music morsels The Band Mates Network November 2007

CROSSROADS - The Donnas' Lead Vocalist Brett Anderson
by Mark E. Waterbury

The Donnas
photo courtesy of: http://

It is a long climb up the rocky slope to musical stardom. With many bands, that climb will include an epochal event in their career that may catapult them several notches up the ladder all at once, reaching the pinnacle quicker than they expected. Of course as mountain climbers will attest to, the down slope can be treacherous and occasionally, lethal. Maybe it is better for a band to slowly, incrementally scale the peak. Maybe it is also better if the band members are already friends in the first place. Maybe more bands should follow the example of The Donnas when they build their careers.

Vocalist Brett Anderson, guitarist Allison Robertson, bassist Maya Ford, and drummer Torry Castellano where best friends who grew up together in Palo Alto, California. “We thought it would be fun to get together and play some music,” Brett recalls. “We spent so much time listening to music and talking about it, we all thought, hey, let’s make some of our own!” A true garage band as they learned how to play and practiced honing their brash, metal-influenced sound in Torry’s garage, they began gigging during the eighth grade, and continued through high school under the name of the Raggedy Annes and later The Electrocutes. They also formed another band that played a bit mellower music, and in order to avoid confusion, the members all changed their name to Donna, with a letter corresponding to each member's last name tagged on the end of it. So Brett Anderson became Donna A, and the band was tabbed The Donnas, a name which managed to stick despite a desire to keep the name The Electrocutes. Along with the new name came a newer sound, more of a hybrid of metal, punk, and classic girl band pop. “When we started, our styles clicked with each other,” Brett remembers. “But we definitely experimented with our sound. We went from trashy, aggressive speed metal to having another identity with The Donnas where we were more influenced by oldies in a way. We managed to get both elements together in some ways eventually.”

The band's ideal to get their name out there was very basic, according to Brett. “We played a ton of shows; any show, any gig...ever. Punk rock festivals, metal clubs, everywhere." At a Bay Area gig when they were still The Electrocutes, the band met up with producer Darin Raffaelli formerly of the band Supercharger. Darin already had a number of songs written with a girl band in mind, Those songs didn’t quite fit, so Darin set to write different songs for the band who had then taken on The Donnas persona. They released a few singles on Darin’s Radio X label, before releasing their full-fledged debut in 1997 on Super*teem Records, which was started by Torry Castellano aka Donna C. Criticism of the album actually caused the departure of Darin as a songwriter, and the band embarked on a tour of Japan to celebrate their senior year in high school using the name The Electrocutes for that tour. After returning, a Bay Area indie label Lookout! Records offered them a deal, and released “American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine” in 1998, which included some clandestine writing by Darin Raffaelli. Their third album “Get Skintight” was released in 1999 and featured writing exclusively by the four original band members. Their fan base was growing, with a tenacious core following called “Donnaholics” who helped spread the word about their favorite band. “There was no real one turning point for us,” Brett notes. “We never really made a huge jump and everything has been real gradual for us. I think one of the biggest assets for us is our friendships. It helps us to get through anything and stick together.”

“Get Skintight” heralded a more hard rock sound to The Donnas music, straying a bit away from the more punk Ramones-esque influences of their early years. They managed to open up a show for Cinderella, and were also discovered by Hollywood, as they appeared in the movies “Jawbreaker” and “Drive Me Crazy.” Their popularity kept steadily growing and then in 2001, they got a major label deal when Atlantic Records came calling. Although some critics think they changed their original sound a bit too much, the band felt that they were still The Donnas no matter who was putting their records out. “We have always done want we want to do, and despite what some people think, we don’t follow trends or fads,” Brett notes. “I think some people love that about us, while others hate it. We had a review once that said ‘The novelty wears off.’ Well, fuck you, because we were around ten years ago and we’re going to be around in ten more years. I don’t think it’s wearing off. So many other bands think too much about how their styles should go with the times, we don’t do that. We stick to our guns and it has worked for us so far.”

Atlantic released “Spend The Night” in 2002, which became their first album to break the Top 100, producing the hit “Take It Off.” The tour behind “Spend The Night” included main stage performances on the 2003 installment of the resuscitated Lollapalooza tour. After that tour was finished, the band took a needed break after the exhaustive, steady climb up the mountain. Coming back refreshed, they entered the studios in 2004 to record their second Atlantic release “Gold Medal,” with Butch Walker producing. An extensive tour followed, and the Donnas were featured in top magazines as well as performing on Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. They were on a roll, which is a reason some may have raised an eyebrow over the next step they took in their career, as they went into the studio to record their seventh album in 2007.  “We learned a lot both when we released some of our previous albums independently, and working with indie and major labels,” Brett recalls. “We knew all the phases of a record release and what it took to get the record out there. We actually had a lot of freedom on a major label, but they also could play little tricks, which was not exactly what we needed at this point in our careers.”

The Donnas emerged from the studios with the fiery album “Bitchin,’” and a few new ideas in the camp. First, they dropped the “Donna A, F, R, and C” monikers and adopted their real names. Second and perhaps most surprising, they left Atlantic Records and decided to release “Bitchin’” on their own label called Purple Feather Records, with distribution through Redeye. “The music business is so quirky nowadays that even being on a label is not something solid that we can depend on. So we thought it would be more reliable to do it ourselves. What we really needed to do was get out there and really get in touch with our fan base. We also knew that we couldn’t just rely on radio either, and we did not want to put all of our eggs in that basket.” “Bitchin’” represents The Donnas’ signature sound in fourteen tracks touching on various subjects. So far, the press accolades and fan support behind the album have been highly positive, and it appears that The Donnas made the correct move by self-releasing the album. Embarking on another hectic tour, kicking off perhaps appropriately at Vegas’ Hard Rock Casino, The Donnas are ready to rock the world again, something they have been doing tenaciously for fourteen years now. As long as they keep their mantra of a steady, constant growth, loyalty to their fans and to themselves as friends, and doing everything by their own terms, the future can stay bright for The Donnas no matter which label releases their music. “Since we are all friends and we really love what we are doing, people like to see people being happy on stage, and that is magnetic. People see we are obviously having a good time and obviously love each other, and they want to be a part of that. Every once in a while, things happen in this business that you get tired of, but the second you get up on stage in front of a great audience, you remember, 'oh yeah, this is what it’s all about!'”

Brett Anderson’s Advice for Musicians: “If possible start a band with your friends, because that is going to help you keep it together during the lean times.
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