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In the Loop

Margot MacDonald creates a bold sound with a homegrown voice.

Margot MacDonald at the W Washington’s P.O.V. Lounge

Watching singer and musician Margot MacDonald perform is like witnessing a summer storm rise. There’s subtlety at first—what poet Seamus Heaney called the quiet music of what happens—but as her voice builds, gales of sound tumble and roll. A single woman becomes a chorus of aural power. MacDonald creates the sound with a loop pedal, and it’s as riveting to watch as it to hear. “While I’m performing live, the loop pedal allows me to record a bass line and play it back—and then I record 20 layers of my own vocals, which also play back,” she says. “It’s fun to listen to the vocal layers build. I use voice as an instrument inside the main melody.” The sound is at once ethereal and grounded in contemporary world beats. “It’s really technical, but it’s so gratifying,” she says.

MacDonald, whose just-released album Canvas represents her brand of free-ranging musicality, wrote her first scores at 7 and landed a spot with Washington National Opera at 10—which meant Placido Domingo was her first boss. Her compositions are anything but measured; they bloom organically. “I start out with the music to see what it wants to be,” says MacDonald, an Arlington native who attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown. “From there, I write lyrics about being in the city, meeting people on the street—and matters of the heart.”

Playing the renowned 9:30 Club has been a career highlight so far, but MacDonald is thrilled to play a holiday show at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on Dec. 19 (she’ll also host a record-release party at Black Cat Dec. 17). “There are so many little pockets of culture in Washington to write about,” she says. “It’s easy to submerge myself and come up with something I never expected.”

MacDonald’s Hots
The FDR Memorial at night, NPR’s This American Life, whiskey gingers, traveling by train

MacDonald’s Nots
Lousy sound guys, thinking inside the box, tripping over DC sidewalks, haters, traveling by bus