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Shawn McDonald
By Marcus Hathcock

The age of plastic pop divas and sultry hordes of boy choirs is over. Now people are looking for substance. In the post-9/11 world, the music that matters is the music with a message. 

Neo-psalmist Shawn McDonald wants the emphasis to be on the heart of his message: Jesus Christ. An incredible conversion story colors every note that this native Oregonian sings. 

"I want to love you my king; I want to give you everything." These words are in essence the mission statement of McDonald. Through God's continuous molding of Shawn, his music and message have exploded with amazing intensity, in only six short years.

Shawn McDonald's biggest passions, the Lord and music, have not always had a place in his heart. Although he grew up with devoutly Christian grandparents in Bend, Oregon, their influence wasn't enough to keep Shawn out of trouble. 

In his own words on his Web site, McDonald says he made the conscious choice to be a "cool" kid. He desired greatness. 

"I decided somewhere along the line that I was not going to be just the normal kid, but that I was going to make my mark. So I started doing anything and ever thing I could to get people to see that I was there, and being 'cool' became my life. I started sneaking out and partying a lot. I found that with drugs and alcohol I could be and do whatever I wanted and know one would care. The more drugs I did the more I needed and so on. This problem kept growing yet I didn't seem to see any of it."

His problems escalated from merely using drugs to being a full-fledged dealer. "I saw friends get shot and stabbed over drugs," he said, "I was beat up or was beating someone up all the time over drugs. It was a life of self-centeredness."

Throughout it all, McDonald was desperately trying to feed a great hunger in his soul. He knew the truth about Christ from his youth, but was trying to convince himself that there was another way to inner peace.

McDonald's roommate at the time, Chris, had faithfully shared Christ with him with seemingly no response. At a time when Shawn was deep into that "life of self-centeredness," Chris showed compassion. 

"He was really the only one who seemed to care what was going on in my life," McDonald said. Finally, something clicked and Chris heard the words he had always hoped he'd hear. Shawn McDonald asked if he could go to church with him. 

"And so that is where it all began," McDonald said. "That day at church I got filled with God and have been running after him ever since."

He has been running with great power and speed. After meeting Christ, McDonald says, he "picked up a guitar and started praising God." The Lord began to form the singer's new life in ways that had never before seemed possible. Where there was once a young hoodlum whose talent was selling drugs, an eager child of God emerged with a musical talent that came out of nowhere.

"I don't really even know how all this [success in music] got started," McDonald said, "It was definitely a God thing. I didn't really want to be a performer. When I met the Lord, I didn't know what to do with myself, I just worshipped. Coming out of my party life, I didn't really know what to do with myself. I gained a lot of peace from worship."

As worship grew deeper in his life, people started hearing McDonald's unique style. "I'd play, and people would tell me that I had a nice voice." Ever impatient to get to the core of God's heart, McDonald became tired of singing "other people's songs." After a year of experimenting, he was able to pen his first song. From then on, Shawn McDonald stuck to expressing himself to God through the songs he wrote.

Some of McDonald's friends encouraged him to share his music. This led to weekly performances at a coffee shop at the University of Oregon in Eugene. After building a loyal following of 200-300 at these weekly events, everybody in the area wanted him to sing for them.

"I was getting calls all the time [for gigs]," McDonald said. For two years he didn't have to actively try to book his own shows; the people were finding him first.

During the last six years, Shawn McDonald moved from being a local favorite to a force in the independent Christian scene. He has released two CDs and has shared his music all across the country. While he liked the freedom of being an independent, McDonald feels an undying hunger to "bring something new" to the Christian music industry.

God met this hunger. The industry found it hard to ignore Shawn McDonald's unique sound. His formerly indie friend and colleague Paul Wright just recently released his first full-length Gotee Records album. After months of "courting" the "spiritually sound" people at Sparrow Records, he was signed to the label (home to Steven Curtis Chapman, Delirious, and Switchfoot). 

Secular labels have already noticed McDonald's amazing talent. "I got offers from some big labels," says McDonald, "but my heart is really in Christian music. I'm called to strengthen the church." 

The church is bound to notice McDonald's "acoustic soul." His guitar stylings aren't unlike that of his secular contemporaries John Mayer and Jack Johnson. Shawn McDonald's vocal resonance is piercing and distinct, yet soothing. Other musical influences include Jennifer Knapp, Bebo Norman, and indie singer-songwriter Dave Barnes. 

Shawn McDonald writes from the feelings and experiences that have touched his heart. "Through all the songs, my need for God sticks as a theme. It's a simple theme, but a lot of people really don't stop and think about their need for Christ. The more I know him, the more I need him." 

Talking with him, one can see the same kind of "no compromise" attitude that defined Keith Green's ministry. Some of his spiritual insights ring reminiscent of his late Sparrow Records predecessor.

"The new eyes of Christ make me see fault with no matter whom. I see fallen-ness in every human. The human experience is pretty sad, but I've started to realize the size and mercy of God contrasted with fallen man."

As McDonald ponders the future, he dreams of settling down and having a family. Most of all, though, "My dream is to write good music and to share it." He claims that it was never his desire to sing for a living, but all he can do is rely on God to carry out His work.

"I'm not just singing to the lost," McDonald claims, "I'm singing to everyone. Life is a growing process. I hope that they will come along and grow with me, wherever they're at in life."
 
 
 
 

 

 
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