Graham Reid | | 6 min read
Bassist David Donaldson has had a very long career in New Zealand music dating right back to the first albums on the Braille label out of Wellington in the early Eighties. Donaldson appeared in the bands Primitive Art Group, Six Volts, the Brainchilds and others -- but, with Steve Roche, has also been in Thrashing Marlin who have, with Donkey Deep, now released four albums.
Donaldson and Roche -- with Janet Roddick -- also run the Plan 9 studio which specialises in soundtrack work (music on 14 features so far).
A busy man therefore, yet he found time to offer these interesting answers to The Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire.
The first piece of music which really
affected you was . . .
When I was a kid my dad had three albums. A Louis Armstrong, a Kiri Te Kanawa and one by Harry Secombe. Unforunately he didn’t really like the Louis Armstrong but he loved Kiri and Harry. On Sundays our family would have to sit down to a formal lunch and he would thrash his Harry Secombe album. It affected me so strongly that I didn’t want anything to do with music until I was about 12 years old.
Your first (possibly embarrassing) role
models in music were . . .
My older brother Anthony. He has been obsessed with music as long as I can remember. He decided he was going to be a drummer quite early on and incouraged me to take up the bass as he would be needing a bass player. He left home (Hawkes Bay) quite soon after being expelled from school for shoplifting albums during school lunchtimes. After moving to Wellington he rang me one day and pretty much told me to move down to Wellington as soon as I could as he needed a bass player for his band, The Primitive Art Group. Anthony has and is still a big influence on the Wellington music alternative music scene. He has helped a number of musicians go right off the rails. He has absolutely no time for the mainstream. He is also responsible of bringing Steve and Janet Roddick into the fold. Steve, Janet and I have now worked together for over 25 years as Plan 9 (our soundtrack business).
Lennon or Jagger, Ramones or Nirvana,
Madonna or Gaga, Jacko or Jay-Z?
Lennon of course (has anyone ever answered Jagger?) I don’t get the Ramones, to me they come across like Sha Na Na, they do nothing for me. Nirvana for sure. Madonna and Gaga are both for small children who don’t know any better. I don’t think they have a decent song between them, just a lot of smoke and mirrors.
I’m all for flawed geniuses but Jacko was way too flawed. I’ve never listened to Jay-Z
If music was denied you, your other
career choice would be . . .
That’s a question I ask myself every few weeks and haven’t come up with an answer. Luckily we haven’t needed to answer it yet.
I’ve done some pretty crap jobs in the past though, dishwasher, housepainter, hospital laboratory Assistant, which mostly entailed putting body parts in formaldehyde. I have no intention of going back to any of those. Clinging to music for dear life.
I reckon Joseph Banks had a good career, if his job was still going I wouldn’t mind that one.
The three songs (yours, or by others)
you would love everyone to hear are . . .
I can’t do just three songs, the smallest I can do is 3 albums. Captain Beefheart - The Spotlight Kid, Hendrix - Band Of Gypsies, The Latin Playboys - self titled. (I’m a big fan of Tchad Blake and an even bigger fan of David Hidalgo, fantastic voice, great guitarist, fantastic songwriter)
Any interesting, valuable or just plain
strange musical memorabilia at home?
I have a 100 year old double bass that has been part of my life for over 30 years now. It’s like a family member. It’s been a lot of places with me over the years, physically and musically.
Anytime I go overseas I try to buy some musical instrument from whatever country I’m in.
At Plan 9 now we have a pretty large collection of odd instruments, parts of a Gamelan (Indonesia) Kachapi (Sumatran Guitar) Seung (Thailand 4 string guitar) Angklung (Bamboo tuned percussion)
We have also got into making some of our own instruments. So far a bass banjo, a few biscuit tin guitars, electric rubber band box, Dan bow
The best book on music or musicians you
have read is . . .
Harmolodics by Ornette Coleman. What I took from that book was any note at any time is OK regardless of tonal centres. We’ve built a career around that, especially as a soundtrack composer and more recently a musical sound designer.
If you could get on stage with anyone
it would be . . . (And you would play?)
I have no real desire to play with anyone that I don’t already play with. Our problem is everyone is so busy we don’t get a chance to rehearse and perform as much as we would like. I’m in various bands with a bunch of fantastic musicians, Steve Roche, Janet Roddick, David Long, Anthony Donaldson, Jeff Henderson, Riki Gooch, Toby Laing, Chris O’Connor.
Actually there are a few bands I would have liked to be bass player in. Sun Ra’s Arkestra, Captain Beefheart, Hendrix, and I would probably have a good time in Wilco. Oh yeah I’d also like to be the bass player for Gillian Welch.
The three films you'd insist anybody
watch because they might understand you better are . . .
Polanski’s Cul de sac. Blackest of humour with a fantastic score, Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, one of the oddest films you can see also with fantastic music, Latcho Drom by Tony Gatlif, a film about Gypsy music and culture that had a big influence on us when we first saw it.
The last CD or vinyl album you bought
was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
Gillian Welch - The Harrow And The Harvest.
I don’t do downloads, I don’t own an i-pod and I don’t like listening to music with headphones on.
One song, royalties for life, never
have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which
wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . . .
It would have been nice to have come up with The Beatles' A Day In The Life.
The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . .
Right now it
would be the cover of Donkey Deep. It’s some photos I took of
paintings in a Wat in Thailand.
They are depictions of hell and they are just fantastic. We had the artwork before we really got started on the album and they had a big influence on what songs we came up with. It was quite liberating. We just decided that all the songs would be dark tales that referenced the artwork. I hate to say it but it’s almost a concept album.
You are allowed just one tattoo, and it
is of . . .
The one I have. It’s of a Polynesian outrigger canoe in a stormy sea. It was a drawing done by one of the sailors on board Magellan’s ship as they were the first European’s to sail into the South Pacific Ocean.
David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where, doing . . .?
What I’m already doing. Music, family, surfing, travel.
And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best album ever?”
It’s a culmination of all the work we’ve been doing over the last 20 something years. My songwriting partnership with Steve, soundtracks, musical sound designing, performing, strange instrument collecting, instrument making, recording engineering, producing, all mixed together with a good dose of distortion.