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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell Artists: Ian Donaldson

Donaldson has been playing music since he was five years old. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.

By Kelly Page

Donaldson has been playing music since he was five years old. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.

For those who frequent student performances at Grinnell, it is clear that Ian Donaldson ’20 is a staple of the College’s music scene. Whether he is singing with a guitar, playing in a band or performing jazz piano, Donaldson is heavily involved in music on multiple levels. He writes and performs his own solo music, plays in the R&B group TGIF, performs with the Latin Jazz Ensemble and even creates hip-hop beats.

Additionally, Donaldson plays with his high school band Cool Baby, which is based out of the D.C. area where he grew up. A Silver Spring, Maryland native, Donaldson started playing music at the age of five. Later on, he took up guitar and singing when he decided to start writing his own music in middle school.

Donaldson wrote his first song in eighth grade, but says he was so self-conscious about writing lyrics that he asked another person to write them for him. By his freshman year of high school, however, he started writing his own lyrics, and he says he has gotten better and better ever since, although “definitely more annoying, since I like to quote myself a lot.” Donaldson’s lyrics tend to draw deeply from his personal life and observations around the world, with him most recently turning his artistic lens onto Grinnell and its culture, including what he perceives as the College’s problems.

Recently, Donaldson released his debut EP, “Lazy Idealist,” which is currently available on his Bandcamp page. It features album art created by Amelia Darling ’20, which portrays a creepy eyeless man eating cake in a run-down room.

“What a lazy idealist is, is someone who cares about so many things and purportedly empathizes with people but doesn’t do anything. Feeling good about yourself but doing nothing,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson has two songs on the EP which function as parts of a whole, “Grinnell” and the eponymous “Lazy Idealist.” In the opening lyrics of “Grinnell,” he sings “So lives the lazy idealist/ He sees life as it is, he’s a realist/ He knows exactly what’s going on.” Donaldson sees “lazy idealism” as a problem among students at Grinnell, but he also acknowledges that he is one himself. For the EP he also drew from his personal life.

“The past year and a half have been wild, but what’s bad for the heart is good for the art,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson describes his music as a combination of Alex G and Father John Misty, while still being influenced by the Radio Disney pop music he grew up listening to. Donaldson says that due to the amount he has to listen to his own music to mix and produce it, “My top listened-to artist is myself,” but he also listens to jazz music, Stevie Wonder, hip hop and “indie bands like Crumb.” Donaldson also draws inspiration from artists and musicians at Grinnell.

“I swear everybody here has something strange about them. There are a bunch of really good artists on this campus. It’s a good environment to do art.”

Originally, the band Donaldson plays in on campus was named Funk Trump, but they eventually renamed it to Thank God It’s Funky, or TGIF. The band consists of Jasper Cole-Kink ’19 on drums, Silas Hammel ’19 on bass and Jamal Preston ’19, Lauren MacKenzie ’19 and J’Remi Barnes ’19 on vocals. They have become popular on the Grinnell music scene for their poppy brand of R&B, and Donaldson’s contribution of piano helps tie the band together.

A new turn in Donaldson’s musical career has been creating beats for his friends to rap over, and their first track is coming out in a week or so. Donaldson additionally hopes to be able to professionally mix and produce music for other people. In every way, Donaldson is a prolific creator of music, filling his life every day with songs.

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