AN INTERVIEW WITH IAN DONALDSON
Lazy Idealist is a pessimistic-optimistic view of the imperfect world around us and the ever changing one within us. Written over the course of the past year in his dorm room, this EP is Ian Donaldson’s first solo work and a moving one at that. From his witty lyrics to his melting guitar playing, Lazy Idealist is something worth remembering.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND WITH MUSIC.
I’ve played piano since I was five, and started singing around 10. My piano teacher Sarah likes telling this story about my mom calling her with a panicked voice talking about how she needed a piano teacher at once cause my five year old self kept banging on the keys, so I guess I’ve always had some musical inclination. I’m actually primarily a jazz pianist in training, but the problem is I’m a little lazy so I haven’t yet accumulated the chops to feel good about saying that.
YOU ARE A MEMBER OF THE BAND COOL BABY. WHAT DROVE YOU TO WORK ON A SOLO PROJECT AND EVENTUALLY RELEASE A SOLO EP?
I just had songs that didn’t fit Cool Baby’s vibe. I do a ton of writing with Cool Baby as well, but there was something different about these songs. Not just the style, but also the EP is kind of a personal journey through these past two years of my life, which have been the toughest times. I just wanted to deal with these emotions in a positive way and make some music out of them, which ended up sounding pretty decent. After like five songs were good I figured I might as well put them out. Another huge thing is that I was in Iowa, and it was just hard to collab with Cool Baby from so far away, although we did to a certain degree, but I couldn’t be as productive as I wanted to be, for all the things I was trying to express.
YOU ARE CURRENTLY AT GRINNELL COLLEGE IN IOWA. DO YOUR STUDIES HAVE ANY CORRELATION WITH MUSIC OR OVERLAP WITH YOUR MUSICAL ENDEAVORS?
This stuff used to stress me out, thinking about my future, but now I just think it’s funny. I actually have a song about diving off the deep end future wise, something about blind stage diving. I’m studying political science and philosophy. I also do a fair amount of music courses, some of them were sick. I took one about music psychology which was wild. But honestly, I’m looking for a good enough excuse to leave school, music success wise. But in the meantime, I might as well get a degree.
WHAT IS THE MUSIC SCENE LIKE IN THE TOWN OF YOUR COLLEGE AND THE CONTRAST OF IT TO THE ONE BACK IN DC? ANY OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERFORMANCE, WHETHER ON CAMPUS OR OFF?
On campus there’s a certain subset of the population that forms a pretty solid music sphere, although it’s pretty small, but what do you expect from such a small college. Maybe if the athletes showed out more I don’t know, but within the music community there are some awesome people. There are definitely opportunities to both watch and play great music. I’m in a few bands here myself, so there’s always something going on. That being said there’s definitely more going on in D.C. and obviously I get to play with Cool Baby and collab with the many talented people from the DMV scene, but I wouldn’t necessarily put D.C. over Grinnell or Grinnell over D.C, they’re both very different, but awesome in different ways.
THERE’S A TRACK ON THE EP ENTITLED “GRINNELL.” WHAT’S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THAT TRACK AND ITS TITLE?
Originally “Grinnell” and “Lazy Idealist” were the same song, but then I decided to split them up so that people could play “Lazy Idealist” [on it's own]. So then I had to name the first half, so I decided to engage in some sneak diss-ery and call it “Grinnell.” Honestly, the song was pretty much about myself, so this may be projection, but there seems to be such a huge distance between how much people profess to be fucked up about an issue vs. how much they’ll be willing to sacrifice to fix the issue. At a “socially active” school like Grinnell, where we have a legacy of student activism, I think about our bark vs. bite quite a lot. Like how much do you really care? Or how guilty do you really feel about your consumption, engagement in capitalism, stuff like that. People have very strong ideals, but you could say they’re somewhat lazy with the follow-through.
WAS THERE ANY DIFFICULTY WHEN WRITING, AS YOU WERE TRYING TO CONVEY YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS AND THESE INTANGIBLE THINGS PROPERLY IN WORDS FOR OTHERS TO UNDERSTAND?
My main difficulty writing wasn’t so much expressing my feelings but [rather] not making the lyrics too cliché. I was brought up listening to all types of music, but I had a sweet tooth for super pop-y stuff, I remember listening to Disney XM and stuff like that. I have gotten a lot better lyrics wise, with a little help from my friend Alex G. I just try not to say things exactly as they are, but kinda come at what I’m trying to say sidewise. This is a commonly used songwriting tactic. Leaving things a little vague and painting a mood picture is awesome because it leaves so much room for interpretation by the audience, so you get a great interaction going on.