"The bar shows were weird. We're so quiet live, you could totally hear the crowd talking over us. It would have been better if people either booed or cheered. Either way, at least you'd know they were listening," McDonald says. "It didn't matter if we were good or bad. We were just filling up 45 minutes of people's lives while they were sitting at the bar. I felt like I was in a paid wedding band.
"It seems like back when I when I was in Christie Front Drive, there was some sense of community, of getting to know people and making friends on the road. I didn't really make a single new friend on our last tour. Maybe it's because of the fact that we're all old and not very hip or good-looking," he says, laughing. "It was fucking lonely. I also felt like we weren't connecting with people, because they've come to expect this certain caliber of musicianship from indie bands. You could sit and watch me play guitar and be like, 'Well, he's out of tune, and he's not very good, and he's only playing four fucking chords.' Nothing we do live will make you sit there and say, 'Wow, now that's some great musicianship.'"
After the tour, it was time for the Mighty Rime to decide its next course of action. McDonald, however, not knowing that his side project was going to become so active, had already made plans to relocate to Tennessee. By the time the group had finished up its record and had it released in the fall of 2002, he was living in Nashville.
"The thing about Nashville is, people here are so geared toward making money, toward making music as a career," McDonald says. "There's no one to play with in this town unless you want to pay them. When I got here, I was looking for just the most basic drummer. I was willing to take anybody, just someone who would hit something, but I couldn't find anyone. It's so bizarre. No one puts on shows. No one plays here. I haven't seen a single show since I moved here. Denver looks like fucking London compared to this town."
With his studio in operation, McDonald has been recording acoustic demos for the sophomore Mighty Rime release. "I've been really concentrating on my singing this time around," he says. "I'm one of those people who connects with the vocals. When a good song comes on the radio in my car, I'm there screaming along. For years I just fucked around with singing, and I always kind of sucked. But I was always like, 'There's so many terrible singers out there who do well anyway. If Shane MacGowan can get away with it, why can't I'?"
Joking aside, McDonald's voice is surreal and weirdly tuneful, sounding like it could belong to some estranged, inbred black sheep of the Carter Family. Just as odd and hallucinatory are his lyrics.
"If you listen to 'Loot'n and Shoot'n,' it's about my dog being run over by a car on Federal. I was in a real foul, sour mood when I wrote that," McDonald says of the dark, driving second track of the first Mighty Rime disc. "If my dog had been killed trying to protect me from a mountain lion while I was camping or something, that would've been fine. I could deal with that. But it's such a tragedy, such a waste of life for something to be killed by an automobile. On Federal fucking Boulevard."
His dog isn't the only departed loved one McDonald has eulogized in song. "I have a new song that's probably the most sincere thing I've ever written. And the cheesiest," he says. "It's about Joe Strummer of the Clash. It's funny, 'cause I actually like Mick Jones's voice and songs better than I like Strummer's. But I think that a lot of what we still hold on to -- being old ex-punk rockers or indie rockers or hardcore kids -- he was the embodiment of. I'm not really all that sentimental or emotional, but I really felt like I lost a friend."
While friends perhaps only in a figurative sense, McDonald does share one deep passion with the late Clash frontman: reggae.
"I had this realization the other day that I would love to do a straight-up roots-reggae band," McDonald says. "That's all I buy and listen to anymore, anyway. It just sounds so honest to me. That's why I like reggae: You can't fake it. To just hash out the chords doesn't take much, but you have to have that Jah vibe, you know? And that's why I like the Mighty Rime. I feel like for the first time, I'm doing something real."