By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
They've always been enamored of glam metal, but on their first major-label record and fifth release, Spend the Night, in-your-face punk hotties the Donnas manage to sound more like Mötley Crüe than Mötley Crüe has since, like, Girls, Girls, Girls.
"We'd watch MTV and see Mötley Crüe on Headbanger's Ball, and you forget about it for a while, but then you always go back to all the stuff you liked when you were little," says bassist Maya Ford (Donna F. that's the gimmick, get it?). "When we started off, the music we wanted to play seemed so complicated. It was impossible. But we all got better at our instruments and, finally, we learned how to play the music that we always wanted to play."
Somehow, the group's embrace of cake-makeup-wearing, groupie-grinding-in-the-bathroom excess makes sense. Though they were raised in affluent Palo Alto, California Stanford intellectuals, Internet gazillionaires the Donnas just weren't cut out for the preppie set. Instead, they indulged in glue huffing, cheeba smoking and headbanging. Sounds like a pipeline to a career at Fatburger, but for the Donnas, it meant getting their parents to buy them instruments and hammering away at them until the neighbors complained. Now, after nine years as a band, these gals know how to snarl and solo like real rock stars. Imagine that. On Spend the Night, Allison Robertson (Donna R.) has twisted her guitar into a cranked-up, Flying-V, fretboard-tapping, whammy bar-whammying, shit-kickin' rock 'n' roll beast. Brett Anderson (Donna A.) can pull off a credible take on Vince Neil's sneer, while Torry Castellano (Donna C.) shows her fondness for Tommy Lee's signature cowbell clank. Now that they've had some success, the Donnas get the opportunity to meet some of their former rock star crushes.
"It was cool to meet Nikki Sixx," says Ford. "He's a big guy and fills up the whole room. His wife has this clothing line, and they were trying to get us to wear some of their clothes. He was really nice, and it was cool that he came to our show and said we were good. It was exciting to put someone like that on the list. He looked really good, too. He wasn't all aged and decrepit or anything.
"Also, CC DeVille of Poison came to our show about three years ago and talked to Allison a lot. He was like [in a drunk, grizzled, old rocker voice], You guys are really great.' He also came to our last show at the Roxy in Los Angeles and wanted to introduce us. He really wanted Allison's phone number. She got his number but never called him.
"We've always wanted to play with Cinderella. We haven't really talked to them about that yet, but for our album cover, we wanted to have a Cinderella poster in our bedroom. So our manager called the band, and they were really excited about it. And they were like, Yeah, we'll jump out of the wall in your video.' But anyhow, the poster didn't end up appearing on the cover, because we got the band's okay, but then we had to get the photographer's okay, and that didn't work out."
When the Donnas first hooked up in the eighth grade, they naturally sounded like a teenage-girl version of the Ramones. On their early seven-inches, which included such classics as "I Want to Be a Unabomber" and "I Don't Wanna Wanna Go to School No More," the Donnas played and shrieked with the abandon of a gang of liquored-up girls in bumper cars on the last day of school. The Donnas' high school years featured songs that had that wonderfully teenage, tragic if-he-doesn't-love-me-I'll-never-love-again feeling that usually doesn't last beyond 12th grade.
Disclosure: Those songs were written by Darin Raffaelli, who handled the band's songwriting and recording in its formative years. He's also responsible for inventing the whole "Donnas" shtick the matching tee shirts and "wanna wanna" lyrics undoubtedly lifted from the Ramones.
Eventually, after the Donnas practiced and toured incessantly, they parted ways with Raffaelli and began to indulge in their glam-metal vision. On one of their leaner and meaner efforts, Get Skintight, they delivered a rip-roaring cover of Mötley Crüe's "Too Fast for Love," on which Robertson nails every one of Mick Mars' seedy, humping-in-a-Hollywood-gutter riffs. With each successive release, they've added more cock rock to their sound. It's only fitting that a label like Atlantic would eventually want to sell them to the masses, and that the Donnas, who've always aspired to be rock stars, would jump at the chance. But working with a major like Atlantic is of course a different experience than recording for their former down-to-earth pop-punk label, Lookout!
"It took us a lot longer to make this album than in the past," says Ford. "With Lookout!, we'd write all the songs and just give them the album. But Atlantic wanted us to do demos first, and we were actually in the middle of recording, and they made us stop for three weeks 'cause they had to think about it and debate about what they wanted to happen. And we were like, We want to finish our album now.' But in the end, we really like the outcome. There are just more people that you have to listen to, and differences of opinion. They were kind of afraid of the producer [Robert Shimp] that we always use, 'cause he's not like some old, super-experienced guy. He's worked on a lot of stuff, but they wanted to bring someone else in. So they brought in another producer [Jason Carmer], and we worked with him as well. So we compromised."