INTERVIEW: THE REDS, PINKS AND PURPLES
My discovery of The Reds, Pinks, and Purples happened last month, late one-night courtesy of the Spotify algorithm. As embarrassing as it was to find out about their music from some computer-powered mega brain floating in the inky black of space rather than some hip, smelly record clerk, there was no refuting it was my kinda mopey, irreverent homespun pop music.
When I set upon the task of finding out more about them the next morning, the more out-of-touch and computer-dependent I felt. Firstly, I found out it was the project of Glenn Donaldson, a mainstay on the early 2000’s noisy psych improv scene with the Jewelled Antler Collective he founded with Loren Chasse. I remember that dude! Then I saw the massive discography he’d shot out in the mere three years of releasing material. Oh, Marone! How the hell was I gonna get a handle on all he’d put out?
But after consuming all I could of The Reds, Pinks, and Purples, I found out there was nothing to really figure out. A potent, hook-laden three-minute pop song isn’t something that has to be unraveled to be understood. It hits you in your emotional breadbox, makes you grin or weep, and haunts you until the next listen. And that’s exactly what Donaldson has done with this project. Several of these songs have become the screensaver for my brain in the past month and I’m sure as Glenn cranks out more tunes, they will take up more space in my head while forcing important adult-type stuff out of it in the process.
I was so enamored with The Reds, Pinks, and Purples that I reached out to Donaldson via Instagram DM’s like a stalker to ask if he’d like to be interviewed for No Idols. Luckily, he was down and made me feel like less of a creep because of it. Not only that, but we found out we were both the same age, born in the same state, and were a part of the late 80s hardcore punk scene. I also asked him about the band as well, of course. Just look at the interview below for proof!
What was the motivation behind starting another musical project?
Aging probably has a lot to do with it. I look at music as a lifelong learning experience. Taking stock, I asked myself “What do I still want to learn to do in music?” I had never done a straight-up pop band with my personality as the center of it, such as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Morrissey, etc. I will never be on their level, but I have always tried for things that are beyond the reach of my abilities.
Did you go into the Reds, Pinks, and Purples with a mindset of wanting it to sound like UK indie pop, or did the chips just fall that way?
Not consciously no, but I don’t shy away from being influenced by things. That’s what pop is. My influences are global, including a lot of California stuff, Boston, Minneapolis, and Dayton, but one of my first favorite bands was The Jam and that is probably the culprit. I have to mention Australia’s Go-Betweens, that sound and style of writing are important to me.
I am a big Go-Betweens fan as well. If you can, please elaborate on why Forster and McLennan's songwriting is important to you.
Grant can be borderline too emotional with his melodies, especially solo, but I absolutely love when he rides that line or goes over it. But I like how they both mix mundane details with lofty poetry in their songwriting. Besides Television and Talking Heads, they are influenced by 60s Americana, which I am too. Stuff like the Monkees and Everly Brothers are the master class in song forms.
When and what was the first Reds, Pinks, and Purples song written?
I have had the name in the background for many years, but it starts in earnest in 2013. At the suggestion of Anthony Atlas from Nodzzz, we formed a song of the week club that also included Michael Olivares of The Mantles. The idea was to just get over yourself and write a pop song a week, no matter how dumb. That helped crack it open for me. I think the first one was “Seems Like We’re Always Starting Over”.
You’ve mentioned aging and getting over hang-ups as factors in starting RRP. Do you feel that working in experimental music put you in a mindset where pop was a dirty word?
Yes for sure but sometimes you have to reject things in order to evolve and make new forms of music. I probably was always a little too “pop” for the experimental crowd. Later on, it seems they all embraced other music, and most of them are likely now Dead Heads.
From there, how did the songs begin to come about so quickly?
It was a combination of finding the sound I wanted and a journey to self-acceptance, getting over my hang-ups and letting myself enjoy writing songs and not worrying about how embarrassing they are. But I also had a backlog of song ideas and demos stretching way back.
Did the abundance of the material stem from the covid lockdown?
For sure, a lot more time alone at home, navel-gazing…I needed a hobby, and honestly, in isolation, I was thinking a lot about the greater purpose of music. At its best, it connects people and is a balm for the down times in life.
How does the songwriting process happen? Is it done between chores or working from home? Can you write more than a song a day?
I wrote and recorded the entire instrumental album (Mountain Lake Park) in 4 or 5 days, but the lyric songs take at least a few days to age properly. Occasionally, I will freak out and write and record something in an hour or two. A lot of song ideas come to me on walks around my neighborhood
I read somewhere you grew up in Orange County, California in the late 80s. Did you experience the hardcore punk scene in the area during the 80s and does any of that inspire The Reds, Pinks, and Purples?
Absolutely, I started seeing shows in 1987 and saw many great punk and hardcore bands and a few years later more arty, college rock-type stuff. That rush of seeing such passionate music at that age was massively influential. This answer could be pages long, and hard to sum up. I was drawn to the more melodic side of things always. One of my favorite Southern California bands was Reason to Believe, which I saw two or three times. Jon Bunch’s soaring voice really moved me. Pitchfork (who later became Drive Like Jehu) was another band I could not get enough of. Outside of the other obvious California stuff, I was a religious follower of anything Dischord or even remotely related. I saw Swiz, Shudder to Think, Fugazi. I was obsessed.
I know the sound and style of Reds, Pinks, and Purples is something you listened to as a kid. Was it something you revisited in the past few years or was it always present?
I listen to tons of music all the time. It’s my drug. Along with all the experimental stuff I enjoy, I always enjoy pop stuff, indie, and some big-label stuff too. I stopped thinking one style is better or more important than another a long time ago.
How did Reds, Pinks, and Purples become a live band? How many shows have you done? What’s your feeling about performing this stuff live?
There was an early version of the band in 2015-2016 with members of the Mantles. We had a good time, but I couldn’t get it together to record, I was in a weird place emotionally. I needed to work on the songs and ideas more, so we went our separate ways. The current band starts up around 2018: Andrew Hine, Kati Mishikian, Thomas Rubenstein, and Lewis Gallardo. I have played about a dozen shows with various line-ups. I am enjoying it. Now I just sing and lumber around the stage like an idiot. It’s getting more fun the more I do it. I absolutely love the sound of the live band and am grateful they wanna play these tunes.
How were you first exposed to The Smiths and what was it about the band that leaped out at you?
I wrote a remembrance about this very thing for a French blog. I will link to it here. But Morrissey made a new style of songwriting that is wonderfully myopic and empathetic, self-deprecating, accusatory, and very funny. Johnny Marr’s guitar…ripping rhythm section, Andy and Mike, incredible.
You say the Covid lockdown had you thinking a lot about the purpose of music. Are there any particular songs or artists you really got into during the period? Did you do any deep dives on any certain artists? Were there any artists you discovered during the lockdown?
I have a little column about new music called Failure of All Pop, so I am always on the hunt. People should check in there if they want to know what I am digging. In the last two years, the San Francisco scene has been fantastic. I am a huge fan of April Magazine, Cindy, Flowertown, Mister Baby, Telephone Numbers, and many others. I would also recommend Straw Man Army, Alien Boy, Wurld Series, and Chronophage . That’s off the top of my head.
Weirdly I got really into Screaming Trees after ignoring them since grunge times. The SST period, and all their stuff really, is full of gems. I have been deep diving on Lungfish lately, a perennial thing.
The Reds, Pinks, and Purples music can be purchased at the Slumberland site.