Swell La Donnas

Consider the plight of America's small-town punks. Over the past two decades the punk-rock subculture in cities and media centers has grown from a snot-nosed, nihilistic infant to a bratty but terribly trendy adult. But as recently as a few years ago, high school outcasts from the heartland were still enduring the taunts and jeers of bullies in baseball caps and big-haired cheerleaders.

Roscoe, Benson and Stanton LaDonnahue, who constitute three-quarters of Denver's own La Donnas, are cases in point. The LaDonnahues (only their mothers know their given names) grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a thoroughly provincial burg of 32,000 souls located midway between Milwaukee and Green Bay. There, smack-dab in the center of our nation's dairyland, they cultivated a love of obscure noise and the hatred of their more popular classmates. "I remember going to these mandatory pep rallies back in high school, and when I'd walk in, there'd be a thousand people chanting 'Thrasher! Thrasher!' at me," Roscoe recalls. "And this at a school where people literally smelled like shit in the hallways from working on the farms."

According to Roscoe, the LaDonnahues' worst enemies were the "taps"--rednecks with "hair short on the side, curly on top and long in the back, so it looked like a tapestry." The women, Benson adds, had "Eighties hair and bratwurst for legs." And the student body? "It was "food-stamp central," he says. "People used to get into Ford vs. Chevy fights. It was hell."

At least the drinks were cheap; the LaDonnahue collective describes Wisconsin watering holes that promoted $5 "all-you-can-drink" nights. But this bargain was a double-edged sword. Because of their chilly relations with locals, the boys were involved in a handful of barroom brawls and a couple of arrests for disorderly conduct.

To say the least, there wasn't much incentive for the LaDonnahues to remain in Manitowoc. But the journey from there to Denver wasn't a direct one. Before settling here, Roscoe lived in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Seattle and Salt Lake City, while Stanton spent time in Phoenix and Benson resided briefly in Milwaukee and Dillon. So what's kept the trio in the same locale for the better part of a year? The weather. "Denver's infamous for what--300 days of sunshine?" Roscoe asks. "Living here isn't about going out to see some cool rock-and-roll band. It's about a ripping climate. It's like California, only cheaper."

The players reunited in Colorado last winter, and their mutual appreciation for the Makers, the Dijits, the Dickies and other punk forefathers soon drove them to form the La Donnas. They've made good use of their time since then; Shady Lane, the outfit's debut full-length, was released this past spring. A full-blown, hyperactive ode to speed, noise, infectious melody and adolescent attitude, the album features a couple of inspired covers--the Angry Samoans' "Death of the Beewak" and "She Pays the Rent," penned by the Lyres' Jeff Conolly--and gloriously obnoxious originals such as "No Way to Treat a Lady (Jerry)," "The Invasion" and "The Scene's Gonna Get You Tonight."

These energetic numbers, which recall the heady early days of the Buzzcocks when heard live, quickly attracted the attention of a couple of indie labels. The tiny IFA imprint agreed to release a six-song EP by the group. But while recording that platter in the City that Grunge Built, the musicians stumbled onto an even better situation. They met Jim Ransweiler, a booking agent and intern at Sub Pop who subsequently convinced his bosses to fund a spin-off firm, Scooch Pooch Records. Shortly thereafter, Scooch Pooch made the La Donnas its initial signing.

Shady Lane is the first fruit of this deal, but it won't be the last; the La Donnas have a three-album contract. Thus far, the LaDonnahues are pleased with Scooch Pooch's support, particularly during their treks to Texas, the Midwest and the West Coast. (Their prime mode of transportation during these swings: a 1982 Chevrolet van.) Their growing onstage reputation and Scooch Pooch's world-class distribution have helped Shady Lane rack up sales of more than 3,000 copies thus far, and there are high hopes for its followup, which will be recorded on the company's dime beginning next February.

Nonetheless, not everything has gone smoothly for the La Donnas. For example, drummer Daniel LaDonnahue recently split. "He ditched us and his girl at the same time," Roscoe points out. "Then I think he joined the Promise Keepers or something."

Daniel has since been replaced by the newly christened Forrest LaDonnahue, formerly with Pinhead Circus. "He's twenty years old, and he's like one of the best drummers I've ever seen--and definitely the best drummer I've ever played with," Roscoe announces. "He's like the young prodigy, and he's really cool. And he likes to drink beer, too." Also earning plaudits from Roscoe are guitarist Benson and Stanton, whom he sees as "a bass virtuoso. He's got talent coming out his ass." By contrast, he's critical of his own skills as a lyricist. "It's just freaks and waitresses," he gripes. "It's all bullshit."

Roscoe is equally uncharitable in his assessment of other combos in Denver. "I only like one band in this town, and that's Boss 302," he says. (When pressed, he also admits to enjoying the work of the Hectics, a Westword profile subject.) "There's no good rock-and-roll bands here," Stanton concurs. "They're all...weird."

The La Donnas' lack of interest in their Denver peers is understandable given their loose ties to the local scene. Despite their status as one of the Mile High City's few signed acts, they remain relatively unknown in their adopted hometown--which is fine by them, since they spend much of their time on the road. Music, not Denver's lovely climate, is what's most important to them. So where might they move if they tire of Colorado?

"All I want to do is rock," Benson quips. "I want to rock and conquer the world. I think we would all totally settle for, say, Japan...We could be superheroes there.


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