The Donnas are notorious for penning raucous songs about getting respect from obnoxious boys and flipping off snobby girls. But with their newest album, the rebellious foursome has channeled that attitude into control over its sound and image.
For starters, the girls have shrugged off their matching names. (Previously, each member had gone by the first name Donna and the first initial of their last name.)
"We [took the names] to make fun of other bands that have matching names and stuff," guitarist Allison Robertson said. "So for it to follow us around was major karma — we were making fun of people, and then everyone started making fun of us."
"It was like, OK, let's get that out of the way and start talking about something else," drummer Torry Castellano chimed in. "We knew we wanted to do something different [with this record], and we'd always kind of put all these rules on ourselves, and we kind of threw out all of those rules for this record."
Gold Medal, due on October 26, is a conscious departure from the straight-up teen-party anthems of the group's previous albums.
"Fall Behind Me," the first single, boasts a tougher sound (courtesy of producer Butch Walker, who's also worked with Avril Lavigne and Simple Plan) and deeper, more controlled vocals that suggest a new confidence and aggression. "You're gonna fall behind me/ You're gonna cry and beg for mercy/ 'Cause you're not ready, baby/ You got nothing on me," sings lead singer Brett Anderson in the song's chorus.
"There's a lot of competition [between bands]," Robertson said, explaining the meaning behind the track. "Maybe we won't do a lot of things because we find them degrading or stupid and [they] happen to not be our criteria. There's always another band that'll take that job you don't want to take and then they'll get that exposure — and then it's hard to see other people saying, 'Well, they did that so they're better than you' or 'They're much more huge.' This song is sort of like, 'That's all right because they're going to be gone in, like, a year. They're just sort of trendy right now.' "
While they're still young, the Donnas (whose lineup also includes bassist Maya Ford) have been making irreverent rock since they formed in May 1993, when all four members were in eighth grade in Palo Alto, California. The band went through two other monikers before settling on the one that paid tribute to the Ramones. They have similarly absorbed elements from a pool of punk and metal influences, including the Runaways, the Go-Go's, AC/DC and Kiss. After a series of albums released on Lookout! Records, the band signed with Atlantic in 2001 and released its major label debut, Spend the Night, the following year.
While that album featured a more polished version of the Donnas' campy punk-pop sound, Gold Medal takes the maturation process a step further — and not just musically. Older songs like "40 Boys in 40 Nights" (from Turn 21) and "Dirty Denim" (Spend the Night), which found the Donnas tossing off boys like last year's jeans, have evolved into tracks like "Don't Break Me Down," which instead focus on making a relationship work.
"In our last albums, we kind of reveled in being like, 'Screw you, we're gonna move on to someone else,' 'cause we were young and that's what you do," Robertson said. "Now, we've all met people that are worth it; at that point, I don't think we had people that were really worth it. The general feeling was like, whatever. Those people are gone now, and we're onto a new batch of keepers."
The band, currently playing a smattering of one-off gigs and radio shows, will launch a full U.S. tour in early November with the Von Bondies and the Starlite Desperation supporting. Until then, fans can check out the band's first single when it hits radio next week, and watch the video when MTV2 airs "The Donnas Make a Video" on Thursday (September 16) at 9 p.m.
Spending much of their time off watching their peers perform has the Donnas itching to get back on the road to play their new songs — especially the single.
"We're all really excited about it," Castellano said. "It's kind of conceited, but sometimes I feel bad for people that haven't heard it."
The Donnas' tour dates, according to the band's publicist:
- 11/1 - New York, NY @ The Bowery Ballroom (without The Von Bondies)
- 11/3 - Chicago, IL @ Metro/Smart Bar
- 11/6 - Minneapolis, MN @ Quest Club
- 11/7 - Omaha, NE @ Sokol Underground
- 11/8 - Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
- 11/10 - Seattle, WA @ Neumo's
- 11/11 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
- 11/13 - San Francisco, CA @ Slim's
- 11/14 - West Hollywood, CA @ House of Blues
- 11/15 - Phoenix, AZ @ Old Brickhouse Grill
- 11/17 - Dallas, TX @ Trees
- 11/18 - Austin, TX @ Emo's
- 11/19 - Houston, TX @ Meridian
- 11/21 - Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
- 11/22 - Charlotte, NC @ Tremont Music Hall
- 11/24 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
- 11/26 - Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts
- 11/27 - Pittsburgh, PA @ The World
- 11/29 - Cleveland, OH @ The Odeon
- 11/30 - Boston, MA @ Avalon