Earning Their Stripes 

The Donkeys Buck the Retro Tag

THE DONKEYS Go ahead, ask ’em what they thought of Lost’s ending. They love that.

THE DONKEYS Go ahead, ask ’em what they thought of Lost’s ending. They love that.

IT MIGHT NOT HAVE helped that the Donkeys appeared on Lost as the fictional acid-rock band Geronimo Jackson, or that their breezy anthem "Excelsior Lady" was reworked into the show as "Dharma Lady." But the San Diego quartet deserves to be thought of as something other than the classic-rock revivalists they're usually pegged as. This is true particularly in light of their latest record, the addictively pleasurable Born with Stripes, a terrific collection of pop morsels that go from peppy rave-up to languid jam to strummy folk-rock.

I'll admit that I listen to a lot of music from the '60s and '70s, but Born with Stripes doesn't sound like the work of a retro band. It simply sounds like the work of a band, one that plays their songs on guitars and drums, and sings about cars and girls. (Okay, and sometimes drugs.) The album's many highlights, like "I Like the Way You Walk" and "Ceiling Tan," just sound timeless, like they could appear on Between the Buttons or Born in the USA or Boxer.

Keyboardist Anthony Lukens agrees the band is not merely trying to emulate existing sounds. "I guess we all obviously love old music. We all like old 45s... It's weird that just because we're into buying old guitars that we're, like, a retro band," Lukens laughs. "We don't have pompadours or something! We're just trying to be a band like anybody else. We do love the Nuggets comps and Pebbles comps, and there will definitely be references to that. And if somebody comes up with a song and it's under two minutes, we're gonna give somebody a high five because we're just stoked that it's a perfect 45. I do love the efficiency of that aesthetic. We all love that, but we're definitely not going for that. If it happens, it happens—we're just doing our best to write music together. I guess it's easy for people to say that, especially if you hear, like, a Farfisa organ or something."

The Donkeys—Lukens, guitarist Jessie Gulati, bassist/guitarist Tim DeNardo, and drummer/vocalist Sam Sprague—don't stick to any hard-and-fast songwriting rules. They've been known to switch instruments in the studio from time to time, as on Born with Stripes' title track, a jagged slice of Wayfarer-sporting proto-punk. "We wrote that when we were partying pretty hard that night, not really thinking we'd get a lot done, and then next thing you know..." Lukens says. "It was super sloppy and we didn't think we were gonna keep it. It was actually really funny because we kept switching instruments because we couldn't get it together—mostly because we were pretty wasted. But Sam kept telling us to switch, so we kept switching like a volleyball team."

More than anything, the Donkeys convey an ease and comfort, down to the laidback yet assertive rhythms and gently psychedelic tinges of their songs. It's due to the core of the band having been friends since high school, and to the four of them having played music on and off together for years in different configurations before making it official with the Donkeys. "We've known each other for so long that we're very open with each other," Lukens says. "Obviously, now that we're in a band it's like we're in a committed relationship with each other. There's nothing we can do about it now, for better or for worse."

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