But she's also a drummer -- one who early in her career was grounded by her parents when she was caught drinking. A drummer who, a few years subsequent, was voted "Best Musician" in her high school yearbook. And a drummer who's now a Paiste cymbal endorsee and who, during a recent trip to the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) music instrument trade show in L.A., found herself hanging with idol Rikki Rockett of the band Poison. ("I was so excited," she gasps. "I was freaking out. It's really weird that they even know who we are and that we have a band!")
Today, Donna C. -- known to her parents, whom she still lives with, as Torry Castellano -- is getting ready to go to band rehearsal, during which her band of the last seven years -- since she was 13 -- will work up a new song called "Hot Pants." Castellano and her partners in prolific pop-punk -- Donnas A., R., and F. (nee singer Brett Anderson, guitarist Allison Robertson, and bassist Maya Ford) -- are writing tunes for their forthcoming, self-produced, fourth Lookout LP, as well as preparing for yet another U.S. tour in their very own van, replete with a TV and video-recorded episodes of Twin Peaks.
"Hot Pants" and other tunes in the girls' catalog tend to be semi-tawdry, ultra-entertaining true-life tales that come across as sort of an endearing Spinal Tap-meets-Joan-Jett-as-performed-by-the-Ramones hybrid. For instance, on the band's third CD, 1999's Get Skintight (produced by Redd Kross founders/style-makers Jeff and Steve McDonald), lyrics included: "Turn up the bass and adjust the seat/ I'm on you like a shark on meat." Or "You're a zero on my track-o-meter/ You wanna get hot, turn on the heater."
But behind the giggles and pouty-lipped, Lolita-like retro-rock lurk four young women who were all accepted into colleges -- Berkeley, NYU, and UC Santa Cruz, no less -- but who have put education on the back burner for the "funner" side of life, opening for bands like Cinderella, covering Mötley Crée songs ("Too Fast for Love"), and shooting the breeze with Kiss leader Gene Simmons. Photos inside the Skintight sleeve reveal the foursome at Disneyland, wearing Ratt T-shirts and lipsticked smiles. While it's kitschy, it's also genuine. And fun. And funny. And cool. It's the stuff the dreams of L.A. rock scenesters Rodney Bingenheimer and Kim Fowley are made of.
"We did a video for their cover of Kiss' "Strutter,' and Gene Simmons came to the shoot," says Castellano. "We thought he'd either be really mean or hit on us, but he was really nice. I think he thought that we were younger than we were," she continues, her breathy voice and guileless enthusiasm no doubt furthering that impression in Simmons' mind. "He was trying to talk to us on our level, and he was like, "So I used to teach sixth grade.' And we were like, "We're not in sixth grade!' But it was still really cool."
Ageism, of course, remains one of the peccadilloes of the music business. And it's already hitting the Donnas before two members are even old enough to drink legally. "A lot of people think we're pretty stupid," the drummer confesses forthrightly. "Seriously. Just because we're young and we're girls. So now we're getting, "What are they going to do now that they're 21?' They think that just because we're not 15 anymore, it's over. You know, when we used to wear the matching shirts onstage -- we liked it and it was fun -- but one of the reasons we stopped, besides being bored with them, is that the reviews of our shows would only talk about the shirts, not about our music at all. It was like, "Yeah, our appearance and show matter, but the music matters more.' We like to be really tight as a band."
The Donnas are surprisingly well-versed in music history, especially the heavy metal variety. And it's not the faux metal love professed by so many youngsters. Castellano is a longtime hard-core fan who admits to having once been "obsessed" with Metallica and to owning a copy of an instructional video by former Cinderella drummer Fred Coury. Her first concert experience? Guns N' Roses with Metallica, of course.
As evidenced by the music and Castellano's giddy demeanor, there's really not much negativity in Donna-land. After all, what's there to be bummed about? "We recorded American Teenage Rock N' Roll Machine in 1998 and then went out on tour," Castellano begins. "We started in L.A. and by the time we got to New York City, we were being interviewed by Rolling Stone and MTV. We were like, "Oh, my God, what's going on?'" Indeed. What was going on simply was that four best friends were traveling the world, playing the music they love, and charming all they encountered. Hell, it's every '80s/MTV-weaned teen's dream.
So is there anything that darkens Donna C.'s world? Well, there is the fact that Kiss' farewell jaunt is on the road at the same time as the Donnas' next tour. Castellano's voice grows genuinely melancholy. "I'm really depressed about that," she sighs. "We went to Dodger Stadium last Halloween to see Kiss. It was so cool. Paul Stanley flew right over our heads. We all lost our voices because we were singing along to every song! I want to see them again. I'm so sad."
Nevertheless, Skintight songs like "Party Action" and "Doin' Donuts" indicate that sadness is not a normal state of mind for the foursome, who, says Castellano, bring Game Boys, magazines, and books on the road -- fun stuff, nothing like "Dostoevski, where you have to concentrate a lot." Fun's great, of course, but surely there was some parental grief when the folks first encountered such un-Dostoevski Donnas lyrics as: "Skintight baby, alright/ Turn out the light and take a bite ... I saw you talking to that slut named Starr/ Standing by the nacho bar"? Castellano titters, seemingly embarrassed and proud at the same time, crediting all the Donnas' parental units with being "cool," allowing their daughters to take off high school for a Japanese tour and to play Vegas at the age of 15.
"Sure, there's been cops, there's been.... things, you know what I mean," says Castellano, her giggles leaving much to the imagination. Clearly, though, none of the perky Donnas is even remotely qualified to be a guest on Jerry Springer. "But our parents were always really trusting. As long as we were doing OK in school and not sitting at home getting drunk every day," she concludes, "they were OK with it."