I heart Donna R
Honestly, it didn’t start out that way. I didn’t go to meet the Donnas with any sort of pre-existing crush on them. I liked their music and I had been trying for more than a year to interview them. When they finally rolled through Nashville and I got an interview, I was slightly intimidated but not infatuated. That is, not ’til later.
It was random chance that I talked to guitar player Alison Robertson AKA Donna R. The Donnas rotate who does interviews. I told them I’d be happy to talk to any of them or all of them… whatever. And maybe, had I talked to another, I’d be writing right now “I heart Donna A or C or F.” But the fact is, I talked to Alison and now I’m in love.
I was explaining to my girlfriend (and believe me, I’ll be explaining for a long time) that Alison was like that girl in a Seinfeld episode who looks totally different depending the light. Not that Alison ever becomes bad looking, but her appearance and demeanor changed from standing on stage to sitting with me. On stage during their sound check Alison was the confident and pretty serene Les Paul-rocking guitar chick — a little bit tough-looking. In our interview, she was the cute girl next door, who says “like” a lot and (don’t think me a perv) smells nice. At least, she smells nicer than Petey X of Rocket From the Crypt (Not that Petey smells bad, mind you). On stage during the show, she was even more of a rock goddess — pouting her lips, flipping her hair around, swinging her guitar, and all around having a great time. It was seeing all of these incarnations of her personality that led me to believe that I could have no happier life than following the Donnas around and watching them play.
‘Cos you see, it’s not that I am in love with Donna R, romantically. And after all, she’s married. I’m not going to daydream about hanging out with her and making cookies. I’m just going to daydream about watching her and the rest of the Donnas rock.
What questions should not be asked in a Donnas interview?
Like, offensive questions about being girls. Like, sometimes people ask if we take showers together and like weird shit like that. We’re just like “uh, do you take showers with your best friends?” You know, like ewww. That kind of stuff. Anything like that offends us. But also nothing really makes us blush because we’ve heard it all before. A lot of people think they’re gonna, like, shock us. And that we’re, like, you know, really, like, these sweet little girls from some small town and they’re gonna, like, make us blush. But really, I mean, we still get offended. But we’re not feminists either. We’re not gonna, like, jump on you and kill you.
I don’t have any weird questions.
I know. You asked the question what not to ask and I’m just telling you. You definitely don’t look like the type. In fact, the people that asked that were doing it as a joke. It was an online thing called Metal Sludge. And they’re kinda well known for those questions.
How many tours have you guys done?
Well we’ve only done like 5 US tours. I’m just guessing cos it’s kinda hard to count. We’ve done, like, 5 full US tours that are, like, 6 weeks long and we’ve done 3 full length European tours. And there are a lot of, like, two week tours, like East coast tour, or one time we did, like, a sort of a Southern tour, like, back to Texas.
You skipped us though.
Well, we don’t do that on purpose. It’s kind of hard for people to believe that we don’t actually pick where we go. We can request places. Like, last time we requested to go to Athens, Georgia. And some people request to go there, but it’s not like a standard place to go and we wanted to go there just to be there not necessarily to play there.
Yeh. It’s a really nice town.
Yeh, I love it. I love The Grit. We ate there twice in one day. I’m a huge REM fan so it’s just, like, kinda fun to be there and soak it up.
What’s a bad show experience?
Oh, there’s a lot of them. We can get really bad. When there’s a show that’s violent, those are, like, the worst shows because a guy can get in a fight and get his ass kicked, or kick someone else’s ass. You know, it’s cool when they have, like, bruises and cuts the next day. That’s hot. To some girls. But to us, you know, if there’s danger of getting hit. Like, for instance, getting hit with a beer bottle on stage or just, like, people coming up on stage and kind of grabbing you and stuff. It’s different when you’re a girl. You can’t, like, just kick their asses. At the same time, you don’t want to, like, cower away. Especially when you’re, like, playing a song, you don’t wanna, like, run into the corner and be, like, “oh no, they’re going to hurt me.” So, like, those are the most difficult and bad show experiences when people actually try to attack. And that happens a lot.
It’s sort of a random thing. Like, you never know when it’s going to happen. But, like, it happens a lot in Texas. But they don’t mean it in an offensive way usually in Texas. Texas just happens to be really rowdy when we do shows there. There’s always someone that wants to get up on stage. One time, this guy just fell down onstage, and we all thought he was dead. We were, like, kicking him, like “get up, get up,” you know? And he, like, sort of fell at our singer’s feet, and we were like “what is he doing?” Cos he wasn’t, like, kissing her feet or grabbing or anything. He just sort of collapsed on her feet. And, like, that kind of stuff is funny, but it’s annoying because we move around a lot and, like, I don’t even look. My hair is all over, and I’m not used to there being people in my way. So, someone could really get hurt or, like, trip me or something.
Have you ever seen the video for… It’s the Stones in concert; it’s really funny. Keith Richards just bats this guy in the head with his guitar. That is so nice.
Oh, yes. Yeh. Yes. I know. I’ve seen that a lot.
Do you draw inspiration from that?
Well, I don’t wanna, like, you know hurt someone. Cos I don’t want them to, like, try to get revenge on me. But someone threw a beer, a cup, a full cup of beer. They were, like, in the balcony above me, and they threw it on my head. And I felt like that was really uncool. Cos you know, when you’re above somebody you have perfect…like, it’s just the perfect opportunity to throw something. I don’t have the same opportunity. I waited until we were done with the show that way they couldn’t get vengeance. And I threw a full water bottle at their head as hard as I could. But uh…
Did you hit ’em?
Well, no. All these people ducked cos it was going really fast. I mean it doesn’t sound that menacing but it was full and it was big and heavy and it was going really fast. And I was so mad.
You gotta get boots like that guy from Skid Row had…
Yeh! Really pointy. I’ve got some really pointy boots that would hurt people. But we play in Converse. Anyway, I didn’t get him because someone had already went and got him and kicked him out. They knew how mad I was about it. But I mean, you know, a little beer, a little stuff getting thrown at you is really not a big deal, especially when people mean well, you know. They just think “oh you’re hot I’ll throw some beer on you,” you know? But, like, a whole cup from a balcony, that’s just cheating.
Do you think it’s rowdier because you’re four girls?
I don’t think so. I mean I think we get a different kind of thing. We maybe get more guys coming up on stage than a guy band would. You know what I mean. And it’s not hot girls that are totally harmless cos I mean whenever I go… see, like I saw the Bloodhound Gang and like all these girls were running up onstage and they’re all cute and ready to take off their skirts and… that’s totally like a guy’s dream. But when you’re a girl, (a) you’ve already got a boyfriend which some of us do and even if you don’t, they’re never hot. When they get up onstage, they’re always the weirdos. I don’t know, they’re always causing problems. It just doesn’t seem like a peaceful thing when they do.
I saw Sleater-Kinney just across the street last year and they kicked a guy out before he even got onstage. He was just dancing around and they were like “Get out.”
Yeh, last year we toured with Bratmobile and they would like scope it out during the first band –they were the second band. They would scope the crowd and if it looked like girls were crowded and there were some really weird guys, they’d kick them out. Or at least say something before their show started. They’d be like “there isn’t going to be any of that tonite, boys.”
Usually… I mean, I really don’t want to alienate guys, cos I mean we have a lot of guy fans. So I don’t really think it’s fair to kick a guy out any more than a girl out. We would just focus on anyone who’s a troublemaker. We’ve never really had to kick anyone out anyway unless they really are offensive. As long as everyone in the front is comfortable. It really sucks when you are playing and you see people getting squooshed or getting hurt. That sucks. But for the most part, we have pretty friendly crowds.
Is this your first tour where you guys are the headlining group?
No. This is like the fourth. Or fifth maybe.
Is that this year?
Well, we did two for Skintight. Two for this one. And one for Rock N Roll Machine. And then we’ve done all the little ones in between. And all the ones in Europe. All the ones in Europe we were headlining. And all the ones here except for one.
Do you guys go over pretty big in Europe?
It’s weird. In certain countries it’s like huge and massive and you’re not expecting it. And the next day you go to some other country and there’s not anybody at your show. The thing is, when people see us here, it’s the same here. Like it’s a yo-yo thing. Like our last tour was all sold out but then this tour comes at a weird time and it’s the second tour for an album that we’ve already had a tour [for]. So there’s not much press; we didn’t hype it, really. It’s just kind of like a low key one, you know. So we’re not disappointed. But then people see the bus, or they see like a sold out show, and they’ll be like “you guys are such rock stars. You guys think you’re so cool.” And they assume all this stuff about, like, what kind of attitudes… and the funny thing is they don’t know that we go all these other places where nobody gives a shit who we are. And we’re totally used to being, like, losers. You know what I mean? So, I kinda like it. It’s sorta nice to able to, like, hang out and be like a crappy band that nobody knows.
Yeh, you guys are in a good position it seems, like well-known enough to rock out and still kind of anonymous.
Yeh. Yeh. It is cool. Exactly.
You’re not like Third Eye Blind or something…
Well, I don’t know about Third Eye Blind. They’re kind of like anonymous sometimes…
They should be. So have you guys finished your next album?
No, not at all.
Have you even started it?
So do you guys have the material for the next one ready to go?
No. It’s kinda sad, but, I mean, some bands write on tour, but we don’t. And a lot of bands tour and then have lots of time off, but we don’t do that either. So, we have, like, no time off and we don’t write on tour.
How do you write?
Well, I usually write alone in my garage.
Is it like you’ll bring in a full song and they just kind of stick their stuff in it?
Yeh, well, usually if there are no lyrics then I’ll bring in pretty much a full song that’s sort of shapeless without the lyrics. It can always be altered. If there are lyrics then I usually have the whole thing done and I give it to them and I usually say, “well, this is how I was thinking the vocals could go, you can change it if you want, but I made the guitar to go like this, so the lyrics go like this.” And if she likes it she keeps it. If she doesn’t, we change it. If she likes whatever I made up which is most of the time, because we all think the same way and we all have a lot of the same ideas. And the drums…I mean, we’ve just been playing together for so long that there’s not really much to say unless there’s something really specific that I had in my head, you know? For the most part she already knows…we all have that connection where we don’t really need to argue or talk about anything. I don’t know, there’s not much planning at this point. And we don’t jam either. We don’t jam. It’s just sort of like we’re so used to playing a kind of a formula that works for the four of us.
It seems like there’s bands that kind of jam until they get riffs and there’s bands that just kind of write the songs and bring it in.
Yeh, yeh. Well, I mean I guess you could say I “jam” on my guitar when I’m alone, but I hate jamming, so really I just sort of fool around until something sounds good, but not like exactly like someone else’s. That’s, like, my biggest fear. Like, I’ll think it’s great, and then I’ll hear some song that I totally forgot about that has exactly the same riffs.
How and when did you start playing guitar?
I started probably…well, it must have been ’93. We were in eighth grade. I started playing in the summer and then in ’94 we started the band, like, near the end of the school year. Eighth grade. So that was, like, what…8 years ago?
Any, uh, guitar heroes?
Oh, I have a lot. When I first started playing I loved REM.
That’s kind of funny cos you don’t really sound like Peter Buck.
I know but there’s things that he taught me–he personally taught me… no, but there’s things that I learned from playing that kind of style which you can’t really learn from like, you know, AC/DC… But I love AC/DC. And I love like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. I love Kiss.
I do love Poison, but, I mean, I’ve got to say that my style, especially soloing, is nothing like his. I don’t have, like, the training that he does. He went to music school. I can’t read music. I don’t know, I kinda of dig… like I love him. He’s great. When I was like 7 years old, he was my idol. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to go out with him. But like as far as like the stylings and stuff I really like things like Cinderella and AC/DC and Aerosmith kind of like a really loud, clean guitar, you know?
Do you know the guys from Cinderella?
Well, we played with them once.
They live here. Some of them do.
I heard. I heard. I have some friends in Superdrag and they told me that they see them inside the health food store.
Who do you know in Superdrag?
All of them.
Yeh. Sam, the bass player, was saying that he sees them at the health food store.
I know Sam. [everybody knows Sam]
Yeh, I love him. I love them all. I’m like the biggest fan of them.
So, you just got married didn’t you?
When was that?
um… Septem… August.
Oh that was pretty recent. So have you been at home at all?
You’ve been on the road…
Is it like a constant honeymoon?
I don’t know. We’re not alone. So it’s kind of like we’re just friends right now. When you’re on tour you don’t want to, like, make everybody else sad that they’re not with boyfriends. You know what I mean? It’s true. They’re my best friends, and it’s just courtesy to not, like, you know, be all over each other all the time. So, it’s fine. I’ve been on tour with him, like, a million times. So, it’s just the same thing except now I have a nice ring.
How are things at Lookout? Are you just swimming in happiness over there?
Yeh. We’re really good friends with them.
I would assume that you have major labels kicking down the door.
We do. Well, they’re not kicking the door down necessarily. I wouldn’t say that. But for a long time, we’ve had things going on. It’s just we… we’re sort of careful. We’re kind of slow movers. We like to be comfortable and feel like we have control. With Lookout, you know, we definitely have that. If we ever did anything we would always stay on very good terms with Lookout. If we ever changed labels it would be the best possible deal. You know, lots of control. It’s really hard to get that. We don’t have anything against it, though. We would actually make some money.
So what’s next? You guys finish this tour in the end of October or so…
Yeh, and then we’ll probably start… That’s when the album has to actually be finished.
You actually have to sit down and write.
Yeh, and we really do, like, sit down. I have to. I have to force myself. I love to play my guitar, but it’s like work. It’s like studying for a test. You know, you have to actually do it. You can’t, like, watch TV; you can’t do all this other stuff. You have to definitely get in the mindset and think of it as a deadline.
And then… do it all over again.
Have you guys ever had day jobs?
Like in a cubicle day job?
Sure. All of us have.
Don’t you pine for that cubicle existence?
Nooo. Of course, I did think of some good songs. They were like… when you’re really bored sitting in an office, you know, you do think of great ideas. And then you forget them. The sad thing is that we actually need jobs because we’re not rolling in the dough, if you know what I mean. Whenever we get home, there’s never enough time to get a job that’s, like, substantial. You can get a job, like a part-time anywhere, but you’d have to quit in two months. So you can’t really establish yourself anywhere.
What do you want to do when you grow up?
Aren’t I grown up? I’m twenty-two. I’d like to be a guitar player in a band that makes money.