbey. Very happy I’ll be able to be home to enjoy that experience.
If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I would own a bar that serves good beer and plays good music. There would be good chicken wings and you could order suicide wings by the wing. No one wants to eat an entire batch of suicide wings, you just want to try one alongside your order of regular enjoyable wings.
What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
I have a songwriting teacher at Berklee who I owe a lot to, George Woods. He has been an incredible mentor to me and has really helped me polish my craft and helped me become a rapper, but by accident. I used to write songs with tons of lyrics and try and sing them all. George would talk to me after class or an open-mic performance and try and explain to me that I had too many words in my melodies. My message was being lost, people couldn’t understand what I was saying. George’s advice was to cut words to make my melodies stronger. Instead, I cut the melody to make my words stronger. I didn’t want to compromise my lyrical content which I saw as valuable, so I adapted. George has often said, “that was the exactly correct way to take that criticism,” and without him I don’t think I would have found my sound, which I consider to be uniquely my own.