The rise and fall of the Donnas

But don't count out the Bay Area-bred all-girl band yet
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kimberly@sfbg.com

The Donnas have every right to be bitter — and the general nonexistence of delectable male groupies is just one item on a laundry list of spoilers. "Seriously, if there were hot guys throwing themselves at me, I would take advantage of them!" complains vocalist Brett Anderson, lounging on the patio outside engineer Jay Rustin's Sherman Oaks recording studio, where the Donnas are recording their next album.

What's the issue on this mild winter day in an intensely girly garden paradise cluttered with poodle-haired pups, dive-bombing hummingbirds, and wildly whistling songbirds? The unequal treatment undergone by one of the most celebrated and derided groups of female rock musicians to hit the country's pop radar since the Go-Go's. Essentially, "it's not the same!" Anderson and guitarist Allison Robertson yelp simultaneously.

"It's much harder for a girl to get a blow job," adds Robertson, ever the analytical Donna, even in matters of quickies. "A lot of guys on the road in rock bands don't always bang every girl — they just get blow jobs really fast. Guys can do that. It takes 10 minutes or five minutes. But with girls, it's just not the same. We all know — it's a little more involved. You need a little more privacy usually, I dunno."

Their tour bus just has tiny bunks shielded by curtains. "Literally, a Porta Potty is more private than a bunk," says Anderson, still the wisecracking, immaculately turned-out amazon in a sweater, skinny jeans, flats, and Springsteen T.

Once Palo Alto's misfit all-girl rockers from Jordan Middle School, San Francisco's punk-metal-pop sweethearts on Lookout!, then Atlantic's up-and-comers splashed all over MTV, the Donnas are now, 13 years along, veterans at the ripe ages of 27 and 28 who can say they've been and done that and seduced, if not 40 boys in 40 nights, then thousands of listeners. Today labelless, off their well-worked and beloved touring circuit, and working through a Saturday on a disc with nary a flunky pushing a pop agenda, the Donnas are free, though their trajectory has been tough — littered with put-downs (some said they were the products of a Svengali in the form of Radio Trash–Super*Teem label owner Darrin Raffaelli, who initially collaborated with the teen band once called Ragady Anne then the Electrocutes), innuendo (who could ignore the unsettling amounts of older stalker dudes at their shows?), and rumor. "A lot of people think we've gotten dropped and we owe [Atlantic] thousands of dollars and we can't pay them back!" Robertson explains. "Also that we're broke and we've broken up."

"Also that we're lazy," Anderson jumps in, imitating an imaginary slurring, boozy Donna. " 'Oh yeah, we're working on our record. Gimme another beer!' "

Contrary to conjecture, it turns out that the Donnas weren't dropped from Atlantic but left amicably, deciding not to renew in the face of pressure to go more pop after 2002's Spend the Night failed to take off on rock radio despite much MTV play for their video "Take It Off" and 2004's Gold Medal failed to remedy matters. "Our big joke was that we were making Gold Medal so Spend the Night would go gold," Anderson quips. Fortunately, the women who once aced their high school courses and recorded their first 7-inches after hours at a local Mailboxes Etc. are used to driving themselves — even when they couldn't operate a motor vehicle.

"They started when they were in seventh grade," Anderson's mother, Bonnie, says over the phone from Palo Alto. She's one of a contingent of Donnas parents including Robertson's musician dad, Baxter, and bassist Maya Ford's English instructor father, John, who founded Poetry Flash. "We had to drive. We were the roadies.

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