Barely legal

Now 21, the Donnas keep fighting stereotypes in the manly world of rock.

DON'T LOOK TOO HARD for meaning in The Donnas Turn 21, the name of the Palo Alto quartet's fourth full-length (on Lookout! Records). Yeah, all four members—singer Donna A (Brett Anderson), guitarist Donna R (Allison Robertson), bassist Donna F (Maya Ford), and drummer Donna C (Torry Castellano)—are now old enough to buy booze legally. Big whoop.

The Donnas

Graceland, Saturday, February 17

"A lot of people are like, 'Are you all grown up or something? Are you changing your image?'" says Robertson, incredulously, regarding the album title. "We really don't think about it." But the members of the fourth estate do. "Image is something other people talk to us about and create, and then [report back] to us: 'You guys are like bubble gum-smackin' hussies, running around on the back of motorcycles.' And we're like, 'We are?'"

"Photographers are always wanting us to take pictures in bathrooms, writing on the mirror in lipstick or smoking in the boys room," concurs Anderson. Been there, done that. Yes, the Donnas are four young women playing driving rock, singing about the bare essentials—cute boys, partying, loud music, junk food, and fast cars—but they don't spend an hour in the dressing room trying to see who can apply the most mascara ࠬa the Ronettes.

Still, when it comes to penning the songs, Robertson admits the Donnas try to keep up appearances. "Our bassist, Maya, writes a good portion of our lyrics," she says. "When she was in school with me, she was a vocabulary queen, and I was a spelling queen. We were pretty nerdy. Now when we write lyrics, sometimes I'll be checking 'em out, and I have to go, 'Maya, the Donnas would never say that!'"

So how much of the Donnas' art imitates life? Normally, the guitarist says, she gets cagey when the question comes up. But not today. "I get up around 12, watch All My Children . . . sit around, play some video games," she recounts. "It's not like we go out on the town searching the streets for boys and all that crap."

Nor is the new single "40 Boys in 40 Nights" straight from the pages of the girls' tour diary. The Donnas may make van drivers and tour managers apoplectic, but not because they've constantly got groupies in tow—they just have short attention spans. "We like gas stations way too much," admits Robertson of life on the road. "We can hang out in there for hours, looking around, like we've never seen candy before."

What is bona fide—both on and off record—are the visceral thrills the Donnas have been packing into their music since they first got together at age 14 for a school talent show. The Donnas Turn 21 sounds a little raunchier than 1999's breakout Get Skintight, and Robertson's licks get more confident with each passing LP; otherwise, it's goofing off as usual.

The big priority this time out, according to Anderson, was to get things right from the first. "Last time we had to remix a bunch of songs," she discloses, "because it was a little too poppy, and we wanted it to be more rockin' . . . to get technical." Rather than reteam with Skintight producers Jeff and Steve McDonald (of Redd Kross), the Donnas kept things in the family, tapping longtime engineer Robert Shrimp to coproduce 14 new tracks, such as "Drivin' thru My Heart," "Midnite Snack," and "You've Got a Crush on Me."

"We were a little sad about how the last album came out," adds Robertson. Instead of being "bigger, really warm, and more like an old rock 'n' roll album" similar to masterpieces by Donnas icons AC/DC and Kiss, Skintight turned out "sounding more like a punk album." But Shrimp knew what the four were after and how to deliver. "Some things we asked for were really out of hand," admits the guitarist, "and he laughed at us." Regardless, when instructed to make Donna C's drums "sound like Danzig," he did his best to please.

NOT EVERYONE OBEYS the Donnas' wishes so readily; hence the album opener "Are You Gonna Move It for Me," in which Anderson berates audience members who check out Donnas shows only because they're "hot babes" or to watch them (hopefully) screw up. "If you didn't come to party why did you bother coming at all/And if you wanna get it on take it to the bathroom stall," she rants.

"People exactly like that—and people much worse—come to our shows all the time," says Robertson, who wrote the words. "We get a lot of gross older men yelling things or teenage assholes that say, 'Show us your tits!'"

Sometimes there are more pressing concerns than sexist morons. "Since we're still considered an indie band, when we play at a club—even a bigger, nicer club—people don't think we're going to need security, but we do in certain places." For example, when they opened for Cinderella in Reno at a venue where the star attraction most nights is a mechanical bull, "We drove up in the cab, and the driver said, 'Are you sure this is where you want to go? This is a real dive!'" recalls Anderson, laughing. "The crowd was a bunch of older women with elbow-high gloves and rhinestones on, waiting for Tom Keifer to come on to try and sell themselves to him."

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