- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

On disc or the stage, they overwhelm you with the same raw power and dominance as the all-girl '70s band the Runaways. Without microphones and guitars, however, the Donnas are not exactly what you would call imposing.

Donna R. seems as fragile and self-deprecating as that cherub with the glasses and the lunch box who took the very front seat on the school bus, or maybe the girl who went to band camp in "American Pie."

"We're really not those kind of girls," says Donna R., 21, fidgeting around her apartment in Palo Alto, Calif.

"We're actually pretty shy for people who talk a lot," Donna R. says. "It's almost like a surface thing, because everybody's afraid of silence."

As did the Ramones, the Donnas have made band uniforms of their names. But instead of sharing a last name, such as Joey's punk gang, the Donnas have all become Donnas. (Donna R. is guitarist Allison Robertson, Donna A. is singer Brett Anderson, Donna F. is bassist Maya Ford and Donna C. is drummer Torry Castellano.)

"It was sort of a joke, and it stuck with us," Miss Robertson says. "I never knew anybody in high school named Donna."

The moniker was the brainchild of an indie label Svengali, Darin Raffaelli of SuperTeem Records, who hatched it as a novelty concept and wrote the band's earliest material. The Donnas had another band at the time, a metal outfit called the Electrocutes, which they much preferred.

"That was our real band," Miss Robertson says. "The Donnas was, like, our stupid joke band. We liked the Electrocutes better, but nobody else did. And we didn't get it. We thought the Donnas sounded really crappy."

The Donnas/Electrocutes began eight years ago as an extension of the friendship between Miss Robertson and Miss Ford at Palo Alto's Jordan Middle School. They found each other by default after, Miss Robertson says, every cooler eighth-grader had rejected them.

"We were especially unpopular," Miss Robertson says.

"People knew our names and that was it. They didn't want to talk to us," she says. "We'd feel really intimidated when we went to concerts together. We wanted to belong, but every time we went to one, we knew that everyone was looking at us, like, 'What are those dorks doing here?' "

When the "in" crowd found out that Miss Robertson and Miss Ford were in a band with Miss Anderson and Miss Castellano, eyebrows jumped.

"They didn't really understand, because they liked the other two girls," Miss Robertson says. "They were like, 'What are they doing hanging out with those two weirdos?' "

The four had formed for a school talent competition, but their mutual love of riot-girl band L7 encouraged them to stay together.

"We really wanted to be them," Miss Robertson says. "Our big dream was to go on stage and tear it apart like L7 do, but we didn't really get that they were older, way more experienced and way cooler than we were. We didn't have the courage, the talent or anything."

The foursome made as big of a rock noise as they could performing in a nonindustry town swarming with tech heads.

"We just played in Palo Alto with other bands our age," Miss Robertson says. "We didn't know what to do. We didn't have a record label."

By chance, Stanford University's KZSW-FM station employed a disc jockey with his ear to the street. Performing on his show led to a contract with Mr. Raffaelli, whose SuperTeem released three singles and a self-titled Donnas debut album in 1995.

Renowned punk indie Lookout Records (the pre-Warner Bros. home of Green Day), took over three years later with the release of "American Teen-age Rock & Roll Machine," which liberated the Donnas to perform their own material (some of which initially came from the Electrocutes). This was followed by 1999's "Get Skintight" and "Donnas Turn 21," released in February.

The Donnas have a thriving cult base. Their fans include original Runaways guitarist Joan Jett, Marilyn Manson (who got the band a cameo concert appearance in the 1999 movie "Jawbreaker") and alternative-rock darlings Superdrag.

"In every city, there are all these guys who want to be our harem," says Miss Robertson, who notes that all Donnas currently have boyfriends (mostly unknown musician types).

"It's kind of hard to be a sex symbol when the people that consider you one are either way too young for you or much older than you are. It's flattering, though."

It certainly seems sufficient to provide a good burn on the popular kids from their high school days.

"The thing that's kind of sad about that is, they still don't give a …," Miss Robertson says. "They're not impressed by music. They would be impressed if we graduated from Stanford and married a doctor not became a doctor, but married one.

"That's the only way I could gain the respect of the people I went to high school with," she says.

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