The Donnas beat label drama 

There’s a very good reason the Donnas, a four-kitten Palo Alto punk-metal combo, dubbed their latest clawfest "Bitchin.’"

Having experienced big-time show business first hand, they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

"Major labels aren’t actually the ticket to riches. Did you know that?" rhetorically asks frontwoman Brett Anderson, as if she’s recounting a fairy tale. "And it turns out — get this — you can do it yourself!"

Signed to the local Lookout! imprint as teens (their fourth ’01 album celebrated the chronological moment "The Donnas Turn 21"), they landed a coveted deal with Atlantic for sets five and six, a breakthrough "Spend the Night" and the sonically-adventurous "Gold Medal," but failed to find their wish-granting Wizard of Oz.

"We got to the end of that yellow brick road, and then we saw another yellow brick road, and picked that one instead," she explains of the Donnas’ decision to part ways with said record company and launch their own indie, Purple Feather.

The road to freedom was paved with many significant bricks, adds Anderson, 28. First, a mass exodus of Atlantic personnel left the Donnas, who play the Great American Music Hall tonight, in the hands of virtual strangers.

Next came humiliating meetings for the "Gold Medal" follow up. "They wanted us to work with other songwriters," she says. "And we didn’t really want to. But we were adults about it and tried it out, and it felt like it just wasn’t right for us."

Then the idea hit them like a tidal wave — to simply do it themselves.

CEOs wanted the girls to get Bacharach-serious about their songwriting; They wanted to get even more Poison-playful with it, so they shook hands and said goodbye.

To that end, the album bounces all over the map, with "Save Me" echoing "Photograph"-era Def Leppard, "Girl Talk" tuning into vintage Judas Priest and "Better Off Dancing" aping a post-Gen-X Billy Idol.

The Donnas are now free to do that. Today, Anderson is hard-wired into her Blackberry Pearl; a good portion of her day now consists of texting approvals for artwork, fonts, cover shots and merchandise.

"The accountability, I think, is what’s going to make this record fly," she says. "Because there’s no hiding, you know? Purple Feather is just the band, our two managers, and Redeye Distribution in the States … And the statistic I heard that I like best is, we can now make the same amount on 80,000 records as we could on 400,000 the old way."

Why the name Purple Feather? Says Anderson, "We were at Echo Park doing an interview, and there were these ducks that had purple feathers underneath their wings. And we kept going ‘Shut up, purple-feathered duck! Show your purple feathers!’ And it just became a saying. That’s how everything is with us. We just repeat it until it becomes real, like ‘Let’s do it ourselves!’"

The Donnas

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today

Tickets: $17

Contact: (415) 885-0750;

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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