Donkified in Bizarro San Diego

The Donkeys leave off the songs that are...too rock and roll.
  • The Donkeys leave off the songs that are...too rock and roll.

The Donkeys started in 2004 with Timothy DeNardo, Jessie Gulati, Anthony Lukens, and Sam Sprague. DeNardo explains that the band shared a small Mission Gorge rehearsal space with three other bands that eventually went away. That left the Donkeys holding the bag for the rent. “But we didn’t want to stop playing music, and the drunken jams we were coming up with seemed good enough to pursue.” They stayed together, and over the course of the next few years released three full-length albums and a pair of seven-inch singles. “Right now, it’s all about Ride the Black Wave,” DeNardo says of the Donkeys’ new CD. “We think it’s our best to date, and we can’t wait to get it out there.”

Past Event

The Donkeys, Extra Classic, Octagrape

  • Friday, June 6, 2014, 8 p.m.
  • Irenic, 3090 Polk Avenue, San Diego

The Donkeys’ CD-release concert will take place at the Irenic on Friday, June 6.

Why “Ride the Black Wave”? What does that mean to you guys?

Lukens: It’s Sam’s lyric. He came up with it. I remember thinking it sounded awesome and very, very dark.

Sprague: It just seemed to fit the record. I personally try and get things out into the stratosphere before I think too hard on it. It means certain things to me. But I hope people can pull their own meaning from it.

DeNardo: As the rest of the record started coming together, it all seemed to congeal around a mood or theme. There were a lot of ocean references and a fair amount of unrest.

Donkeys songs often sound tranquil on the surface, but with little jolts of tension. Is this a conscious effort?

DeNardo: This is what I was trying to get to with the last question. For the most part we flow through, happy to be where and what we are. And as with everything there are harsh realities, cold truths that take us off guard and that overwhelm us all. I like the discord from time to time. I like a huge, fuzzed-out solo over a tranquil melody line. An abrupt end, a couple of minor chords here and there. To me, this is what keeps music moving.

How has San Diego influenced the band’s writing?

Lukens: I’d like to think that if we lived in a parallel universe and the Donkeys lived in Bizarro San Diego, our band would still be awesome.

DeNardo: It’s an interesting place to live. Consistent temperature and beauty makes it hard to keep motivated. And that struggle between the perceived dream and the realities of the working class are always tugging on you.

I wonder if you guys have ever had to cut material in the studio that isn’t Donkeys-sounding enough...

Sprague: We have cut songs a lot. We have four songwriters in the band and sometimes songs just don’t fit what we are doing. Sometimes I wish we could make something more un-Donkeys.

Gulati: Everything we play and record is Donkified to a certain degree. You can hear it especially when we have backed up other songwriters.

DeNardo: Some of our favorite songs haven’t made it to records because they were too rock and roll or too trippy or maybe a bit too silly. When we are done recording, though, there is usually a pretty good idea of where the album should go and what songs don’t work.

The Donkeys are sometimes compared to Pavement, who I always found borderline pretentious.

Sprague: Well, I gotta say we are a huge fan of Pavement. But I don’t get the comparison, really. I think we are shooting for Wowee Zowee greatness. It’s funny you say they are pretentious. From my point of view I always loved how much fun Pavement seemed to have.

DeNardo: Pretension is something I do try to avoid, but I don’t think it’s a conscious decision in the band. Maybe part of the beauty of a four-piece is that all of us act as one another’s control.

What’s the hardest part about being in this band?

Sprague: A lot of things are hard about being in a band. But if it ain’t hard, it ain’t worth doing. Right?

DeNardo: I’d have to say the hardest part is in the flip side of the best part. Four creative minds keep the band fresh, but that can be hard to manage at times.

Lukens: Telling your girlfriend’s mom you’re a member of the Donkeys.

For pretty much all of July, you guys are playing every day of the week in a different city. Are your tours always this brutal?

Lukens: Days off are for mailmen or for when we have to drive at least 1000 miles. We like tight and nice.

Sprague: This one is pretty tight, for sure. We toured with Magnolia Electric Co. once. And since then, we have no room to complain about a tight schedule. They were the most efficient five guys you have ever seen in a Chevy Van.

Gulati: This last SXSW, we played a couple shows in one day. It feels good to be busy on the road.

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