Our interview with San Francisco songwriter GLENN DONALDSON (currently of the reds, pinks & purples and vacant gardens, formerly of skygreen leopards and art museums, etc.) is long overdue, as he’s been making great jangly music for decades. Of course everyone is still listening to Uncommon Weather, and Summer at Land’s End comes out today/on Feb. 4 but the U.S. vinyl has been delayed thanks to satan, I mean Adele or something. Collector nerds: If you haven’t already preordered the vinyl LP, do it. There are two vinyl editions: a limited-edition double yellow vinyl record with a bonus album of instrumental songs not on the album, which is only available in the U.S. from Slumberland, and a green single vinyl LP version. UK people: the vinyl is actually out today (Feb. 4) on Tough Love. Interview by Kevin Alvir
chickfactor: What is your life like these days in San Francisco?
Glenn Donaldson: Pretty simple and hermit-like. I work from home, take walks around the neighborhood, record songs. I’m really into making vegan stews from scratch lately. It’s all about having a base of shiitake mushrooms and fermented bean paste. They are pretty good!
cf: This is very chickfactor: What were you like as a teenager?
An insecure dork, but maybe most people were like that. I was hung up on girls and moping around.
cf: also chickfactor: What is driving you mad?
Constantly entering passwords, which is 90% of remote work.
cf: What spurred you into making music?
Punk was alive in Fullerton when I was a youth, and that was the siren song. It felt like a place where a loser like me could be great. In my hometown we had Adolescents, Agent Orange, Social Distortion, etc. These are world-class bands, so it felt like anything was possible.
cf: Did you always see yourself doing music? If it were not music, what else do you think you’d be doing?
I wanted to be an artist of some kind, maybe a poet or a painter or a musician. I wanted to wear striped sweaters and drink espresso in dimly lit cafes.
cf: Do you do anything else outside of music? Gardening, visual arts, etc…
I’m a crude artist as well, mostly collage, some painting and bad stoner drawings…and now photographing my neighborhood I suppose? I have a book of collage art coming out this year on a micro-press.
cf: Your work has a cinematic feel to it. I get a sense you are inspired by movies and books. Are you? Can you elaborate on that?
That’s a nice compliment, thanks. My favorite writer is Denton Welch. He had a way of taking everyday events like a walk through a garden and making it epic. Movies sure… but I feel like I’m more directly influenced by comedy, the idea of really opening yourself up as a performer and dealing with raw and personal stuff.
cf: Anything that you are watching on tv or (shall I say) streaming?
I like that new HBO series Somebody Somewhere. It probably won’t find a huge audience, but I think it’s beautiful. An old favorite is Detectorists. I love small stories.
cf: A great question for our auteurs: Do you prefer to play live or record?
Definitely recording. There’s nothing more satisfying that putting the final touch on a song, painting on some bits of feedback or melody lines. I struggle with even wanting to play live, but it is rewarding and helps you move onto the next bit of inspiration.
cf: Can you tell us what your first song that you wrote was like?
It was definitely a rip-off of a Dischord-type hardcore song. I didn’t play any instruments until much later, so this would be just me imagining hardcore riffs and writing really bad lyrics about “Justice” or something I knew nothing about.
cf: Is there a source of inspiration or influence that people who follow your music may find surprising?
I love Lana Del Rey. She’s my favorite contemporary songwriter. The more cringey she gets, the more I eat it up. “Arcadia” is the best song out right now. I’m a student of classic songwriting, so my list of favorites would be very long (see below), but I’ll mention Leonard Cohen, Kirsty MacColl and Peter Tosh off the top of my head.
cf: Can you describe your worst live music experience? As a performer / audience member.
Someone threw a lit cigarette at me at a festival in Belgium and almost set my shirt on fire. For some reason they stuck my band Skygreen Leopards, an acoustic band, on before BORIS, and the Belgian doom metal fans were enraged. It was totally stupid and insane but very memorable!
cf: I’ve asked you this over social media, but what does Astral Projection feel like? Reds, Pinks & Purples have a song called “I’d Rather Astral Project.” Hence, my audacity to ask this… I think I may have experienced this—I do a ton of meditation… but I would love to hear what other people have to say about it.
Oh, interesting left turn! That song is a bit tongue-in-cheek about having social anxiety basically, but I do wonder about the power of the mind sometimes, powerful stuff, especially if you get into visualization and meditation. I have taken LSD a few times, and you can definitely arrive without traveling.
cf: How do you feel the past two years have changed you? (y’know – the pandemic)
I am more comfortably and colorfully dressed with many clashing patterns. Also, I am into colorful sneakers all of sudden after never wearing them at all. I am suddenly more successful as a musician than I have ever been, and yet I barely leave my neighborhood.
cf: When things get back to workable normal, what do you want to do with yourself / yr music?
I want to tour and play some enormous festivals, really sell out and make big gestures like Bono. Set my shirt on fire with cigarettes and lose my mind permanently while onstage, then crash hard coming back to reality, realizing that it’s all pointless. CF
Records Glenn Cannot Live Without
Unrest, Imperial f.f.r.r.
Long Fin Killie, Houdini
The Magnetic Fields, The House of Tomorrow
Tracey Thorn, A Distant Shore
Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll
Bad Brains, I Against I
Colin Newman, A to Z
Codeine, Barely Real
The Smiths, Meat is Murder
Reptile House, Listen to the Powersoul
East River Pipe, Shining Hours in a Can
Jones Very, Words & Days
The Jam, Sound Affects
Augustus Pablo, East of the River Nile
Galaxie 500, Today
Die Kreuzen, Century Days
American Music Club, Engine
Hüsker Dü, Warehouse: Songs & Stories
Go-Betweens, Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express
Eyeless in Gaza, Caught in Flux