The Donkeys (due tonight at the Hi-Dive) from San Diego often get lumped in with anyone inspired by the country rock of the '60s and '70s. But even a casual listen to its latest release, Born With Stripes, reveals a band not beholden to a specific aesthetic of times past, but rather to a sometimes playful, sometimes reverential, sometimes irreverent songwriting style that lends the band a sonic flexibility and a wide range of emotional expression. Seemingly on tour at least twice a year across the country, in addition to its hometown gigs, the Donkeys are real veterans of the small-club circuit in America and have been steadily building an audience for the group's twangy psychedelia. The band's roadie and steadfast compatriot, Jefe Wenzel, discussed the group's DIY origins, the aesthetic of its latest video and how it got hooked up with its Daytrotter sessions.
Westword: How did you get interested in making a raga beyond just getting a sitar?
Jefe Wenzel: Jessie Gulati is of Indian descent. His parents are from India, and he's been to India a lot. So he bought these sitars in India. We're all really into Indian music, but Jessie's the one that introduced it. It's fun to fool around with different instruments. Jessie's gotten really good at it, and it's great. He's actually an Indian guy, you know, he's not just some white hippie up there -- which is just so annoying, you know [laughs all around]. He used to have one that was a pain in the ass, because it's so nice and we were afraid of hurting it. But Jessie actually has an electric one that he got last time he went to India, and he had hot-rodded and had them put pick-ups in. That's really easy to travel with. Before, it was an acoustic one that's really nice -- you wouldn't want to take it out of the house. He used to take his shoes off when he played it and put a rug down. It was a big deal. Now he doesn't have to take his shoes off. Good thing, whew! The first few rows would clear out!
You have a video for "Don't Know Who We Are," and it was directed by Jeff Lowe. Has he directed any of your previous videos, and did you ask him to make it look like it was shot on old film stock?
I've known him since junior high, and we talked to him about it and using eight-millimeter film. Actual film, and not affected digital video. Actual film costs a lot of money. You limit yourself when you use eight millimeter. But you don't have to think too hard, and there's so many options these days with digital film. Aesthetically, I feel like everyone likes what old film looks like. I could look at an eight millimeter film of a plant growing and I would think it's interesting.
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SHOW ME HOW
You recorded some Daytrotter sessions?
We went with Owen Ashworth because we were on tour with Casiotone For the Painfully Alone. It was one of our first tours. He had one set up, and we kind of crashed it. We became fast friends with the engineer and the guys that ran it. It was still a pretty small operation at that point. Every time we've driven through, we've done them. We've done four of them, I think. We've become friends with Patrick Stolley. He comes to all of our shows nearby, and he'll drive an hour to come see us play in the Midwest. We were the first band to ever stay at his house.