Artist Spotlight: Pat Donahoe
REGIONS – 2011 (photocred: Dan Green)
I’ve known Pat for a long time, and I’ve seen him grow through a series of different artistic styles and modes of expression – all of them intelligent, usually emotionally fervent, always deeply personal, and often confrontational. Many of the best shows I went to at Secret Art Space and around the Valley from c. 2009-c. 2013 involved Pat singing – or screaming, pushing his guitar up to the amp until it squealed and bled feedback, sinking to his knees and rocking back and forth in some dark exaltation. Pat’s bands were always theatrical, and their albums and live shows alike narrative-driven. I’m excited he’s back with new music and, as always, I’m excited to chat with him. – A.T.
You spent a few years away from music – specifically ,from recording and performing – to focus on finishing school, is that correct?
Yeah. I drifted away from music for a time to focus on school. It was less of a conscious decision than it was school being hard AF.
How is that degree treating you so far?
Leave me alone, Mom!
How did your personal hiatus inform the things you’re trying to do with your new projects?
I think part of the reason I drifted away from music to focus on school was that studying the humanities offered me a way to deal with my past. I’ve been marred with medical issues (cancers, blood disorders) since I was a teenager, and never found the appropriate venue to explore how those existential battles affected me as an individual. That’s what Played Sports is about. This confusing, convoluted journey to figure out who “I” am when I grew up largely being known as and referred to as whatever illness I happened to be battling at the time.
You were a mainstay of the Lehigh Valley scene for years – across various genres and facets of the musical landscape of the area – with bands like Millionaire Boys Club, Mimieux, and Holy Christ! Then, your collaborators all moved away. What was that like at the time?
Man, it was hard. We all worked so hard on those projects. As crushing as it can be to have your creative counterparts fall away, it was real beautiful to see those dudes grow into who they are now. Drew’s fucking married, which is insane. I couldn’t be happier for the dude. He’s doing real excellent stuff with his hardcore band, Squalor, and a really cool emo-punk band called Hard Sulks. I haven’t spoken to him in a while, but I’m pretty sure his wife is in that band with him. That’s my dream, man. Doing the dang thing with the person you love. Drew’s livin’ it. James from Holy Christ and REGIONS is doing stuff with a hardcore band out of Philly called Young Graves, and they rip. And Brad’s still my best friend, and I’ve stayed in touch with him the most over the years. He just moved back to Philly, and we have some super secret secrets planned in the near future, so I’m sure I’ll be back talking about that soon.
Tell me about your solo LP, Played Sports as a Kid. Lyrically, this is one of your most cohesive projects; I know you used to write all your records with an overt theme in mind – often even a directly textual narrative. Was there something like that for this album?
This is a really cool question. You know how important lyrics are to everything I’ve ever done, and this is something I thought about deeply during my writing process with my solo stuff. Everything I wrote before in Holy Christ or Mimieux was contingent upon some fictional “Other” I created to shield myself from the subject, but all of those lyrics were real personal to me in the end. I was always trying to distance myself from the topics I was trying to approach, whether it was death, anxiety, et cetera. My concept with this record was to be as honest as I could be with both the listener and myself in the writing process. I think this speaks to your minimalism question, as well. I wanted my solo project to be representative of what I’ve been going through all these years. I want people who may understand these feelings to be able to resonate with the material in an open an honest way. The only way for that to happen is for me to be open and honest in my songwriting, and that’s what this record is for me. Just a pure expression of what I was thinking and the place I was in when I wrote these jams. I also think the way that these songs are recorded is emblematic of that as well. Everything is recorded on my phone within a few hours or days of me completing the song. I really wanted to genuinely capture who I was at the specific time the song was written and I think, in that, it establishes a sort of chronological, narrative feel when you listen to the record front to back.
Minimalism – is that a thing you’re into on, like, a theoretical level? Or is it more intuitive? Because Played Sports as a Kid is highly effective in its minimalism – it goes beyond the “guy with acoustic guitar” trope. It’s in the half-whispered vocals, the diagetic sounds that serve as interstitials, the lyrical style.
The minimalism is something that I felt added to how direct and honest the record feels. I wanted the record to sound small, but feel big. ’m talking about all these ideas of life and death, aging and religion, and all of the sound behind these classic “grand mysteries” is an acoustic guitar and silence. This is something I had to work a lot with to perfect, especially by myself. It’s scary to make something that encompasses everything I want to speak on without having the bandmates to bounce ideas off of, or having them up there with you on stage. It’s vulnerable. The other piece of the idea of minimalism comes naturally. My vocal chord is paralyzed from a surgery I had to remove a cancerous tumor from my neck when I was a kid. So we enter this idea of every time I open my mouth, the sound of illness comes out. How does a person deal with that? Especially when I’m using that voice every time I sing. The quiet minimalism that comes from the sound of my voice is something that influences the record from the beginning to the end, and interweaves with the lyrics all the way throughout.
Do you see yourself doing another solo record anytime soon?
Yeah, man! Brad’s back in town and we’ve been working on further ideas for the solo stuff, along with some other real exciting projects.
Tell me about The Elephant. Who are your bandmates this time around? How did the project come together?
The Elephant is a project I’ve been working on with some friends from the Lehigh Valley. We all met each other going to shows and open mics in Bethlehem and Allentown.
Y’all have released one single so far (“Low”) and have a debut EP on the way. Tell me about that!
Our EP is coming out within the next month. Five sad songs about sad stuff. We just released the first single, “Low,” and a video that corresponds with that. It was real cool filming that video. That song is about how scared I am of relatively inconsequential things, like getting pulled over for speeding. The video really does well to capture the reason for that being that I always have that creeping anxiety as a result of my own blood trying to kill me. It’s a scary thought. I take a pill every day to keep my blood counts normal. It’s strange having your quality of life be contingent upon a tiny, daily pill. Music is a way to deal with that reality, and that’s why all of these projects are so important.
Pat Donahoe is a singer/songwriter, native of Nazareth, PA, recent Moravian graduate, and friendly face. He has performed in a diverse set of Lehigh Valley bands, including Oh Savannah, REGIONS, Millionaire Boys Club, Holy Christ!, and Mimieux, some of which are still available on Bandcamp.com or (in some cases) youtube.com. His solo LP Played Sports as a Kid is available on Bandcamp now. The Elephant will be releasing tunes soon.