Prima Donnas

Medal heads: The Donnas.
Courtesy of Atlantic Records

After signing to Atlantic Records in 2002, the Donnas found themselves in a crunch. Having played what lead singer Brett Anderson describes as "straight-up cock rock" since junior high, today's answer to the Runaways was running dry. The all-girl group wanted to make a change, but they'd just signed with the indie label Lookout! and wanted to prove to their fans that they hadn't sold out. The resulting album, Spend the Night, was more of the same: '70s metal riffs crossed with '80s glam and lyrics concerned mostly with getting liquored up and laid. "Signing to a major actually kept us from going in a new direction," says Anderson.

And 13 straight months of touring to promote Spend the Night took its toll. Drummer Torry Castellano was suffering tendonitis in her hand, and Anderson's voice was ragged. While the four best friends were as tight as ever, the emotional stress of the road had stiffened the band's party-all-night swagger. "For so long, our image had got in the way of our music," admits Anderson. She was listening to a lot of classic rock: Tom Petty, the Eagles -- songwriters more concerned with ideas than with posturing. The Donnas dropped their kitschy one-name monikers (Donna A., Donna C., etc.) and began carving their own identities.

The new record, Gold Medal, packs the same familiar three-chord metal punch of its predecessors, but its maturity and top-notch musicianship are refreshing. Lyrically, it's a 180. Apparently making out with "40 Boys in 40 Nights" has its consequences, and on the new album, the Donnas take every opportunity to dish out blame (even to themselves). Gold Medal's darker material suits the band well. The Donnas look poised to attract a larger female fan base in answer to the testosteroned hordes they currently command.

With a new direction firmly mapped and bigger venues to play, Anderson confesses to a soft spot for a traditional Houston stop: Fitzgerald's. "We're gonna miss that place," she says, "but not the backstage. It's haunted."

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