Following up from the 2019 release of ‘Give Me Back My Heart’, SJ McDonald is back with her 2nd single, the barnstorming ‘Hot Damn’. Check our interview with her and review of the new track below.
You’re one of the most down to Earth and genuine people in country music emphasised by the fact you often use holidays and spare time to go back to Virginia and help on the family farm. What are some of your regular duties?
When I go home family is why I’m there!! Over the years I have been the extra set of hands when working cows, have taken over yard work to give my parents a break, hauled around the kids to river trips, or even the dentist. When I go home I assume full big sister/farmer daughter mode! This summer I was home for 4 months due to COVID, and my favorite part was training my little sister’s 4-H Stockman’s Show heifers!
There are certain artists in Nashville such as Brittany Moore and Autumn Buysse to name a couple that you write with regularly and work together so well with. What for you personally makes someone a particularly special co-write partner?
The big thing for me when it comes to co-writing is being able to be comfortable with someone. Easier said than done, but with some people the comfort just comes easy (like with Brittany and Autumn). I’ve always gone into new co-writes with the mentality of “ok, not everyone is going to vibe with everyone, and that says nothing about the person’s character/talent and neither does it say anything about mine!”
The new single ‘Hot Damn’ is a feisty number that’s always a favourite of yours at live shows. Can you tell us the story behind the song and how it came together
I wrote it in February of 2018 with Autumn Marie Buysse in a Belmont University writer’s room. (I was a freshman at the time; I just started my senior year last week!) The night before we wrote it, I had played a show on Lower Broadway, where afterwards I was sitting at the bar and a completely drunk guy came up, smacked me on the arm and said “damn girl!”. I was talking to Autumn about how that happens so much to women and she said, well, let’s write a song about it! And so… Hot Damn was born.
A lot of artists dream of being signed by one of the major labels, is that something that’s essential to you in your career or do you feel you could still achieve your goals going down the independent route?
I really look up to artists like Muscadine Bloodline, who are completely independent from a label/publishing. They show me that if you prioritize your fans, anything is possible. Obviously working with a label helps, but I also LOVE growing from the roots up organically, and seeing what happens. So that is where I’m at from that aspect! My main focus is making music that I believe in, that hopefully someone else will feel something from.
I love how well you use your platform on social media to be an advocate for equality and human rights. Is that something that was inspired in you by other people?
Since I was about 16 years old, equality and human rights has been something that just ignites a fire in me. I lived in a sort of bliss up until then, and then one day I just woke up and realized that there are so many things in this world that are bad, and need to be spoken about. I have a platform and consider it very important to talk about what’s real, and have those tough conversations. If my music is real, why can’t I as a person be real? My hope in being open about advocating for equality and human rights on my music pages, is that I will help someone, anyone, just stop and think about what’s going on, and ignite a fire in them like there’s a fire in me to stand up for others!
You’ve just begun your senior year studying song writing at Belmont University in Nashville. How important has your time there been for your career?
Belmont is where I bloomed! My roots are in Virginia but moving to Nashville and attending Belmont has let me really spread my wings. I met my best friends here, had my first co-write ever with my friend Sam Newton (we sat beside each other at our first ever class at Belmont). I also think Belmont has been great for me in helping me to learn about other genres and appreciate all music, because no two artists at Belmont are alike, and surprisingly the majority are not country!! I expected cowboy hats and boots when I rolled up in here! I love that it wasn’t what I expected.
What are you proudest of about yourself as an artist?
I am proud of how far I have come in songwriting. The songs I was writing before I came to Nashville maybe had meaning to me, but not to others. Now, I feel like I really know what I want to say, and that took a long time to figure out.
It’s not unusual to see you play a 4 hour full band show on Broadway then dash straight from there to perform in a writers round. Have you been able to replace that buzz you get from live shows over the last few months?
The buzz of playing music in Nashville has been replaced by time with my family over the past 5 months, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I treasure the time with them more than anything on this planet.
Finally, any plans for an EP or an album in the future?
Well, I can’t give everything away. But… I’m not done yet.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a writers round in Nashville SJ was performing in where ‘Hot Damn’ wasn’t the stand out track of the night. If rocky numbers with a whole heap of sass thrown in performed by strong women are your thing then you’ve come to the right place with ‘Hot Damn’. The song was written regarding a particular show where SJ was bothered afterwards by an overly drunk guy, a sadly all too familiar tale for female artists. Whilst it was written about a gig, I think all women will be able to relate to this from many walks of life.
I love that the track has this real big kick to it right from the beginning, pulls you in straightaway and transports you to a bar on the middle of Broadway in Nashville. SJ has an incredible amount of maturity in her song writing and storytelling that goes way beyond her years, when you couple that with the talents of her wonderfully gifted co-writer on the track Autumn Buysse it’s only ever going to result in magic. They paint the picture so well of the guy in the bar and really take you through the frustrations that women often feel in that position, I especially like the line “hot damn don’t you understand, when you treat me like a lady then I’ll treat you like a man, hot damn”, a simple lesson a lot of people could benefit from learning, be it in bars or anywhere else for that matter.
The instrumentation on the track is incredible, the guitars as well as the drums on the track really give it this rocky anthemic feel. As mentioned earlier I’ve always been such a huge fan of hearing this track live and I feel like the recorded version has given this track extra life and I think everyone involved needs to be commended for how great a job they’ve done on every aspect of the track. The highlight of ‘Hot Damn’ for me has to be SJ’s powerhouse vocals shining throughout, they help this track explode in a big way and you really feel every bit of her emotion and passion.
SJ McDonald has an astonishing future ahead of her and really is a breath of fresh air in country music. ‘Hot Damn’ released on 28th August can be pre-saved at the following link:-