How does a band stay together for more than ten years?
For the Donkeys, chemistry is key, but having little faith in one’s own abilities doesn’t hurt either.
“I think we all share a lack of individual confidence,” says Donkeys bassist Tim Denardo. “We like what the other members add. We’re each other’s answers creatively.”
That’s been the case through four albums and the new mini-album, Midnight Palms, which will be released February 12. The band will celebrate by playing Soda Bar on February 11.
The Donkeys live at Pickathon 2014...
Midnight Palms is a mini-album for the group, and in some ways a transitional recording for the Donkeys, who are without original guitarist Jesse Gulati for the first time.
“Jesse has a job and a family and it’s harder for him to get away to tour,” Denardo says, emphasizing the break was amicable.
Taking his place for the album is Steve Selvidge, better known as the guitarist for the Hold Steady, a highly regarded indie band from Brooklyn.
“We needed a guitar player and he needed a job,” is how keyboardist/vocalist Anthony Lukens puts it. “We hit it off on tour and we decided to aim high. He’s our favorite guitar player and, luckily, he was totally down for it.”
Selvidge toured with the band for 40 shows before coming into the studio to put finishing touches on Midnight Palms.
“He added a lot of nice textures we wouldn’t have thought to reach for,” Lukens says. “He’s a gear junkie so he had lots of toys and could play in different styles. But he was flexible if we wanted to try something different.”
Drummer Sam Sprague concurs.
“He’s professional. He just really handles his shit,” Sprague says. “In the studio, he just wowed us all. As the drummer, I’ve tracked stuff live, but he was insane!”
Jason Begin, a longtime friend of the band, is playing guitar on the current West Coast tour, but Lukens says Selvidge is welcome back anytime.
“We’d love to work with him. He has an open invite,” Lukens says.
In a world where songs are purchased one at a time, Midnight Palms harkens back to the mid-’80s, when bands would release EPs as a way to buy time between releases. Sprague admits he and the other Donkeys are throwbacks to those halcyon days.
“We are all still record collectors even though that’s nostalgia,” Sprague says. “But we wanted to get something out quick. We wanted more output — we write so many songs.”
Denardo says it was important that the mini-album pack maximum impact, music-wise.
“We did want something more meaningful than just putting out the scraps,” Denardo says. “When you’re doing something like this, there’s a little bit of fear that you don’t want to throw the good stuff on the mini-album, but the songwriting well isn’t running dry for us.”
This time around, though, Lukens, Sprague, and Denardo came in with more fleshed-out ideas instead of creating songs from group jams.
Part of this was because of the change of direction necessitated by Gulati’s departure and because of Sprague’s recent move to Los Angeles to work at Eagle Rock Brewery.
“We’re not hammering it out three days a week in practice like we’re used to,” Denardo says. “We each worked more independently so the ideas were more fleshed out. [Sprague] and [Lukens] are really good with coming up with melodies on the spot or just singing lyrics. Whereas, I have to spend time to get the idea worked out beforehand.”
Lukens says the key for him is letting the music come from a natural place.
- Thursday, February 11, 2016, 8 p.m.
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“I try to be organic,” he says. “Lyrical ideas can come from a dialogue with someone or something I’ve seen in a book. You can be riding a bike, get splashed by a car and think, It’s okay if you want to hurt someone. And that will become a song idea.”
Although the band plays up to 150 shows a year, they are proud of their San Diego roots — and getting a touch of home when they’re on the road.
“We do see San Diego beers on the road and it’s an entry point of discussion with others,” Lukens says.
Sprague jokes that all the band members love beer and he’d like to find a way to capitalize on it.
“I’d like to get our own beer: Donkey Water!” he laughs.