By Tim Regan
Margot MacDonald strains the loose leaves out of her freshly brewed tea and takes a small, pensive sip. Like most Clarendon 20-somethings on a Friday morning, she’s hanging out at Northside Social, the coffee shop where she spends a lot of her time. MacDonald is reassuringly human—shy, even—but when she sings, she transforms into an embodiment of confidence. And she has all the reason to be confident.
For MacDonald, 22, musical ambition started young. By age 7, she had written her first song. At 9, she sang with the Washington Opera. She debuted her first CD, “Rising,” as a 13-year-old. Three more albums and eight Washington Area Music Association awards later, she’s currently on the cusp of a new album and a new sound. Last year, she raised $15,000 through Indiegogo, and not all of those donations came from Northern Virginia. If that money is any indication, MacDonald’s sound has something to it. “I’m only playing small venues outside of D.C.,” she says, cradling her tea, “but [my music] is something different that I think appeals to a lot of different people.”
Like her musical influences Kimbra and Imogen Heap, MacDonald strives to create sounds that audiences don’t often hear. Her latest yet-to-be-named album, due out later this year, melds traditional instruments like drums and guitars with a sound that borders on unconventional: half-filled bottles, a loop pedal and beatbox-y percussion sounds made by MacDonald herself. She likens her style to “chocolate covered pretzels,” she explains. “A little sweet, a little savory. With some crunch.”
MacDonald’s music is a labor of love. She sometimes spends an entire week on one track alone, mostly due to the intricacies of the loop pedal. “Doing 16 vocal tracks per song takes longer,” she says, adding, “but I’m being a bit of a perfectionist with this album.” During concerts she loops her own voice on itself—sometimes two dozen times—to create complex rhythms and sounds from the stage. And on stage is where she was meant to be. “I can never practice like I perform,” she says with a smile.
It’s almost as if MacDonald never stops singing, only taking breaks for those brief, necessary moments of real life. On Sundays, she’s hosting Northside Social’s open mic nights. During the rest of the week, she’s in the studio, or hopping between gigs at venues here in town and in cities like New York and Baltimore.
As for the future, MacDonald is up for anything. Though she has plenty of local support, she wouldn’t mind hitting the road and roughing it a little in New York. When asked if she expects her music career to blossom into something huge, she takes a long, contemplative pause.
“Hopefully,” she says. But for the young singer-songwriter who lands shows at venues like Wolf Trap and Strathmore in Maryland, the road ahead looks promising.