San Francisco singer-multi-instrumentalist Glenn Donaldson, who doesn’t have a back yard to speak of in his cramped inner Richmond digs, stays amused by wandering around his neighborhood, looking for and photographing things that please him artistically. These days, he’s attracted to architecture, old houses with faux-Mediterranean pastel colors, rounded turrets and bay windows.
“I’m always interested in the weird boxy ones, too, from the ‘40s and ‘50s,” says the visual-minded conceptualist, who records as The Reds, Pinks & Purples.
One of those snapshots is on the cover of “Uncommon Weather,” the project’s third album, out April 9.
It’s filled with jangly, gently-warbled songs and lyrically-misanthropic sketches such as “I’m Sorry About Your Life,” “I hope I Never Fall in Love,” and the Neil-Young-nodding “The Record Player and the Damage Done.”
“I’m really intrigued by architectural forms, and how they can evoke stories from the past,” adds Donaldson, 49, whose other aesthetically-inspired art works include collage, and musical ensembles The Art Museums and the instrumental FWY!
Donaldson became a shutterbug with the advent of iPhone technology, then upgraded to a nicer digital camera, which he carries on his daily strolls. “When I stumble on a good photograph, it’s really usually the time of day and maybe a house that has a really interesting paint job that captures a melancholy feeling for me, a nostalgia for another time,” he says. “Sometimes a house at sunset just has that feeling, you know?”
It was on just such a walk that the idea for The Reds, Pinks & Purples occurred to him, Donaldson explains. After his Art Museums songwriting partner Josh Alper died in a tragic bicycle accident in Santa Cruz in 2013, he was unsure how to continue.
Trying out collaborative projects, and writing music criticism for SF Weekly for a bit, he eventually settled on solitude, and began stockpiling chiming anthems inspired by his love of groups like R.E.M., The Jam, The Smiths, and obscure English post-punk combo Television Personalities. Those became a blueprint for his 2019 RPP debut “Anxiety Art” and its 2020 follow-up “You Might Be Happy Someday.”
“I was trying to find the inspiration to put something new out that was really substantial,” Donaldson recalls of his post-Museums period. “So it took me a while to recover from (Alper’s) passing and feel like music was worth doing again.” He immersed himself in new recording technology, determined to play most of the instruments himself, and discovered the basic guise — vocal and lyrical — in which he wanted to proceed.
“Then it just hit me as I was on one of my walks around the neighborhood. ‘The band will just be about the neighborhood, about myself and my life and what I see right here,’” he says. “And it just flowed from there. It was so simple, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.”
Clarifying for inner-Richmond locals, Donaldson says the opening track on “Uncommon Weather” called “Don’t Ever Pray in the Church on My Street” isn’t a warning. The chapel is a metaphor for dark things in your past that can still haunt you today.
The title song was inspired by an article he read on climate change, and was prompted by the day last year when Bay Area skies darkened to an ominous “Total Recall” Martian red. “I think everyone was pretty shocked and depressed by that,” he says. “So ‘Uncommon Weather’ is quite an apocalyptic title, for sure, but it also refers to San Francisco having weird weather all the time anyway, and how cold it is here in the summer.”
Donaldson, whose day job is job is working in development for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, has survived the pandemic, but he took a big pay cut.
“We support the parks gift shops and tours of Alcatraz, so basically three-quarters of our work force got laid off last year, which was horrible. I think it’s going to come roaring back, but right now it’s pretty tragic,” he says, sighing.
In the meantime, the Renaissance man hopes his feel-good “Uncommon Weather” will provide ear-candy comfort to those who are feeling down. As a rabid music collector with a huge vinyl collection, he says, “I think of making my own records as a way to be even more of a fan. I try to be the record that I would want to hear.”