July 22nd, 2014 by Danny Bonilla
The Donkeys packed the house with long-time and brand-new fans alike last Wednesday following killer sets from Hanging Hills and Marcellus Hall. The show was one of many in a line of Ride the Black Wave tour dates (buy the album HERE), and the earliest indicator of their regular performances was their tongue-in-cheek ‘hump day’ remark to open the show. At first, the performance could almost have been mistaken for shoegaze, with a hazy, desert-dust instrumental jam to start the setlist; after the last note faded, however, the band expanded from grooving musicians to charismatic, earnest performers. (Drummer Sam Sprague ironically remarks: “You said I’m good at amping the crowd up – so I’m amping the crowd up!”).
More than anything else, the show was a great time. The setlist was clearly well-rehearsed (though it did introduce five new songs from their most recent LP), and the band blasted through it with absolutely no stress whatsoever — the only variable, it seemed, was the ordinarily fickle NYC crowd. Fortunately, The Donkeys had no difficulty in winning the favor of their listeners with their sun-scorched grooves and party-hearty sentiment. It felt like a little bit of California had been brought to the Knit on that Wednesday night, and the feel-good vibes lasted until at least the next morning’s hangover.
KF: How’s the tour been so far?
Anthony: It’s been great. Even the little shows like Albuquerque, where we weren’t expecting many people to show up – people still came out and we were stoked. Maybe as a whole we can say “best-ever.” The shows have been consistent and there’s been a whole lot of enthusiasm throughout.
KF: Would you credit that to you guys having a new album, Ride The Black Wave?
Anthony: We do. New album, new label. The label, Easy Sound Recording Company, has been doing a lot of good for us, getting us out there on the radio with both plays and interviews. They’re brand new so our successes hinge on one another so we are both working hard to make it all work.
Jesse: They’re really motivated, a lot of energy and creativity is floating around right now.
Tim: The past label, Dead Oceans – killer label also. We did two albums with them, but we couldn’t get the third one going through them. So we spent some time getting everything together to finally get this album out.
KF: So you’ve been working on the album for the past 2 years?
Anthony: Nah, we pretty much had the album done for 2 years now, we were just waiting for the right time to release it.
Jesse: Took a little longer than we expected, but it’s out now!
KF: When you did record the album, what was the process like?
Tim: We had a bunch of new songs we wanted to work on, and get down. We had the chance to use a really awesome studio and we couldn’t let the opportunity slip by because it was a beautiful place to record at for a great deal so that was the main intention – go in, get some songs out, and put together the next record.
KF: This was back at home?
Tim: Yep, in San Diego, studio’s name was Singing Serpent, it’s mostly used for like commercial music and jingles but it was a really beautiful live room, and we got hooked up with it. Living there for a few weeks and whatnot was rad.
KF: What would you say was the biggest inspiration? Anything different from the last albums?
Sam: You just try to make it better than the one before. There’s certain things you want to focus on. This was the first album we recorded digitally, so that was kind of a fun thing to do. But overall it’s the same process for me at least. Just writing songs and the wanting them to be better than the last project, so we put a little more care and work into the songs. Rather than how we used to do it, like “3 chords a melody, cool”. But now we’re just doing more for our songs.
Jesse: I think we got a lot more focused on the craft also. We knew we’d see Tom after – who helps us arrange the songs – but definitely having the new fancy studio where we can see into the control room through a glass made it different, and was a lot of fun.
Sam: The last studio was an old dentist office converted into a studio, which was awesome too – that’s what we’re more used to – but this was rad.
Tim: It was really really cool. It was something you would want to invite your mom over to so she can see it and we just felt really grateful to be there.
KF: How’s it feel to have some new music to perform live?
Jesse: We’ve had these songs, which we have played before a little bit but now we’re touring with them. About 5 new songs we’re throwing into the set list.
Tim: It’s hard to go from the studio where we had all this freedom to do so much to craft songs, to the go and have to rework them to make it work as a live four-piece. But it’s also a fun process to figure out what works, what doesn’t, what we can get rid off, what we can emphasize.
KF: So the new music video for “Blues in the Afternoon” was recorded on a phone? Honestly, it looks mad cool and well made in its own way.
Tim: Yeah, we were just driving across the country on tour and was taking snap shots out the window at pretty landscapes and thought we could do something with it, so we put it all together.
KF: Any other music videos on the way?
Sam: We have a video for “Scissor Me Cigs”, so that should be out really soon.
Anthony: We had a friend of a friend who makes videos come down from Seattle and spend a couple days with us to film it in and around our city, highlighting some of our favorite spots.
KF: I’m sure you get asked about this all the time, but what’s the story behind getting your song, “Excelcior Lady” played on LOST?
Tim: Long story short, Jon Darnell from the Mountain Goats had a blog and wrote about us. His friend Craig Finn, checked out the record that he was reviewing, and became a huge fan. He’s friends with Eddy Kitsis who’s the producer for LOST, so it kind of just snowballed from there. Eddy was looking for a song that he could incorporate into the show and thought it was the perfect sound.
Anthony: They first used us in season 5, and the song was used as part of a subplot. The band kept coming up on t-shirts to cross reference it. Then there were flashback episodes where they would show the fictional 1970′s band and have our song play.
KF:So what do you guys have planned after this tour?
Sam: We are planning on recording an EP that we have pre-produced already and then just playing more shows and hopefully going on tour again sooner than later to hit back all the cities we just played.