For some pop music is a fast track to become a Butlins version of Ant & Dec (see Sam and Mark), for others its a rather large meal ticket (see Michelle McManus) and for S Club 7 it was several years of 16 hours work a day for not that much really. For Derek McDonald pop music had been his life since the age of 16 when he was signed up for the pop duo Mero by Simon Cowell. Mero when off to work with Motown legend Lamont Dozier in the States, they wrote an albums worth of modern soul classics and then Cowell in his infinite wisdom decided to work with Girl Thing who released two singles and flopped big style. 2 years later Derek came back under the moniker D-Mac with the single "The World She Knows" for EMI, who promptly left him high and dry with another unreleased album after the Mariah-gate scenario.
Now Derek McDonald is back with a 3rd album "Inescapable" which has been shifting units over in Asia where he's a bona-fide popstar. Working with the production team Deekay, who recently co-wrote the Blue singles "Bubblin" and "Breathe Easy", he's recorded an album which could just be one of the pop albums of the year. The debut single "Nobody Knows", a cover of the Toni Rich Project classic ballad, is expected to released in October and Derek also co-wrote the next single from the boy band V which is to be released at the end of October.
Q: The last time we saw you on these shores was about 18 months ago when you were under the name D-Mac. I get the sense that you were just tired of the whole Pop Idolization of the music industry and kept away until it disappeared
A: It's all kicking off right now in the music scene. For a long time, especially with Pop Idol, there was nothing of any substance. But with the likes of Joss Stone, 411 and even Keane coming out with really really great pop songs its been a fantastic year so far.
To be completely honest after the whole thing with Robbie and EMI I just felt really disheartened. Which is probably understandable because its really hard when you've got some tracks and an album you really believe in and you're taking it to the media and they really like it, but the record company just don't seem to push it. That was one of the reasons with Deekay as a production team, that when we set up the album we set up the production company to go and license the album to territories in countries that really really wanted it and really understood what to do with it. It just so happened that most of the countries that it really started off first were in Asia.
But once we got back to the UK and started letting a few people hear the album the vibes were there. I think a lot of the fans were hitting the website and saying "it's really unfair, we want you to come back". I thought about it for a while and it's not really fair, the fans have been so supportive and no matter what happens with the album i'm going to release it over here and i'm going to release a single. It's kinda nice because now all my friends actually start to believe I now have a day job.
Q: The phrase "I'm big in Asia" probably is one of those music biz clichés alongside "i'm just in it for the music man". I know you've toured with Blue over in Japan. How big are you over there at the moment?
A: The tour was great actually. The tour was last minute especially with Deekay's involvement in the last 2 singles with Blue. I've known Blue for a long time as well as friends. We were actually doing the MTV Asia Awards and it was literally last minute after the MTV Asia Awards that we decided we'd follow Blue up to Japan and do the whole Japanese Tour. One of the funniest things was we didn't know if we'd need work permits to get into Japan. Our flight was leaving at 6 O'Clock the following morning and we had to start the tour the following night. We ended up smuggling all our equipment through customs and blagging our way through that we weren't actually working.
Its really weird though cos the Asian fans that you play in front of are completely different. They get really excited over the littlest things. It's really really nice...actually it's really really depressing because they're not an audience that you have to really work to. The opening night in Tokyo was this beautiful theatre and all the fans had glow sticks and they all sat in perfect rows. They stood up and they all waved their glow sticks in perfect time. It was the most bizarre thing I think i've ever actually seen. But they are totally into it and they are tremendously supportive. We've had more hits to the website in Japan than anywhere else in the world and we were literally only there for 7 or 8 days...we toured more in Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. Its really weird that the Japanese are really supportive, but the Japanese market is like the 2nd biggest in the world right now.
Q: It's weird how we found out you were back. We found out you were back from some Thailand Fansite of yours and it was like we recognize that name.
A: This time it's just plain old Derek though. Derek from Mero, D-Mac and now Derek McDonald - how far can we go with that one? (laughs). I feel a little bit like J Lo and P Diddy. Every new single or album I change my name, every new record label I should say. We were thinking about that the other day and I think the only person who has had more record deals than me is Dannii Minogue. I hope the difference is i've got some talent.
One of the nicest thing is i've got the next single for the new boy band V, which is really nice. I'm really happy about that and I hope their album's gonna do well after the success of Busted and Mcfly. And it really did happen by accident. It was a song that I wrote with Bill Padley about a year and a half ago and I completely forgot all about it. Bill called me about 2 months ago to say he'd cut the song with V and it was definitely going to be the 3rd or 4th single from the album.
Q: I remember when you turned your back on being an artists and you went through the songwriting phase for a while
A: It's actually really nice because I get to jump between both. Obviously I was working in a lot of projects with Deekay and I spent a lot of time in Denmark and really really enjoyed it. If the truth be told I really miss being the artist and performing on stage because its the only thing i've ever really known. I signed my first deal with Simon Cowell when I was just turning 16 and i've always constantly been touring, promoting and songwriting. To be honest I don't know what else I could do, I don't think anyone else would employ me.
I actually went to work for my dad for a little while because he was trying to teach me that this is real life and this is what you have to do. He actually sacked me after 3 days and said I had a terrible attitude. My dads owns a building company so we were working on the building site. I was getting £25 a day and spending it all in Starbucks at lunchtime on Latte's and eventually he did just fire me. If my own dad fire's me then i have no chance of being employed anywhere else.
Q: I guess after "It Must Be Love" and "The World She Knows" it's 3rd time lucky this time with the single "Nobody Knows"
A: I'm really confident. "Nobody Knows" is such a phenomenal record anyway and I just wanted to try and stay really true to the original because the original is my favourite record of all time. I really wasn't intending to release it as a single or anything like that. What happened was we were in the studio and it was Valentines day and we were talking about great records to cover and release for Valentines day. We were looking at the success of Enrique Iglesias "Hero", him releasing it around that time and it being such a big song. We were talking about songs that were huge but could have been bigger so we did a version of "Nobody Knows" and as soon as people heard it everyone said we had to go with it as a single. We'd forgotten about it cos we were concentrating on all the new songs we'd wrote and then when we were out in Asia all the Radio Stations were picking up on "Nobody Knows".
Q: But still it is the only cover on the album though
A: It is actually. I was a little bit dubious about doing it because I really don't want to be known as a covers artist. In my opinion you never beat the original song ever. On that song he had so much emotion in his voice and he really believed what he was talking about. I just think it's really hard to try and better that and when we started recording it that was the thing that I didn't want to do. I didn't want to try and better the original because I couldn't, I just wanted to put my own slant on things. I hope radio stations don't hear it and think OMG he's just killed that song because there's so many artists recently who have done dreadful cover versions and think why would you murder that song. With the likes of Lemar coming out of Fame Academy...I remember reading an interview with him and he said I really wasn't keen on doing Fame Academy, but it was just a platform to launch. I think everybody needs that now, just a platform to launch, and I think this song is a platform for me.
Q: I guess working with a production team like Deekay who co-wrote Blue's "Breathe Easy" and "Bubblin", they've got a pedigree which gives you that confidence that your own material should cross over
A: I'm probably more confident with this single and this album than anything else. We're just negotiating a deal in the UK at the moment which is really exciting. And I just really think that this time it's going to happen.
We're hoping to get the single "Nobody Knows" out the 2nd week in October and more than that I just want to go out and do some live gigs. It has been a while, especially in the UK. For people to take me seriously as an artist I understand I have to move with a band. I'm getting older now, I was 23 a couple of weeks ago, and to be honest I never was the best dancer in the world. Back in the D-Mac days we did some really great shows and we had a really good band and we're getting them together now to start rehearsing.
When you add a live element to anything people really buy into it more because they see you more as a real artist. Recently I went to the Britney show and she mimed 85% of the show. The other thing that really annoys me is I know she's probably sung "Baby, One More Time" a million times and if she sung the song one more time she'd probably burst into tears, but the kids have spent money and they love the song the way it was written. I don't understand the people who want to change it. I mean she did a big band version of it and people have paid £30 for the tickets. For me Britney is way more hype over a real artist, the songs are so much more bigger than her.
Q: The pop scene is changing though slowly and surely. You agree?
A: Obviously with the rivalry between Britney and Christina, I think Christina had really come out as the real artist. I saw Christina in concert and she was fantastic - she sung pretty much everything live and she just rocked. I think that's the difference. People are really trying to buy into real artists, look at Joss Stone. The whole Pop Idol thing had just completely died away, which is a relief to a lot of people. Was Michelle McManus or Sam & Mark anything even approximating music?
Q: Who are you feeling in music right now?
A: I really like the 411, their new single "Dumb" is really interesting and I like where they're going. It's strange because all the girl bands right now are Spice Girl or All Saints wannabe's. You have Girls Aloud trying to do the whole Spice Girls thing and you have the 411 trying to go where All Saints left off.
The only band that i'm really not feeling right now is Hyper Psycho. I know there's a lot of buzz about them and lots people are talking about them, but for me I just don't get the hook in that song. They're like a bad Madness really aren't they. And Peter Andre's "Insania" is just the worst song in the last 5 years. It really irritated me when that song became a hit. Are kids deaf? It's the only reason they could be buying that cos there's nothing good about that song. What was it he said? I can't believe Mysterious Girl is still around 4 years on. Yeah, neither can I!!!
Q: For those who haven't heard the Japanese album yet, how would you describe Derek McDonald?
A: I love so many different types of music that I can't be pigeonholed, but I will say i'm a pop artist. I know that really annoys some people when you say pop, but i'm a pop kid and I was brought up listening to pop records and that's all I really wanna do. I don't wanna be cool and arty, I just wanna make pop
Q: Finally, what's next for Derek McDonald in the the UK?
A: For the UK album release I think we're going to record 4 new songs, 2 of which I've already written. So far we've had really good feedback from media when we sent out the album and i'm really hoping for hit this time. We're licensing it to a major right now and the negotiations are going really well.
Hopefully we're gonna get a really good tour lined up at the end of the year and then hopefully we're gonna do the Blue tour at the beginning of next year. We're just gonna continue to release singles off the album. I think the next single after "Nobody Knows" is "Just Like Me" which is my favourite songs on the albums. It's one of the few songs I didn't write, but it was just one of those songs that as soon as I heard it I had to have it and recorded it 2 days later.
Derek McDonald performs at the CC Club on August 19th in Piccadilly Circus, London
"Nobody Knows" is expected to be released in October
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