Before The Donkeys were selling out along the west coast with The Hold Steady, playing the Fillmore, or listening to Native American radio along the open roads of New Mexico, we caught up with them at the studio to sneak a peek of their new record. In usual Donkeys' style, the night consisted of good cheer, Bud heavies, and cosmic jams, with a photo shoot in the men's john somewhere in between. Now, a few months later, we've caught up with them again, en transit for their fourth tour this year, to chat about the new tunes, as well as to hear some tales from the road.
This is your fourth tour this year, right? I heard some pretty rad stories from those outings. It seems like you guys always come away BFFs with your touring bands. Who did you play with on the first couple tours?
The first tour was with these people from San Francisco (Social Studies) that happen to know this hand blown glass dildo salesman in Santa Cruz that we stayed with. Those were good people and that was a weird night. The Hold Steady were a nice bunch of guys too. We didn't get to spend too much time with them since the tour was only three dates, but it was fun. We may have gotten a little too comfortable with them as a couple of us were busted stealing food and beer out of the backstage. But again, The Donkeys' charm shines through and we all had a good laugh. Josiah Wolf and Why? Those are some good people. Josiah and his girlfriend Liz opened every show of that trip with us and we couldn't have been more sad to see them go. Some of the sweetest people we've meet in a long time. All the guys in Why? were hilarious. We spent most of the time together making fun of each other, but mostly their sound guy "Snake" (nickname self applied). They are also playing in Calgary and we are looking forward to seeing them again.
Tell us a little about playing the Fillmore.
The Fillmore was pretty surreal. The place is like a museum. Just walking around and looking at the posters from previous shows was pretty incredible. Every good band we can think of has played there, the history of the building alone can get a little overwhelming. The stage crew was really pro and the room sounded great. We had a bunch friends and family fly out for the show and we all got pretty messed up. Notably Andrew who got kicked out and then accosted by some crazy lady on the street that was insisting he knew something about her, to which he replied "get away from me with your magic", and she did. Hanging out backstage, drinking wine from the bottle (a magnum provided by Christina's family) were some of the funnest memories.
What city are you most looking forward to for this tour and why?
Calgary, hands down. From what we hear "Calgary know's how to party" and we are going to be there on Canada Day. We pull in on Wednesday leave Saturday, and we have a place provided for us to stay. All we have to do is get there and let the good times roll.
Most reliable van driver of the Donkeys?
The least drunk or hungover one.
(Quick side note: we are driving through New Mexico and we just found a Native American radio station. Either that or some stoner put the record on backwards. Either way it is pretty badass.)
Who's your favorite Donkey?
Anthony: Andy, a true Burrito.
Who would win in a fight: King of Beers vs. King of Pop?
Anthony: That's fucked up. RIP MJ.
Might be a little early for this, but have you picked up any good records along the way?
Touring the west means really long drives so we haven't had much time. The record shopping doesn't really get good until the middle of the country. Love Garden in Lawrence, Charlie's in Oklahoma city. The midwest seems to have different shit that gets harder to find on the coasts. Really good country.
In what ways do you see yourselves growing as a group, musically or otherwise?
Jessie: I see us doing a lot of touring and experimenting with different sounds and ideas, forgetting about what people expect us to sound like and just making it sound awesome.
Anthony: Since we started playing music we've learned new chords on guitars and piano; and new terms like compression, noise floor, and ancillary exploitation. We also try not to drive home completely shit-faced from the practice space anymore, which is a sign of maturity.
Has longevity made the songwriting process easier, harder--or both?
Jessie: I'd say both. In a lot of ways we get used to the song writing process of one person coming to practice with parts to a song and the rest of the band helping to complete it. Also, we have other songs. These songs take a long [time?] to write because they are purely coming out of jamming. The only way to really finish them is to record them. This forces us to arrange them into a complete song.
Anthony: We've never had an issue in creating new material. I love this band for that. Our challenges are always editing down, which, like Jessie said, is both.
How are new songs typically introduced to the group? How does a song transition from an Anthony, Jesse, Tim, or Sam song to a Donkeys' song?
Jessie: It really varies. Someone could bring a nearly completed song, a chorus of a song, or a keyboard, guitar, or bass part. Either way it will end up sounding like a Donkeys song.
How has the songwriting process for this album differed from your previous two?
Jesse: I feel like making this record in San Diego has influenced the songwriting.
Anthony: I like that answer.
Feel free to say anything you want here:
July 10th at The Casbah. Red Pony Clock, Derick Papa, and us. New Mexico is beautiful, Albuquerque is weird.
During our studio visit with The Donkeys, they previewed a brand new, spacy jam appropriately titled "Jupiter's On The Right." Chris Grundy engineered a live mix at his record-to-tape studio in El Cajon, and emailed us this gem below. We'll release the full video later this fall, due to a request from The Donkeys' label, Dead Oceans. See you at The Casbah on Saturday!
The Donkeys - "Jupiter's On The Right"
Interview by Jordan Karnes. Photos by Carly Ealey - View more here.