FOREWORD: Before playing out a string on a major label, the Donnas were actually a cool female-driven California punk-pop band. Their summer of ’99 album, Get Skintight, serves as the pinnacle of their career. A worthy retrospective is due as of 2009.
Blessed with the quirky teenybopper naiveté of ‘60s girl group the Shangri-Las, the spunky guitar-driven rock prowess of ‘70s femme bands the Runaways, the glam-rock vibe of Kiss, and the punk fury of the Ramones, Palo Alto, California’s the Donnas are supercool chicks void of narcissistic, trendy pretentiousness. Like devilishly scheming girls-next-door, these sweet-hearted, doll-faced high school buddies formed Raggedy Ann in their early teens and became speed metal queens under the moniker the Electrocutes.
While still teenagers, they received some attention with the self-titled Donnas debut. National acclaim came with ‘98s ambitious American Teenage Rock N’ Roll Machine. Now, barely twenty years old, the frisky quartet has hit paydirt with the totally awesome, sometimes rebellious Get Skintight (Lookout Records).
At a sold-out show at Maxwells in Hoboken, the Donnas showed great musical ability, confidence, and a giddy propensity for cheesy stage antics. Looking like The Addams Family’s Cousin It with blonde hair covering her cute face, guitarist Donna R. (Allison Robertson) slashed solid three-chord riffs while gum chewing singer Donna A. (Brett Anderson) belted out bratty lyrics over the rhythmic thrust of brawny bassist Donna F. (Maya Ford) and dexterous drummer Donna C. (Torry Castellano). A li’l girl innocence shined through on captivating new songs like “Hyperactive” and the catchy ditty “Hot Boxin’.” And the Ramonesque heavy metal breakdown, “Skintight,” was completely addictive. Girl power lives in the heart of the Donnas!
Fans beware: a split single with Kiss on Lookout Records is due sometime soon.
AW: Would I be correct in assuming the Donnas enjoy collecting rock and roll memorabilia and vinyl LP’s?
DONNA R.: All my favorite stuff is on vinyl so I can’t bring it on tour. I like my Cheap Trick and Kiss albums. My Alice Cooper LP’s came with cool shit. Like Billion Dollar Babies comes with trading cards and the big billion dollar bill. My School’s Out album didn’t come with the underwear, so I was depressed about that. My parents have good taste in music. My dad likes ‘70s rock and my mom’s more into ‘80s new wave. When MTV began I got into that stuff.
Were your parents typical ‘70s stoners?
Yes. I was born when they were about my age. My dad had the long hair like a typical ‘70s bum. They both worked at different record labels and got lots of free promos.
As an all girl band, do you face prejudices in the record industry?
Yeah. Of course. It’s lame. We’re used to it. Just being girls, nobody assumes you’re in the band. Sometimes people think we’re backup singers or dancers and that’s totally retarded. Usually people at the clubs aren’t very nice until after we play. Interviewers ask girl stuff instead of music-related questions, like where’d we get our clothes. A lot of times they talk about image.
But the Donnas are an undiluted three chord punk-pop band. What image does that suggest?
Some people think we’re really dumb because the lyrics are so juvenile and simple. But that’s our formula. We design music for blockheads. That’s the whole point of bubblegum. I think it’s harder to simplify lyrics than gush out feelings like rage girl bands who talk about how pissed off they are. Girls are naturally bitchy. (laughter) That youthful exuberance and memorable songs get me involved.
Your songs are cute, sexy, and reckless.
This album is the first one I’ve really listened to. I like the last two, but the black and white one (the debut) sounds bad because none of us got to play to our potential. We didn’t give a shit because we didn’t think anyone would buy it. I didn’t waste time making guitar parts better because I didn’t care as much. I like American Teenage Rock N’ Roll Machine but there are a few things I’d like to change. We only did it in two days so I wish I could go back and fix mistakes.
Is it difficult finding pop-punk bands to tour with outside the San Francisco area?
Only the Lookout Records bands match up well. Before that, no one really fit in with us. Many bands getting bigger are mad at us because they don’t think we deserve it as much. When Teenage Rock came out, they thought that was our first album and thought we were a new band. Some bands assume we’re bitchy and all full of ourselves. (laughter)
West Coast punks, in general, seem more candy-coated and pop-rooted than their East Coast brethren. Why?
The only difference is East Coast punks think they’re really cool. West Coast bands try to make up for the fact they’re not from the East, especially glam bands. They secretly want to be from New York so they mock the East. A lot of L.A. bands really come from San Diego. Ratt lie and say they’re from Los Angeles. Poison’s from Pennsylvania and say they’re from L.A. West Coast bands go for a more effeminate make-up look while East Coast bands have a harder, scarier look. There’s so much to do and see in L.A. but the weather sucks and you need a lot of money to afford the best hotels and restaurants. No one in my family has any money so we walk past those great places. San Francisco is easier to live in.
Does a lack of radio exposure bother you?
I don’t worry about radio because it sucks so hard. If I don’t like it, I don’t want to be on it. I’m into merchandise products and getting exposure that way. You’ve got to cater to fans with lighters and beer coasters.
Is it difficult getting served liquor at clubs since the Donnas are still under 21?
It’s funny. Sometimes no one notices, but since we get so much press for our age, that kind of kills it. We were sad when we came back from England where we had some wine and beer and spent time at the bar. Back in America, we were in a restaurant and couldn’t get served. That was depressing.