The Donnas Invade Your Living Room

Far from an overnight success story, the band’s dedication has paid off and landed them in the right place at the right time. As mainstream audiences once again fulfill the cycle and turn their backs on prepackaged pop, media executives are scrambling to find the next wave.


The Donnas are an all-girl, bone-shattering rock ’n’ roll band with self-promotion skills that would make any marketing executive hang his head in shame and scooter-commute home.

They are often compared to influential artists like the Runaways and the Ramones and never shy away from the spotlight. The early twenty somethings have put their music in television commercials, performed in feature films, hit the late-night TV circuit, and traveled the globe with the balls-out assault that is their live show.

The quartet first performed while still in a Palo Alto middle school, playing covers of Shonen Knife and L7 at a lunchtime band show under the name Ragady Anne. In a few years, after releasing a number of singles as the Electrocutes, the band became the Donnas (Torry Castellano, aka Donna C.; Brett Anderson, aka Donna A.; Maya Ford, aka Donna F.; and Allison Robertson, aka Donna R.) and released a self-titled album that hinted of things to come.

Quickly, the following two albums garnered critical acclaim, and the band proved itself to be an unstoppable force with 2001’s The Donnas Turn 21 and an unrelenting tour schedule. The Donnas then made the decision to move to a bigger label and signed with Atlantic to record their latest album, Spend the Night.

Far from an overnight success story, the band’s dedication has paid off and landed them in the right place at the right time. As mainstream audiences once again fulfill the cycle and turn their backs on prepackaged pop, media executives are scrambling to find the next wave.

Fueled by the energetic and unashamed sex anthem “Take It Off,” the Donnas’ major-label debut has thrust them into the limelight. Radio picked up the song after an appearance on The Tonight Show, and MTV has pushed the video into full rotation. The network even featured the young veterans on January’s “Spankin’ New Music” week alongside popular newcomers Good Charlotte and the Used.
Having just wrapped up a performance on Saturday Night Live, the band is preparing to hit the road with fellow buzz band (and past PlaybackSTL cover) OK Go. The co-headlining tour hits the Galaxy in St. Louis on February 18.

Playback sat down with Maya Ford (aka Donna F.) to talk about the new album, the upcoming tour, and the finer points of TRL.

Any speculation or worry about a change in the Donnas’ sound and style following your move to a major for Spend the Night was quickly put to rest after the album’s release. As a band, have you had to make any major changes or adjustments since moving to Atlantic? Not really. I mean, we were worried about it too. We didn’t want to change anything about our music. If anything, we got to make an album where the music sounded better. I like the songs on it better. I just think that, altogether, the songs on this album are a lot better than on our last album.

Lately, the Donnas have been everywhere: TV, radio, magazines, not to mention commercials and movies you’ve done in the past. You’ve been honest about your desire for the band to be “big,” and now as things have escalated for you recently and doors are opening, do you have a concept of how “big” it can get? I don’t want things to get so out of hand that we don’t have any time for ourselves and people go crazy, but I really think the bigger things get, the better the shows will be. I mean, we’ll be able to afford to have buses to carry the lighting rigs and have cool backdrops and things. We’d be able to play big arenas, and the shows would be better and more exciting.

The last thing I expected after seeing your last show here with the Mooney Suzuki was that MTV would eventually have the smarts to pay some attention. You’ve gained some amazing exposure from them to a whole new audience now that, I’m guessing, is a strange world for you. How was your TRL experience? Are you nervous that now Ja Rule is going to call you up and try to do a song together? It was really weird! Brett [Anderson, aka Donna A.] kept on saying to me “I can’t believe this…I mean, we’re playing on TRL!” We didn’t have anything to compare it to…it was just like “Whoa. We’re doing this.” I never thought it would happen. I mean, I never even thought we would see our video on MTV. I just thought maybe they’d play it once late at night, like on 120 Minutes or something. And it’s weird, too, being on “Spankin’ New Bands” week, because we’re not a new band. But I guess we’re new to TRL. I think it’s cool, too, because a lot of the people at MTV will talk about how we have four other albums.

It’s weird, because we get really excited when we meet people, like, “Yes! We met J-Lo!” How cool is that? And we got sad when we weren’t beating Beyonce for a while. We’re just like, “Our song’s better than that! C’mon people! We’re way more exciting.” We get pretty competitive with that and with Avril or whatever songs are on.

Speaking of TRL, any deep, dark personal music secrets? What are you listening to that you don’t want us to know about? I won’t lie to you; I have the Justin Timberlake solo album. So don’t be scared.

[Laughing] No way, really? I like the Backstreet Boys, and also I think O-town’s album is pretty good. I like really bad pop music. Like the Jets. And remember that band the Boys?

Whoa. The Jets were one of my first shows I saw as a little kid. At Six Flags, even. A little “Rocket 2 U” action, huh?

Yeah! That’s like the best song. Ever.

Scary. Another dream gig for so many bands that you picked up recently is playing on Saturday Night Live. How did it feel to suddenly be on that stage?

Oh my God. It was crazy. It was like the longest day in the world, but it was also like a really long, weird dream. We were just so excited when it was over, because we were so nervous the whole time. Then it was done, and we didn’t mess up that much, and the cast was so great.

Did you spend a lot of time on the set?

Yeah, and after the first rehearsal we were relaxed a little bit, like, “Okay, hey, maybe it’ll be all right. Wait…now we have to go do that again! God!” Yeah, it was really nerve-wracking, but hanging out with the cast members was great, and we got to go to the after party, and Jimmy Fallon jumped on me.

So who’s truthfully funnier…Jimmy Fallon or Tracy Morgan?

[Laughs] I don’t know, I think maybe Tracy Morgan. I’d have to give it to him; he was really funny. You know the skit he did where he took Britney Spears and dragged her down into the sewer?

[Laughs] Yeah, and he sings the “take a doo-doo pie” song?

Yeah! [Laughs] He was doing that all night. The guy is so funny.

Any other big plans while you were taking over New York?

We were supposed to do Carson Daly [note: PlaybackSTL wants you to know she’s referring to Daly’s TV show, sickos], but we had to cancel it because Saturday Night Live came through. We just kept thinking we weren’t going to get to do it at all. It was like, “Yeah, you’re gonna do it. Oh wait. Nothing’s confirmed.” And we found out we were definitely going to do it like two days beforehand.

How did your tour with OK Go come about? Do you know those guys?

Uh-uh. They [Atlantic] wanted us to tour with someone who would be a bigger draw, so we could have a sold-out tour. Our last tour was with two bands that were a little more indie.

What kind of sets can your fans expect this time around?

Probably a lot from the new album. I think half the show will be the new songs, and then split the rest of the time between the other albums. There’s a lot of songs we can’t remember how to play. We just have so many old songs.

And quite an arsenal of covers, as well. Anything new you’ve been working out for the live show?

I don’t think so. There are some people that just always ask for cover songs. I mean, they’re fun to play and we like them…but then we start to get hurt feelings, like we want to play our songs.

So do we have another decade of the Donnas coming up?

I hope so. Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to go back to school.

Visit the Donnas at Tell them PlaybackSTL sent you.

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