Discover more from The Shape of Music to Come
In Conversation: Glenn Donaldson
I spoke to the man behind The Reds, Pinks and Purples on his prolific recording streak and what's next.
It’s been a rather busy time for Glenn Donaldson, the man who records music under the moniker The Reds, Pinks and Purples, amongst others. Since 2019, he’s released three full-length albums as this project alone, plus several EPs, as well as other records with various friends all ranging from extra-fuzzy shoegaze to blissed-out kitchen pop.
Last year he released a record as The Red, Pinks and Purples called Uncommon Weather and one with Vacant Gardens called Obscene. Both made my top albums of the year and his latest, Summer At Land’s End, is one of my favorites of 2022 as well.
I reached out to Glenn recently to ask him some questions about just exactly how he’s keeping this extraordinary streak alive and what he’s got planned for the rest of the year.
You've been on a pretty prolific streak of releasing new music over the past few years, what does your process look like? Are you always writing?
I try to make some music once a week, just for fun and to do something positive, but I get this fever for writing a song every so often. Usually, I have a strong feeling about a personal tragedy or memory of some weird moment that I need to translate into a song. It’s a cathartic process for me.
You've put out albums as well as some singles/EPs. When you're writing, do you plan for collections of songs and then release others as one-offs? How do you determine what makes an album and what gets a standalone release?
Mostly I just make songs, and the albums are groups of songs that fit together in subject matter. With Summer at Land’s End, I maybe thought a little more about recording songs with a romantic hazy acoustic quality and creating a flow with the sequencing and the instrumental passages.
The artwork for the RPPs has an awesome consistent theme of rich colors and flowering trees. How much does this fit into the overall aesthetic of your music and are you creating the art/packaging as well?
The concept of the band was to write stories about San Francisco, about my life here, about people I have known. I often write songs in my head on walks around the neighborhood, and the photos are what I see on my walks.
For the Reds, Pinks and Purples, are you working mostly alone and then bringing finished tracks to others to add drums or other parts?
I play most of the music myself on the studio versions, then I have a live band that interprets the songs. I keep them separate. Some times I have guests come through and work on the recordings, like Clay Ruby and Morgan Allison have contributed great stuff.
The live band is:
Thomas Rubenstein: Guitar
Lew Gallardo: Guitar
Kati Mashikian: Bass
Andrew Hine: Drums
The Reds, Pinks and Purples has been your main output as of late, but you've also released music as Painted Shrines and Vacant Gardens. How does writing for those projects differ from one to the other?
Those two bands are collaborations with Jeremy Earl (Painted Shrines) and Jem Fanvu (Vacant Gardens). So I am working with them as individual artists, songwriters, and singers, so it’s different in many ways.
For collaborations like those other groups, do you often have an idea or something in mind and think of a particular person that would be fun to work with? How have these new projects come about?
I have known those two forever, and they are both exciting artists and interesting people I would want to hang out with and make music with. Yeah, I did have a concept in mind for both, based on their particular talents.
You've hinted at upcoming shows in 2022. How do you go about planning live shows and possible tours right now? How far out are you booking things?
It’s stressful. I want to play this music for people, but so many things are getting canceled. We have some stuff in the works, can’t announce yet.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Richmond scene in San Francisco? It seems to be a pretty cool collective. How do all the bands and artists fit in with each other and do you feel a strong sense of community from the group?
I do. Some very cool music here, and I honestly like a lot of the bands as just a fan. A lot of the same people play in various bands etc. It’s a pretty small group of musicians and fans made up of other musicians and artists of various kinds, the last of the art punks weirdos left in SF.
Your music reminds me a lot of older bands like The Cleaners from Venus, the Smiths, and the Clean. Who are your influences when you're writing songs?
All those things are fantastic. I have been compared to 50 different bands. To me, it’s just singer-songwriter music, with some 80s/90s references sound-wise. I am attempting to write songs in the classic sense with stories that stick with you. So I studied stuff like Buddy Holly, The Ronettes, and The Everly Brothers, to learn how to structure a song. The first bands I really loved as a youth were The Jam, Buzzcocks, REM, The Cure, The Smiths, Husker Du, then later on I was really turned on by indie stuff like Galaxie 500, GBV, and East River Pipe. I think you can hear all these things in my music.
Even though those bands I mentioned are a lot older, your music still feels very modern and not like some unearthed gem from the '80s. Do you ever think or care about how your stuff is received in terms of "modern music" or has a label ever given you pushback on your sound?
I do my best to be listenable and even accessible, but I like to maintain a little of that lo-fi 90s noise. I wanted this music to be heard alongside other bigger names on the radio etc, and that seems to be working out fine. The labels are happy with it as far as I can tell. No one has told me to get to a “real” studio and probably no one wants to pay for it.
Your instagram is full of great records that you seem to always be spinning. How big is your collection? How often are you buying records and is there something in your collection you consider to be your favorite?
I definitely buy records every month, and lately, it’s been cheap CDs. Music is my drug I guess. My collection takes up an entire wall in my apartment, but it’s not too out-of-control.
Are there any other people you've worked with in the past who you'd like to make music with again or anyone you'd want to work with for the first time?
I am working with my old friend Carly Putnam on a band called Helpful People. She is a secret genius. We will release some music soon!
You've released a lot of music during the pandemic. What's next for you and how is the rest of the year shaping up?
More records coming. I have three recorded.