By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Donna C. exudes the breathless giddiness of an MTV Total Request Live viewer; her "Ohmigawds" are as genuine as any Backstreet Boys-loving pubescent, her giggles approaching the near-hysterical pitch of a rabid music fan. This, in fact, is exactly what she is.
But she's also a drummer -- one who early in her career was grounded by her parents when she was caught drinking. A drummer who, a few years subsequent, was voted "Best Musician" in her high school yearbook. And a drummer who's now a Paiste cymbal endorsee and who, during a recent trip to the NAMM show in L.A., found herself hanging with idol Rikki Rockett of the band Poison. ("I was so excited," she gasps. "I was freaking out. It's really weird that they even know who we are and that we have a band!")
Today, Donna C. -- known to her parents, whom she still lives with, as Torry Castellano -- is getting ready to go to band rehearsal, during which her band of the last seven years -- since she was 13 -- will work up a new song called "Hot Pants." Castellano and her partners in prolific pop-punk -- Donnas A., R., and F. (n*e singer Brett Anderson, guitarist Allison Robertson, and bassist Maya Ford) -- are writing tunes for their forthcoming, self-produced, fourth Lookout! LP, as well as preparing for yet another U.S. tour in their very own van, replete with a TV and video-recorded episodes of Twin Peaks.
"Hot Pants" and other tunes in the girls' catalog tend to be semi-tawdry, ultra-entertaining true-life tales that come across as sort of an endearing Spinal Tap-meets-Joan-Jett-as-performed-by-the-Ramones hybrid. For instance, on the band's third CD, 1999's Get Skintight (produced by Redd Kross founders/stylemakers Jeff and Steve McDonald), lyrics included: "Turn up the bass and adjust the seat/I'm on you like a shark on meat." Or "You're a zero on my track-o-meter/You wanna get hot, turn on the heater."
But behind the giggles and pouty-lipped, Lolita-like, retro-rock lurk four young women who were all accepted into colleges -- Berkeley, NYU, and UC Santa Cruz, no less -- but who have put education on the back burner for the "funner" side of life, opening for bands like Cinderella, covering Mstley CrŸe songs ("Too Fast for Love"), and shooting the breeze with KISS leader Gene Simmons. Photos inside the Skintightsleeve reveal the foursome at Disneyland, wearing Ratt T-shirts and lipsticked smiles. While it's kitschy, it's also genuine. And fun. And funny. And cool. It's the stuff the dreams of Rodney Bingenheimer and Kim Fowley are made of.
"We did a video for [their cover of KISS'] 'Strutter,' and Gene Simmons came to the shoot," says Castellano. "We thought he'd either be really mean or hit on us, but he was really nice. I think he thought that we were younger than we were," she continues, her breathy voice and guileless enthusiasm no doubt furthering that impression in Simmons' mind. "He was trying to talk to us on our level, and he was like, 'So I used to teach sixth grade.' And we were like, 'We're not in sixth grade!' But It was still really cool."
Ageism, of course, remains one of the peccadilloes of the music business. And it's already hitting the Donnas before two members are even old enough to drink legally. "A lot of people think we're pretty stupid," the drummer confesses forthrightly. "Seriously. Just because we're young and we're girls. So now we're getting, 'What are they going to do now that they're 21?' They think that just because we're not 15 anymore, it's over. You know, when we used to wear the matching shirts onstage -- we liked it and it was fun -- but one of the reasons we stopped, besides being bored with them, is that the reviews of our shows would only talk about the shirts, not about our music at all. It was like, 'Yeah, our appearance and show matter, but the musicmatters more.' We like to be really tight as a band."
Although currently an underground phenom, the Donnas are on the same Berkeley-based label that spawned Green Day, which could promise much for the future. They're also surprisingly well-versed in music history, especially the heavy metal variety. And it's not the faux metal love professed by so many youngsters. Castellano is a longtime hard-core fan who admits to having once been "obsessed" with Metallica and to owning a copy of an instructional video by former Cinderella drummer Fred Coury. Her first concert experience? Guns N' Roses with Metallica, of course.
As evidenced by the music and Castellano's giddy demeanor, there's really not much negativity in Donna-land. After all, what's there to be bummed about? "We recorded American Teenage Rock N' Roll Machine  and then went out on tour," Castellano begins. "We started in L.A. and by the time we got to New York City, we were being interviewed by Rolling Stone and MTV. We were like, 'Oh, my God, what's going on?' " Indeed. What was going on simply was that four best friends were traveling the world, playing the music they love, and charming all they encountered. Hell, it's every `80s/MTV-weaned teen's dream.