We would love to be able to say that the Donkeys are simply four California beach bums who love to surf, drink cheap beer and jam as the sun sets over the Pacific. The long legacy of music hailing from California – from Bakersfield to the Beach Boys, Sweetheart of the Rodeo through Slanted and Enchanted – has shaped our sense that everything and everyone “out west” is laid back, comfortable and cool.
And to be fair, when it comes to the Donkeys, some of this mystique is true – two of the band’s members are indeed surfers, and all four have been known to down a six pack or two. But like California, the real-life Donkeys (best friends from Southern California, Timothy DeNardo, Jessie Gulati, Anthony Lukens and Sam Sprague) are much more… real. If their backstory contains those top-down cars and suntanned utopian surf tableaus, it also contains the malaise and the escape fantasies familiar to all suburban kids of the 80s and 90s. Miraculously, the music manages to comfortably communicate both moods at once. Any expression of existential ennui – “is this all there is?” – is simultaneously soothed by an unrushed guitar lick and a harmonized twang that becomes almost, dare we say, meditative.
Part of this magic comes from the fact that there’s no artifice to the Donkeys’ songs, from the matter-of-fact breakup blues of “Boot on the Seat” to the playful recollections of a late, drunken night narrated on “Nice Train.” These are everyday lives in the postmodern world expressed with a deep respect for classic songs from the 70s through the 90s — for spacey grooves and soulful, jangly swagger — that elevates the subject matter beyond the ordinary. Living on the Other Side, the band’s second album, is not meant to hit you over the head with a flamboyant single – instead, imagine Ray Davies jamming with the Byrds, or a Gene Clark-fronted Buffalo Springfield — and you’ll get a sense of the tradition that informs this band.
Living on the Other Side is about rolling down the windows, cranking up the stereo, and hitting the open road. Maybe you’re running away, and maybe you’re not, but either way, everything’s going to be alright.