It is often said that being pigeonholed into one sound as an artist can be troublesome. Generating the same sound repeatedly may not allow an artist to naturally grow their fan base.
Mike Donnell won’t find himself in any pigeonholes, as he has made a point to feature music for the many lanes of country music listeners. With a sound ranging from traditional to contemporary to even southern rocking jams, Donnell is sure to please those on various sides of the country music landscape.
Announced exclusively through Pro Country, Donnell is preparing his newest single “Girl in A Bar,” which is set for release later this year. Produced by Jody Bartula, Donnell is set to bring a bigger, stadium-rocking sound to his new music.
Hear from Donnell about growing his love of music while serving his country, writing his first single in a fighting hole in Afghanistan, growing his fan base, what fans can expect from his third album, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Mike Donnell: I have always been split between George and Garth, but I like to think Garth was my biggest influence. In my opinion, when you ask people if they like George or Garth better, it shows you a lot about their taste in music. People who say George stayed more on the classic/ traditional side of country music. People who say Garth like their country rockin’ like me!
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career?
MD: I was always singing as a kid and always had a huge love for music, but it was the night of my very first concert that the “dream seed” was planted. Aerosmith was at the Woodlands Pavilion in 2000. It was the music, the lights, the energy, the roar of the crowd that literally gave me goosebumps. That’s when I knew I had to do this, and I wouldn’t stop until I did. I actually told all my friends that night “I’m going to be on that stage one day!” [laughs]. I’m 35 now and that’s still a dream of mine, but I haven’t given up so you never know…
PC: Instead of pursuing music right away, you joined the Marines out of high school. During the time you were serving, how often were you thinking about a music career upon your return?
MD: I wrote my first radio single while sitting in a fighting hole in the middle of Afghanistan [laughs]. It was called “Bullet Train.” It’s about missing everything you love while doing what you gotta do to make ends meet. Even in boot camp 2002, when the drill instructor wasn’t around, there were a few Marines who could also sing, so we would bust out some barbershop quartet stuff [laughs]. Once I got into the fleet, I had my guitar and would play all the time. I even bought some recording stuff for my Barracks room and would write music on the weekends while all the other Marines would go out partying. When we deployed to Iraq in 2005, there was a “Community Guitar,” and we would all jam at the end of the day singing anything from Linkin Park to Alan Jackson [laughs]. Good times.
PC: What emotions were you feeling when you were preparing to release music for the first time with the 1000 Miles EP?
MD: Excitement with a bit of anxiety. I couldn’t wait to see what doors it would open for me. My music reflects me and my style, so every songwriter has a small fear that people just won’t take to it. The song “Angel” on this EP was about my daughter, and probably one of the songs I’m most proud of still to this day. We did full music videos for each song on the EP, so it would have the best fighting chance. I even danced with my daughter at the end of the “Angel” video. Still chokes me up today [laughs]. You can see all those on my website or YouTube channel.
PC: “Bullet Train” from the 1000 Miles EP has become one of your signature songs. Did the success of that song give you a certain level of validation at that early time in your career?
MD: “Bullet Train” was the first song I pushed to Texas Radio, so I guess you could say it kind of put us on the map. It didn’t do top 20 or anything, but It stayed top 50 for a few weeks, which was good for a first single. Also, as a Veteran, I like Grunt Style clothing. It’s a military clothing line. I had all my guys wear Grunt Style shirts in the music video to support. They got wind of this, and in return, reposted my music video on their Facebook and it went viral; 85,000 views in the first 24 hours! We were literally jumping in excitement watching the numbers climb. They also sent me a huge case of shirts, so I guess that’s when I got my first sponsor [laughs]. After Grunt Style shared it, the money we made just from digital downloads alone off that song allowed us to finish the rest of the album and buy a trailer! “Bullet Train” is the foundation of who I am today.
PC: As you were preparing to release your self-titled album last year, were you feeling any kind of pressure to achieve the same or greater success that you achieved on your two previous releases?
MD: I think the first record was great, but in the years after that release, my songwriting had developed, my fanbase had grown massively, and I linked up with some world class musicians, so I think the 2nd album is wayyyyy better. For me, there are no “B” songs on it. It’s a full album of singles! You can let it play start to finish, and I’m very proud of it.
PC: Why did you choose to release “With You” as the lead single from your self-titled album?
MD: I wanted this album to reflect me and my style of music (which can be pretty wild). So there are songs on the album that are more traditional sounding, some that are modern, and some that are straight up Southern Rock. “With You” was my safest bet for shopping a song to Texas Country Radio.
PC: “With You” was written about your wife. What does it mean to you that a song that personal in nature has gone on to connect with thousands of listeners worldwide? What did it mean to have her in the music video for the song?
MD: This song was actually a Valentine’s Day present to her [laughs]. She is a very successful woman who usually buys herself anything she wants, so instead of getting her another necklace or jewelry, I wrote her this song. When I saw the tears on her face, I knew it was something special. I had been wasting my time with the wrong types of women for a long time, so it wasn’t until I gave up that I finally found her. She saved me. I could write songs about her all day. Having her in the music video was the cherry on top. She doesn’t like the camera, but she’s so dang gorgeous I told her she had to do it [laughs]. Gotta show my baby off!
PC: “Pass Smooth Out” is one of my favorite songs on your self-titled album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
MD: This one is difficult to talk about. I actually had suicide on my mind when I wrote this song. I have lost many people to suicide, and at that time, my wife had lost a close friend to an alcohol related incident. Reminded by the pain and confusion that her and her family were dealing with, I started to put my emotions on paper. I was driving by the location of his accident when the melody came to me. When you lose someone to something like that or to suicide, people around are left with the conflicting emotions of pain and anger. That’s why it can be so difficult to deal with. So I decided to write that into the song. The verses are “Major/Happy Sounding” but the chorus and bridge dive into the depression of it. Of course, I masked this in the lyrics by making it sound like a break up song, but I don’t really pull punches when it comes to my music, so I wanted to make this one as hard-hitting as possible. If anyone out there struggles with the effects of suicide…I wanted to let them know you’re not alone.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from your self-titled album after listening all the way through?
MD: I think this album has something for everyone. No matter what type of “country” or music you’re in to, I think you can find something on this album. Unless its rap, I don’t rap [laughs]. This album has songs you wanna crank up doing 100 on the freeway, (don’t do that though [laughs]) songs you can jam around a bonfire, and songs that hit you in the heart. I wrote all these songs about real events that have affected my life, so if you haven’t heard it yet, please give it a shot!
PC: It’s been five years since you released the 1000 Miles EP. Where do you think you have grown the most in the time since that release?
MD: Songwriting aside, I think we have grown the most in our live performance! One of my favorite things to hear from fans at live shows is “Wow you guys sound just as good as the album, if not better!” Anyone can go out there and cut a “studio magic” album, but If you can’t “bring it” at the live shows, then you ain’t gonna cut it. We live for moments like that.
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
MD: Right now, we’re writing album number 3! I’m also very excited to announce here at Pro Country first that we will be releasing a new single titled “Girl in A Bar” this Fall! We hope to have it out to Texas Radio soon. This song might be the best piece of music I have ever written and recorded. Produced by Jody Bartula; he helped bring that professional aspect and stadium feel to it that we have been missing! Other than that, we’re just going to keep pushing to play bigger and better shows, as well as hit the road any chance we get to play somewhere!
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
MD: Just wanted to say thanks to all my fans and everyone who supports us and believes in our music. For Bio, Booking, music videos, albums links, Tour schedule and more visit www.MikeDonnellBand.com