In 2011, the future looked bright for ex-Grand Magnolias frontman Paul McDonald. While taping season 10 of “American Idol,” he attended a Hollywood movie premiere, where he met actress Nikki Reed; she was a huge “Idol” fan rooting for the Passenger-voiced McDonald to win. Although he came in eighth on the show, he won Reed’s heart. They married in October of that year, then formed a musical duo and released two records. “It was a whirlwind romance, but looking back on it, we weren’t meant to go the long haul,” says McDonald, who in 2015 divorced the “Twilight” star, left Tinseltown for good and composed “Modern Hearts,” his great solo debut that chronicles those turbulent times. He’s premiering it on tour as opening act for his new significant other, “The Walking Dead’s” folk-singing Emily Kinney.
First, how awesome is Emily Kinney?
She’s amazing, a really brilliant artist who works really hard. It’s a whole different energy, and I feel like we’re a much better team.
Chronologically, you and Reed split, she got three houses, three cars and your German shepherd Enzo in the divorce settlement. Then what?
It was an interesting transition. We had a really nice place out in L.A., but as soon as we made that call, I grabbed my stuff, put it in a U-haul truck, took our second dog Ira and drove cross country to Nashville, where I set up shop in a little condo on the East side. It was a few blocks away from where I used to live, prior to moving out to L.A. The Grand Magnolias had broken up when I moved to L.A., so I was really lost.
But the cathartic material started flowing?
It’s harder to write songs when you’re happy. But during the alone time, I really started thinking, so there was no shortage of songs. For this record I wrote hundreds. So I hopped around Nashville, met a bunch of brilliant songwriters and learned a lot from them. But also, I just needed a friend. You sit by yourself in your lonely apartment writing sad songs,and things get dark really fast.
What was your darkest moment?
I’d left my car out in L.A., so my parents loaned me their 1997 Chrysler minivan to drive around with my dog, Ira. So we went out to the grocery store, where I found out through a tabloid that Nikki was getting remarried very quickly. And when I walked out, Ira had diarrhea-ed all over the passenger seat of my van. It was just a really bad day, and anything that could have gone wrong, did. But I wrote a song about it!
IF YOU GO
Emily Kinney, Paul McDonald
Where: Cafe Du Nord, 2174 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 16
Tickets: $20 to $23
Contact: (415) 375-3370, www.eventbrite.comAmerican IdolEmily KinneyGrand MagnoliasModern HeartsNikki ReedPaul McDonaldPop Music