Interview with Doug MacNaughton
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Fall of 1973 – my brother is taking a music appreciation course in with the rest of his year at university. The prof gives everyone the opportunity to present 3 songs/15 minutes of their favourite music, so my I end up tagging along while my brother cashes in a favour from a friend who works at a stereo shop. We go in after hours and use their set up to record ‘The Boston Rag’ by Steely Dan, ‘The Slime’ by Frank Zappa, and an excerpt from the opening of ‘Tubular Bells’ by Mike Oldfield. I’d heard Steely Dan and Zappa before, but the Mike Oldfield was an album he borrowed from a friend, and I’d never heard it before. I was completely hypnotized, and the feeling only got stronger as I found out that Mike Oldfield had played all the instruments. I got the album for Christmas in ’73, and played it once a day for six months, all the while fantasizing about being the guy writing that and playing on it…
It’s really hard to say what I’d have done without music – when I was younger, I had thought of writing, and I was quite serious about becoming a veterinarian until I figured out how much blood and animal suffering might be involved. My parents wanted me to become a lawyer, a Presbyterian minister, or go into the military – luckily, they put up with me getting into music (though I think they thought I’d come to my senses when I figured out how uncertain a living it was). And it’s amusing to look back at a time when ‘Presbyterian minister’ was their idea of perfect job security!
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I enjoy cooking, and as a vegetarian/vegan (most of what I cook and eat is vegan, but I do have cheese and eggs occasionally), you have to be prepared to cook for yourself a lot. Board games, puzzles, books, comic books, films – mostly fantasy/sci-fi. I love to play snooker, but I’m not very good at it, and I haven’t seen a table in a couple of years – during the pandemic shutdown, I was living in a house with a snooker table, and I played for a couple of hours a day.
I love hearing live music and seeing live theatre, every chance I get!
I’m more into solo athletic endeavours, like cycling, kayaking, cross-country skiing. I love cycling ~30 – 50 km distances on quiet country back roads.
How long have you been making music?
I think I was six years old when I started singing in the junior choir. Recorder in Grade 4 (age 8), trumpet in Grade 6 (age 10), I switched to tuba in Grade 7 (I think), started guitar in Grade 8. So if you count junior choir, that makes it 55 years. You’d think I’d be a lot better at it after all this time… :D
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
Currently, I’m based out of Toronto – there’s just so much more going on here than in many other places! The fact that there are so many venues and theatres make it a very special city. For me, the film “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” epitomizes everything I love about the Toronto music scene.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
Okay, have a seat – this is a long one… Saturday morning, February of 2013. I’ve got the dog leash in my hand and I’m almost out the door when the phone rings. My wife answers it, and signals me to stop, and then passes the phone on to me. It’s Roberto Mauro at the Canadian Opera Company – that night is the closing night of ‘Tosca’, and they have a problem. The singer performing the role of ‘Sciarrone’ is completely incapacitated because of a change in his arthritis meds, and his understudy is in Kuala Lumpur doing a concert. Have I ever sung the role before?
Well, I haven’t, and I tell him that. I say he should call around because I’m certain there are a couple of singers available who have sung the role before – he should call me back if he can’t find anyone.
Half an hour later, he calls back – No, there’s no one in Toronto who could do the role. He could fly someone in from NYC, but that would cost more, and the person wouldn’t get any rehearsal time. The company is prepared to do whatever it takes to get me onstage that night.
So, I say “I’ll do it!”. I download the score from IMSLP, I download a recording, and listen to the part obsessively for the next couple of hours. It’s not bad – 1 silent entry in the first act, 8 lines over 5-6 entries in the second act, 1 big line at the end of the third act. 1:30, I have a coaching with a pianist, 2:30 I have a costume fitting, 3:30 – 5:30, we have an emergency staging rehearsal where the assistant director takes me through the whole part, 5:30 – 6:30 is dinner, 6:30 costume and make-up call for a 7:30 show.
The assistant director was in the wings the entire show, and every time I came off stage, she’d go through whatever I had coming up for the next entry. Could not have done the show without her!
The show was surprisingly good, considering I was flying by the seat of my pants the whole night! And that post-show cider in the bar afterwards was one of the finest-tasting beverages I’ve ever earned!
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
The Dakota Tavern has a wonderful vibe, with lots of really supportive people in the crowd. I haven’t played the Tranzac Club yet, but I’d love to! Special mention goes out to the amphitheatre in Prescott, Ontario, where I performed “Twelfth Night” last summer – what a great privilege that was!!
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto is an absolute gem of a venue. Actually, I’ve played in two locations there – the main stage, and the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre!
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I’d love a chance to play with Bruce Cockburn, Stephen Fearing, Joni Mitchell, and Kellie Loder – dream concert for me!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Keep your dreams in mind, and keep your hopes alive. It’s a hard business, with lots of ups and downs. Sometimes, you need ways to remind yourself why you want to keep going. I keep a little notebook with all the kind and supportive things other people have said – it’s great to read through a bit of it on the days when you feel like you should be selling shoes or pumping gas.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
That’s very hard to say – the big thing that all my songs have in common is that they’re a reflection of what I really think on any given subject. Yes, they all have a bit of poetic license to them, but they’re all sincere expressions of what I really feel. People tell me that ‘My Funeral’ is unmistakably me; I have a very soft spot for ‘Energize’ because of how it reflects the reconciliation of seemingly contradictory ideas, and how it blends my rock influences and my Celtic influences.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
“The Well of Friendship”, which I’m releasing on May 19, is my most requested song. I love playing ‘Nous’, just because it has such a funky feel to it.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
“Fuck around and find out” (“Try it and see”, if that language is too salty for you.) – it’s too bad that that’s become such an aggressive expression for threatening someone, as it completely encapsulates my working method. “What would it sound like if I played in this tuning? I dunno, fuck around with that tuning and find out… New tunings, new fingerings, new instruments – all of them inspire me to think of music in a different way.
And always have some means of recording yourself handy, so you don’t have to stop playing to write it down!
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
I believe that we can make the world a better place for each other, through trust, love, empathy, and understanding. Our common heritage as human beings should unite us, because ultimately, there’s more that unites us than divides us!
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Well, there are my singles “The Well of Friendship” being released on May 19, “Nous” being released on June 24 (St. Jean Baptiste Day), and “Follow your Silence” being released in late July, with the album “Old Enough to Know Better” being released in August.
And someday soon, I hope to get my green card, which will allow me to move to NYC and rejoin my wife! She started working for The Metropolitan Opera in October of 2018, and she’s been living down there ever since. It will be fascinating to have a chance to explore the scene(s) in New York!
Two operas coming up – “Memories from Beyond the Grave” in Halifax on June 2 and 3. This is the world premiere of a chamber opera about the life, times, and works of François-René de Chateaubriand (1768 – 1848), and my role debut as ‘Don Pasquale’ in “Don Pasquale” for ItalFestMontréal on August 6
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
There’s my Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/DougMacNaughtonOfficial/
My Instagram page - https://www.instagram.com/dougmacnaughtonofficial/
My YouTube channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-mafdHmawmiXpS0wWJE7BA
And my website – www.dougmacnaughton.com