No one in The Donnas is actually named Donna – first or surname. Like the Ramones before them, they just made up the moniker. But if you call any of the band members Donna, they will answer.
“We’ll snicker as we’re doing it, but we’ll answer,” explained lead singer Brett Anderson, known as Donna A, in a recent interview.
The all-girl band, which has been together for 19 years, began as a sort of rock ‘n’ roll junior high dream. First playing a school talent show in its hometown of Palo Alto, Calif., the group went through a few name changes -- Ragady Anne and then The Electrocutes – to finally settling on the one it has now. While the girls’ parents were supportive of their creative endeavors, kids at school didn’t seem to feel the same way.
“When they actually saw us play it was OK,” Anderson remembered. “But before it was always, ‘You guys are going to play?’ and ‘Are you going to play your own instruments?’”
But it ended up working out.
Anderson said it’s most fun when she’s back in her hometown visiting her parents and she’ll run into one of her old tormentors working as a cashier at a video store or something.
“At that point you don’t have to say anything. It’s almost better to be overly nice,” she said. “That makes ‘em feel even worse.”
2002 was the year the quartet, who found inspiration in The Ramones, The Runaways, AC/DC and Pat Benatar, made it big. That’s when the smash “Take it Off” was released. An ironic play on gender roles, the song lyrics toy with phrases that a guy would normally say to a girl.
“We thought it would be funny to have girls say it to guys,” Anderson said.
Back then the writing process consisted of getting together, ordering Taco Bell or KFC, passing out and hoping inspiration would come.
Today, the songstresses have a more sophisticated system with one member writing a guitar line or a melody on a computer – still, all the songs are a group effort. For a new album, three songs have been written with 10 more to go. But with the departure of a longtime member, drummer Torry Castellano, due to tendonitis in the shoulder, the band’s dynamic is understandably different.
“It’s a little bit sad yeah,” Anderson said. “You want to say things like, ‘It would be better if we were all here.’ I try to look at it as a change and change is good. She’s at Stanford now and she’s happy.”
No matter what, the four will always remain friends. For The Donnas, that’s really been the secret to rocking for 19 years without killing one another.
“For us it’s people first, than music,” Anderson explained. “And I feel like we put each other as friends first instead of a rock star mentality. If you focus on being famous you won’t be happy.”
And after the level of success that has come with being a female-only band in a male-driven universe, how come more “chick rockers” haven’t come up the ranks?
“I am not the person to ask,” Anderson noted. “It’s crazy how it happened for us. The movement was starting to flourish -- something happened in our country and our country is getting more conservative.”
Even if they are one of the only girl bands around, Anderson said it still gets the respect it deserves because of everything the musicians have already accomplished.
Next weekend The Donnas will play Awesome Biker Nights, the second motorcycle rally the foursome has ever done, after Sturgis. And, according to Anderson, this Iowa show is kind of a one-time thing, meaning they aren’t on tour currently. And because the group isn’t out performing every night as they once were, it’s even more of a treat.
“We haven’t played in a while so it will be a lot of pent-up dormant energy,” said Anderson who just finished a round of shows with her other band the Stripminers. “It’s a one-off show so I don’t have to save anything for the next day. So we’re going to go all out.”