Smokin' in the Girls' Room

The Donnas are punk rockers with hair-metal dreams.

The Matrix
Arena bound? Donnas F., C., R., and A. (from left).
Arena bound? Donnas F., C., R., and A. (from left).
It's obvious from the voice on the other end of the phone that I've just woken the household. My interview with Donna F., bassist for the all-girl, all-Donna, barely-out-of-or-still-in-their-teens Donnas, was set for 10 a.m. Judging by the sluggish person that I'm talking to and the long delay between my "May I speak with Maya, please?" (Maya Ford is Donna F.'s real name, but shhh, don't tell anyone) and the time it takes Donna F. to get to the phone, someone apparently forgot about the interview.

"I went to the drive-in last night and stayed up till five," explains Donna F. — in no way meant to be taken as an apology, just an explanation. "We saw Austin Powers. We wanted to see the South Park movie, but they lied to us and told us it was going on at one. So we stayed there until one but it never came on. And we had to watch part of Wild Wild West. It was really terrible. We didn't really watch it; we just listened to the radio. "It's a man's head, it's a man's head.' That's what they kept saying."

Sleepyheaded Donna F. and band's official bio provide this history of the Palo Alto, California quartet: The four gals (singer Donna A., guitarist Donna R., drummer Donna C., and Donna F.) formed Ragady Anne in the eighth grade, when they averaged fourteen years old.

"There was a show going on at lunch time in our school, and all these guy bands were playing, and we were like, These bands are so lame; we're better than them," offers Donna F. And while they weren't the most macho band at that initial gig, they were "the best," she says. "We played the coolest songs." The set consisted of Shonen Knife's "Rocket Ride," L7's "American Society," the Muffs' "Big Mouth," and the Syndicate of Sound's "Hey Little Girl" (appropriately gender switched to "Hey Little Boy" for these tough chicks). No one took them seriously, she says.

"People still don't take us seriously. In high school we were always made fun of. They were always saying, like, "Oh, you're so girly.'" But the Donnas showed them. "Their bands aren't going anywhere."

Ragady Anne became the Electrocutes, a punk rock band heavily inspired by the riot grrrl movement of hard dames and even harder power chords. The Electrocutes evolved into the Donnas, who teamed up with Super*Teem Records owner Darrin Raffaelli, who wrote songs for the band and molded them into teen terrors.

Though their look is vintage Runaways (tight leather pants, even tighter T-shirts), and the core of their sound vintage Ramones (two-chord, two-minute punky pop), the Donnas' CD collections include such diverse offerings as the Scorpions, Adam Ant, Kiss, and Alice Cooper, Donna F. says. It was even a couple of post-punk/new wave initial-only outfits that inspired her to pick up the bass in the first place: "I liked R.E.M. and XTC when I was in the eighth grade and was kind of obsessed with them, and I wanted to play their songs."

The Donnas' discography consists of a few EPs and three albums (their self-titled 1996 debut was followed last year by American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine). Their latest, Get Skintight, however, is the first of them to contain songs written entirely by the band (save the cover of Mötley Crüe's "Too Fast for Love").

"We wrote songs before we met Darrin, but everyone was like "You can't even write songs,'" explains Donna F. "We kept hearing that Darrin was like [Runaways svengali] Kim Fowley, and we just kind of got sick of that." (For the record, the Donnas are still pals with Raffaelli — "He's a great guy," Donna F. says. "We still hang out with him and eat dinner with him" — they just don't work with him professionally anymore.)

So the gals put pen to paper and came up with the thirteen new songs that make up their latest album. There's not much on Get Skintight beyond the jaunty, mostly forgettable two-and-a-half-minute rush that each song delivers, though the Donnas do come up with some lyrical zingers: "You thought I would be broken-hearted/Maybe I would if you weren't so retarded," is one favorite. "The Donnas are the only thing that we're doing right now," Donna F. says. "Before, we had the Electrocutes, but we don't have that band anymore, and we needed someplace to put all of our ideas in. And we don't, like, have jobs or anything, so we needed something to do."

The Donnas will be spending their summer vacation touring the country and trying to prove to doubters that they're not just a novelty act. "We're really good live at what we do, so we just surprise everybody," Donna F. points out. "It's pretty exciting, we're getting a new van. We're going to get a TV in it, and I'm going to bring my Nintendo 64." ("I think the Nintendo 64 is a bit sturdier" is her response to my defense of the Sony PlayStation.)

Summing up: Why is it cooler to be in a girl band rather than a boy band? After much hesitation, Donna F. replies, "I don't know, it's just cool to be in a band." And what's a part of the Donnas' rock and roll fantasy? "Playing arenas with Cinderella and Poison and Kiss. If I could go back in time like Austin Powers, that's what I'd do."

And are the Donnas going to raise hell in every city they're in? "Yeah, definitely," she replies with as much enthusiasm as she can possibly muster. "But we're not that bad. We don't, like, break that many laws."

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