Glenn Donaldson met his longtime partner in crime through an unlikely Craigslist posting. This was back before the site established the legitimacy (well, sort of) that users enjoy today. In 2001, it was more akin to the Wild West, in some ways resembling a mishmash of newspaper classified ads.
“I needed a new collaborator to start a band,” explains Donaldson, “and Donovan Quinn was the only non-insane person that answered my post.”
Thus began a musical relationship that’s still reaching the zenith of its creative flourish over a decade later. With Quinn living in the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek and Donaldson rooted in the Bay Area, the two musicians initiated a series of email exchanges, remotely sharing songs one another had written.
It didn’t take long for Donaldson to realize the talent he’d discovered in his new creative foil–with particular regard to Quinn’s lyricism. Over the next few months, they wielded this poetry into a psyche-pop whimsy that has become the successful duo The Skygreen Leopards.
The group has released a slew of recordings over the years (albeit sporadically), but despite the amount of time elapsed both songwriters have retained an unshakable air of consistency. Even the most recent release–last year’s Family Crime–marks a “return” to form for a band that has remained steadfast in its intent to sustain a unified sound and vision.
From the first notes of the album opener “Leave the Family,” listeners familiar with the Leopards’ repertoire won’t help but smile at the rollicking, Dylan-esque wordplay and jangle of bouncy strummed major chords that hearken back to earlier releases like Disciples of California. But don’t be fooled by the bubblegum-sweet harmonies, there’s more to the funfair tunes than might immediately meet the ears.
“There’s a tone,” explains Donaldson. “I don’t want to say sarcasm, but there’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to it. It’s supposed to be funny, but there’s also a sadness and nostalgia to it. It’s melancholy colliding with happiness–like real life.”
It’s a contrast that renders the listening experience of The Skygreen Leopards into something deeper than other, shallower forays that neighboring Bay-Area pop groups will occasionally find themselves wading through. Part of this stems from Donaldson’s resilience to the “one-note tunes” that other artists often tout. Primarily a man of “mood” rather than technical prowess, he explains how the construction of a dark atmosphere or facade in a song, for instance, can ultimately come across both transparent and artificial. There needs to be a certain amount of awkwardness and human frailty there.
The word is honesty, and it permeates nearly everything Donaldson approaches. He’s the first to admit just how temperamental The Skygreen Leopards really are, and why they’ve only released material in small doses.
“It’s really fun, but it’s not something that can be sustained over a long period,” Donaldson tells BTR. “We’ll work together for a few months and then we’ll both have to move on and do other things. It kind of loses its charm fast, but we love coming back to it.”
Luckily for the fans, there’s no shortage of musical projects the songwriter contributes to. The latest is Fruits & Flowers Records, co-founded by Chris Berry of Minneapolis. The label prides itself on sourcing some of the best songwriters that have managed to slip between the proverbial cracks. Or there are artists riding a wave of hype–who also happen to write solo material that goes unnoticed.
Many of those featured on the label have been in the game for years; many are also longtime friends of Donaldson’s from his days on the road touring with various musical incarnations. But they all share one thing in common: the songs are rich with storytelling and undeniable personality.
“I feel like a lot of music now is really interesting sonically, but we don’t have a lot of music where you can hear the personality of the person singing,” explains Donaldson. “We wanted to find artists who write songs that emerge from this kind of sonic mist.”
In the twilight of indie record labels, both Berry and Donaldson were intent on creating a brand with a strong and discerning mission statement. At its very essence, Fruits & Flowers retains the same characteristic affinity for quiet admiration that defined (and continues to define) The Skygreen Leopards.
It’s all about artists listening to artists, and supporting through a co-creation cross-pollination that keeps the scene alive and well.