Dressed in tight jeans, T-shirts and trashy makeup to match their tough-chick 'tude, the Donnas aren't typical debutantes. But on the quartet's major-label debut, Spend the Night, the girls are coming out and looking to get noticed.
"When we saw how far [last year's The Donnas Turn 21] went, we felt like we could've done more if we had had more man hours," said singer Brett Anderson, who was, like her bandmates, once known only by the first name Donna and the first initial of her last name, an homage to the Ramones.
When news spread that the Donnas were looking to graduate from Bay Area indie label Lookout! — Green Day's early home and the Donnas' since their 1998 debut, American Teenage Rock & Roll Machine — majors took notice. Atlantic Records eventually won out by, according to Anderson, offering the most creative control.
Working on a first album for a new label can be daunting, especially when it's a major label expecting to recoup on its investment and then some. Although the girls were conscious of this fact, the added stress didn't match the strain they felt from being their own worst critics.
"We always feel more pressure from ourselves than anyone else," Anderson said. "We definitely wondered if [the label] was going to like it and, at first, got some weird responses from them. We had to revise some things, ... but it all came around full-circle in the end and we got the album we wanted."
Compared to previous Donnas albums, Spend the Night, due Tuesday, is fuller and more realized. Gone is the tinny, muffled bed on which three-chord punk once bounced. Instead, riffs stand mightily against a surging backdrop. Chris Lord-Alge's (P.O.D., Michelle Branch) mix allows the drums to pop and thump with conviction while the basslines add distinctive bottom to a sound that threatens to fly off the hinges.
"That's what we could have done all along if we had the time and money," Anderson said. "Our first album was recorded after-hours at a Mailboxes Etc."
Regardless of the budget or big-time studio, the loud and tightly knit Spend the Night is also the result of a band that has had nine years to come into its own.
Anderson and future bandmates Maya Ford (bass), Torry Castellano (drums) and Allison Robertson (guitar) became friends at age 12 in Palo Alto, California, and started a band two years later. They called themselves Ragady Anne, then split personalities into the Electrocutes, a speed-metal outfit, and the Donnas, who owed more to the Ramones than Ronnie James Dio.
They pulled double duty for two years before the Donnas eventually won out with an arsenal plucked from the cream of both bands' crops of songs and a little help from pop-punk svengali Darin Raffaelli, who handed them a bunch of songs to record. The result was American Teenage Rock & Roll Machine.
The Donnas relive moments from their second public performance, a battle of the bands, in the video for "Take It Off," the first single from Spend the Night. In the Robert Hales-directed clip, the group portrays all contestants — the punk band, emo group, themselves and even the judges.
The song transposes genders on the rock star/groupie relationship, with Anderson ordering her boy toy "on the floor" before he's told to "take it off."
"It's a role-reversal song," Anderson explained. "A lot of the bands we like, like AC/DC, were total womanizers. We never took offense to that because it's so funny. We thought it would be fun to do that as well."
Despite apparent influences from Kiss and AC/DC, the Donnas inevitably get pigeonholed as successors to the thrones of the Go-Go's and Runaways. And while they owe a nod to those groups, it's mostly sexist categorizing on the part of lazy journalists that summon such comparisons.
"I mean, we love those bands, but that's not what we were listening to for inspiration," Anderson said. "When we first started out, we listened to Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth, Shonen Knife and L7. We could relate to them a little bit more. And they made it seem like being in a band wasn't reserved for some big, huge, man rock star. ... I'd rather be called the female AC/DC. We'd much rather be referred to as c--k rock."
Donnas tour dates, according to Atlantic Records:
- 10/18 - Boise, ID @ Big Easy (opening for the Strokes)
- 10/23 - West Hollywood, CA @ Roxy Theatre
- 10/24 - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
- 10/25 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
- 10/26 - Seattle, WA @ Graceland
- 10/28 - Vancouver, BC @ Richard's on Richards
- 10/31 - Minneapolis, MN @ Ascot Room @ Quest Club
- 11/1 - Chicago, IL @ Metro/Smart Bar
- 11/2 - Cleveland, OH @ Agora Theatre
- 11/3 - Detroit, MI @ Majestic Theatre
- 11/4 - Buffalo, NY @ Continental
- 11/5 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Laga
- 11/6 - Toronto, ON @ Opera House
- 11/7 - Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Club
- 11/10 - Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw
- 11/11 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
- 11/12 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero
- 11/13 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
- 11/14 - Winston-Salem, NC @ Ziggy's
- 11/15 - Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
- 11/17 - Orlando, FL @ The Social (Sapphire Supper Club)
- 11/18 - Tampa, FL @ Twilight
- 11/19 - Fort Lauderdale, FL @ Culture Room
- 11/20 - Tallahassee, FL @ Beta Bar
- 11/22 - New Orleans, LA @ Shim Sham Club
- 11/23 - Houston, TX @ Fitzgerald's
- 11/24 - Austin, TX @ Emo's
- 11/26 - Tempe, AZ @ Nita's Hideaway