For a long time, The Donnas was a rock band that was all dealt in youth. It was the “American Teenage Rock ‘n’ Roll Machine” at the time of their second album. The band’s fourth album, “The Donnas Turn 21,” featured cover art of the girls sitting in a nightclub booth, pretending this was their first time drink. They’ve all been friends since eighth grade, and now (gasp!) The Donnas turn 30. As it passes through Santa Barbara this week for one of three warm-up shows on the West Coast, the band is about to start a new phase, mature but just as rockin’.
Injury has already claimed one of the original group members. In an on-again, off-again physical ailment that was made official this month, drummer Torry Castellano retired due to tendonitis of the shoulder. That leaves The Donnas with a new drummer (an old school friend Amy Cesari, of The Demonics) and a new phase to a career.
“Torry’s gone through a lot through the last three albums,” says Allison Robertson, guitarist. “The last four years have been us going back and forth on what to do.”
After surgery and Castellano learning a new way of playing, she was still in a lot of pain. Doctors told her that surgery wouldn’t necessarily make it better, and no matter what she did, playing drums was out of the question.
“She was forced to choose between deteriorating her body on purpose, and keeping healthy. It’s hard, because we’re best friends, from meetings to watching movies together.”
Their last show with Castellano, unbeknownst to all in the band, was in Brazil.
Long ago, in fourth grade, Robertson and bassist Maya Ford were two shy girls trying to learn XTC and R.E.M. songs in each others’ bedrooms. All four Donnas had “lenient and liberal parents” who supported the band from the beginning. (Robertson’s father, Baxter, was in the music industry and, for better or worse, is best known for appearing on “The Karate Kid” soundtrack.) The resulting band, however, was something else.
There were three chords and not many more. Fans and critics compared them to The Ramones and inevitably, though not always fair in terms of sound, to The Runaways. Song topics were (and still can be) boys, booze and partying, with a healthy dose of lewdness. And they lived the life they sang about.
“Our first tour, we really were crazy,” says Robertson. “But once you get the tour bus, you tend to get more private and party with the other bands, or even with your own band, if you don’t like the other bands.”
They got signed to Atlantic Records, appeared on soundtracks, and had a brief brush with MTV interest. In 2002, “Take It Off” became one of their biggest hits, but in 2006, the band parted ways with its major label and set up Purple Feather Records, releasing “Bitchin'” in 2007.
And now there’s a new album on the way. For a band that used to look at any song over three minutes in length with suspicion, Robertson is now talking about eight or nine songs and a 40-minute total length.
“Our new drummer gives us a new fire,” she says. “It’s a new style. And I’ve been studying, like a crazy Donnas scholar, to figure out what works in our music. The new songs are rambunctious and fast and the lyrics are different from the other album. They’re more like Van Halen lyrics and less like Ramones. Songs that are iconic and that you like singing in bars. That’s what the goal is.”
When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Velvet Jones, 423 State St.
Cost: $10, 21 and over only
Information: (805) 965-8676, www.velvetjones.com