Bloomfield native Troy Donohue never questioned his future. From early childhood, he knew he would be a rock star one day. Lots of kids share that dream, of course, but few pursue it as fearlessly, or as aggressively.
And so, with only a high school diploma, a couple of guitars, and a lot of big dreams, Donohue left New Jersey a few months ago to seek his fame and fortune in Nashville. Surprisingly, maybe even amazingly — and most definitely, happily — it has gone better than anyone could have expected … except maybe that precocious moppet who started his first band in fifth grade and released four full-length albums as frontman of the group Rockstar Racecar before graduating high school.
Now, after only a few months in Nashville, Donohue has released his first solo single, “Fanfare,” a bluesy ballad that bears little resemblance to the scorching punk and metal of his former band.
“I’m doing just great,” Donohue reported from the apartment he now shares with two roommates. “It’s a bit odd and a bit lonely, but most of my time is spent right here working on songs and music videos and my social media stuff.
“Honestly, it’s been exactly what I expected. I expected Nashville to be a bustling town always teeming with music, and that’s exactly what it is. There’s 10, 15, 20 shows a night, and then all the songwriter rounds where I’m meeting all these new people and finding all these places to play. I’ve luckily gotten the chance to play a couple of them already, and hopefully more in the near future.”
Being a stranger in a strange town is never easy, but Donohue said that he has found Nashville to be an enormously welcoming environment. “It has nothing to do with Southern hospitality,” he said, “because most of the people I’m meeting are not from here.”
One of the first people he met was singer-songwriter Austin Redden, who makes it his mission to welcome new Nashvilleans. “The first time we met,” Donohue said, “he was like, ‘I know what it’s like to be the new guy. I’m gonna give you a couple of places to play and people to meet so you don’t have the same struggle I did.’ And that’s exactly the way it’s been.
“It’s such a warm and nice place to be because … well, I feel in New York musicians are only focused on themselves,” he said. “I’ve heard that about L.A., too. Nashville is all about trying to help each other, we’re all trying to raise each other up. And when we do co-writes, which happens a lot, we all end up creating together, so it’s kind of a beautiful thing.”
Nashville may open its arms to new talent. But it’s not exactly a hotbed for the raucous punk and metal that Donohue played in Rockstar Racecar, and that has required some adjustment.
“I’ve definitely become more of a ‘songwriter’ songwriter in terms of my music being a lot more acoustic, a lot more folkie,” he said. “But I’ve definitely found the DIY punk and metal scene here and I’m hoping to start a band in the next few months, I’ve met a couple of people who are down for it. Maybe a thrash metal band or something like that. I definitely like the trope of being a songwriter by day and a metalhead by night.”
Nashville abounds with songwriting circles (or “rounds”), which, like open mics in New Jersey, invite anyone to participate, Donohue said. That’s where he has been able to network, meet new friends and even find collaborators like Grant Allan, with whom he wrote “Fanfare.”
“I asked him to do a co-write and so we just sat down and did it,” Donohue said. “I’ve always been a big sports fan and I had just seen a Predators game the night before, so I asked what if we wrote a song about a hockey game? And it just stemmed from that. ‘Fanfare’ is about the highs and lows of hockey and life in general.”
Songwriting, he noted, occupies much of his time. “I currently have a song called ‘Can’t Stop The Heart’ that hopefully I’ll be releasing next month,” Donohue said. “It’s just constantly making songs, constantly writing. I’ve got a bunch of co-writes and a lot of other songs that I’m looking forward to finishing and recording.”
If you follow @troydonohuemusic on Instagram, you also will find a constant stream of live photos. “I keep telling people that I’ve played more gigs in a few months here than I did in the last two years with Rockstar Racecar,” he said. “And definitely a lot of that is due to the social media thing, which I work on a lot. But whether it’s an open mic or a songwriting round or an actual gig, I’m playing three or four times a week. Which is ridiculous compared to New Jersey.”
What’s not ridiculous is that Donohue — whose poise, stage presence and maturity were no secret in the Garden State — has found a niche among songwriters and performers often many years his senior.
“My mom always told me growing up that just showing up is 99 per cent of the work, and Nashville has proven that,” he said. “When you’re there, you just get so much more done.”
For more, visit troydonohue.com.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.