For more than a decade The Donna’s, a Bay Area all-girl rock band, have been face melting around the world. Quite an impressive achievement considering that most bands, let alone all girl bands can say they’ve been around nearly that long. According to them this is due to the fact that they’ve more or less grown up as a family. Though they are publicly recognized as being from Oakland, California, but if it hadn’t been for the suburbs the two founders Allison Robertson (guitar) and Maya Ford (bass) would have never met.
As a young girl Maya idolized bombshells like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, “Which isn’t very punk rock of me, I guess”, she says. But none-the-less it was ambitious women that first got Maya interested in music. She soon met her partner in crime Allison Robertson, the Donna’s main songwriter. They met in 5th grade and became great friends after realizing their similar musical interests. Allison was already a guitar player so it didn’t take long before they started jamming. In the early stages they only had a keyboard and acoustic guitar at their disposal so they did what they could in terms of songwriting. However not too much later Maya purchased her first bass guitar and when things started getting punk they considered themselves a band under the name Ragady Anne.
The tunes really started coming together once they had a full line up, even a local college radio DJ got so interested that he put out their first 7inch. He took them under his wing and started exposing them in the Bay Area rock and punk scene. At that time being girls who played heavy music was rough and according to Maya they didn’t really fit in anywhere, “Kids at school made fun of us because we were weirdo’s that wore used clothes and the Gilman kids [punks] probably thought we showered too often.”
In due time they developed a cult like fan base and huge stardom all while keeping complete artistic control (for the most part). The nature of the Donna’s music doesn’t give Maya complete freedom or much room to improvise, with that said she takes her supporting role as bass player very seriously. Usually her bass part will only consist of only a few notes, in order to really solidify the groove and support the guitar driven riffs. If you didn’t already know that Maya is a long time Gibson endorsee her response when asked if she has experienced any sexism sure gave it away, she explained “ If I had a nickel for every time someone said ‘You guys are pretty good for a girl band’ I would have a thunderbird shaped swimming pool.” Her Gibson bass of choice is obviously the Thunderbird, although she would really like a “Diet-Coke” bass, when the Thunderbird isn’t present it safe to assume her three-quarter scale vintage 1965 Epiphone Coronet is. Maya is a tone junkie with clear preference to the vintage sound.
Being in the Donnas exposed Maya to amazing opportunities such as being able to play on MTV and SNL stages. Over the years it also gave them the space to write a significant amount of original music. Unfortunately the complete artistic control that had originally attracted them to Atlantic records was lost when Atlantic asked them to write a top-40 hit with a Swedish co-writer. This lead to the Donna’s terminating their contract. Maya says, “We just want to be a rock band, write our own songs and sleep in all day.”
The Donna’s have a classic “no BS” attitude that more women should probably adopt, and Maya sure is pioneering the frontier for us! When I asked her if she would ever consider playing for another band her response was simple, “Donnas Always and Forever. Everyone is Lame.”