The Donnas

Singer Brett Anderson of The Donnas has mastered the fine art of multitasking.

When POLLSTAR caught up with the frontwoman better known as Donna A., she was squeezing in a round of phone interviews and a shopping trip to a San Francisco-area Wet Seal store, at the same time.

The Donnas are on a rare day off before going back out on tour with OK Go, and just after returning home from a “Saturday Night Live” appearance. Anderson needs to stock up on clothes for the tour, and her cell phone was ringing off the hook. What’s a girl to do?

“Yeah, it’s retarded,” Anderson said, explaining the in-store interview. “It’s rude to you, it’s rude to me. I’d rather still do it than not.”

The dark-haired 23-year-old is certainly a good sport about it – after all, she and the three other “Donnas” have been dreaming of this kind of rock stardom since they decided to form a band while attending the same Palo Alto, Calif., middle school.

With an early sound and attitude that evoked the Ramones, they stuck with it, evolving and eventually performing under two names: The Electrocutes and The Donnas.

Eventually, the four band members – Anderson, bassist Maya Ford (Donna F.), drummer Torry Castellano (Donna C.) And guitarist Allison Robertson (Donna R.) – decided to merge the two outfits into The Donnas and began recording with the help of local writer/musician Darin Raffaelli.

Things started taking off for The Donnas. But soon they found that even in the liberal Bay Area, the whispers began growing that Raffaelli was the real talent behind the rising all-girl band.

“It sucks because he was our friend,” Anderson said of the eventual split between Raffaelli and the band. “If we were guys, it would have been fine. We could have kept working with him forever, you know? But it was like people were saying, “Oh, I see…that guy is like your Svengali.’ People felt like it took away our credibility.”

The Donnas signed on with independent label Lookout Records, co-owned by friend, fellow musician, and now manager Molly Neuman – a onetime drummer in Bratmobile.

“I started working with them in 1997,” Neuman told POLLSTAR. “We signed them up because we were fans and their band, the Donnas, had played with my band and we thought they were just the coolest.

“The first record we did was American Teenage Rock and Roll Machine in 1998 and things sort of started to steamroll from there. It was just very organic from the start.”

As The Donnas grew musically, so did the buzz. A couple of other albums followed, Get Skintight and The Donnas Turn 21.

The Donnas

They went from playing small clubs like San Francisco’s Kilowatt and the Purple Onion to the larger rooms, and on to touring nationally and internationally.

Neuman and the band realized after four albums that The Donnas had gone about as far as they could with Lookout, and last year the band signed with Atlantic.

“Obviously there was a lot more potential for The Donnas in terms of radio and video. They’re very charming and very charismatic, and we knew that we had to find a way to reach the audience,” Neuman explained.

“And we weren’t able to do it. We just couldn’t really afford to push all the buttons at Lookout. We don’t have the resources and we don’t have the relationships you need for that as an indie, so we decided to start looking for a new label situation.”

The band’s major label breakthrough, Spend The Night, is its first with Atlantic, and has arrived just in time to take maximum advantage of the resurgence in guitar-based, garage-sound, fundamental rock and roll.

“It was sort of a difficult process at first but we ended up with the album we wanted, and they ended up happy with the album too,” Anderson said of her new label. “We’re just like the most insane, spoiled control freaks, so it’s really good. I’m really glad they’re happy with our album, the way we wanted it to be.”

The timing has paid off: The Donnas have made the most of it with opening stints in recent months for The Strokes and Jimmy Eat World. One national magazine has hailed The Donnas as “the coolest band in America.”

Anderson admits it can be tough breaking people’s misperceptions of The Donnas as another pre-fab, teen-pop girl group. They cuss. They drink. They write their own songs. They rock.

Their influences are KISS and Cinderella, not Britney and Christina. And they sure as hell won’t be made to dress like them, thank you very much. But even KISS and Cinderella probably never had to deal with photo shoots with stylists.

On a recent shoot for a Rolling Stone calendar insert, Anderson said, “They shot that in this alleyway and there was like, this gang member trying to kill us. It was horrible. And they were telling us, ‘You guys should wear this ankle-length turquoise fur coat!’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, right. Like, that’s totally us. Good idea,’ with an audible sneer in her voice.

“Every day somebody’s trying to get us to wear something stupid that we would just never wear. And it’s, like, sometimes it’s just stupid and other times it’s just slutty and embarrassing,” Anderson said with exasperation.

“They act like their feelings get hurt and stuff when you say, ‘Like, that’s the most retarded shirt I’ve ever seen. There’s no way I could possibly get into that, even to appease you.'”

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping – and Anderson politely ended the interview to get back to the task at hand. And they sure don’t carry ankle-length turquoise fur coats at Wet Seal.