Before early 2017, Donna Donna guitarist/vocalist Lindsay Johnston and drummer Cherri Woith couldn’t have picked each other out of a crowd.
Johnston had been writing music while looking for a drummer for two years, even going so far as to buy a drum kit of her own so she more easily find someone to play with.
To no avail. And so, even though she admittedly didn’t have the highest of hopes, she and Woith arranged their first practice after musician Lucas Brookbank Brown introduced them.
“It was like an awkward date in the beginning, just feeling each other out,” Johnston said.
Turns out, they had nothing to worry about. They clicked right away.
Woith told Johnston to send her the music she had written and said she’d have it down by their next practice, something no other drummer Johnston tried out had ever done.
“I don’t want to say it was super easy or anything but it made sense musically,” Woith said of combining their similar musical styles. “But then I would say in the following weeks after that practice, we both started to realize that we have really similar taste in everything from music to also presentation… We had a very similar opinion about big picture stuff too, which is really important.”
Since solidifying themselves as Donna Donna, Johnston and Woith have gone from zero to 100 in no time flat.
“I feel like most bands have a year or so to get their bearings and I feel like we’re almost approaching that point where most people get a manager,” Woith said.
Just a month after the band formed, Donna Donna was added to the Tinnabulation Music Festival lineup, and they played their first show in July.
“I remember taking a Snapchat or Instagram story video of Cherri checking her drums during sound check and I was like ‘I’m going to cry,’ ” Johnston said. “It literally was that emotional. It was all in my head for two years pretty much and you don’t know if you have a product that anyone’s going to like. It was nice to have the chance, the opportunity to be like ‘OK, this is what I’ve been wanting to do. Can we see if it works? If it doesn’t?’ ”
Since then, they’ve brought their blues-rock to venues across Eastern Washington and Idaho.
In January, the pair was nominated for the Best New Band/Artist at the Bartlett Awards (you might have seen them at the ceremony in ’80s prom dresses), and the pair recently released a music video for “Hand On the Level,” launched the Donna Donna website (donnadonnaband.com) and booked their first west side show, a performance at Everett’s Fisherman’s Village Music Festival in March.
Earlier this month, Johnston and Woith spoke with the Spokesman before a two-show weekend, which kicked off a string of eight shows in about three weeks, including, most excitedly, a release show at the Bartlett on Saturday for Donna Donna’s debut album, “Basement Noise.”
“We keep getting handed things and we’re like ‘I feel so unworthy but thank you,’” Woith said.
Because things with Donna Donna picked up steam so quickly, and as independent musicians, the pair has had to learn as they go, everything from creating an electronic press kit to the cost of putting music online to forming an LLC so they maintain the rights to their music to learning about joining Broadcast Music, Inc. and ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
Recording “Basement Noise” was also a learning process for everyone involved.
Johnston and Woith recorded the seven-song “Basement Noise” with Led Pencil Studios’ David Covillo, who is Woith’s fiancé, and Conrad Dean in Woith and Covillo’s basement. Hence the album name.
The pair originally intended to record “Basement Noise” digitally then feed it through a reel-to-reel tape machine to achieve a “vintage tape sound,” but soon found that the machine could only handle so much input.
Covillo and Dean compressed the digital recording but then realized that the compression caused Johnston’s vocals to clip so in the end, the band decided to go with the digital versions.
Johnston and Woith also learned more about mic placement and how they’d tweak rehearsal techniques for the next time they record.
“I know that once we figure it all out this time around, it’s going to be so much easier the next time so we’re really laying a lot of groundwork,” Johnston said.
“I’m already excited for the next album,” Woith added. “We already have so much we know that we didn’t know before.”
The album release show’s black-and-white theme stems from the band’s DIY work ethic.
After looking at prices to have “Basement Noise” printed and shrink-wrapped from an online distributor, Johnston and Woith found the DIY option was cheaper. They bought CD sleeves, blank CDs and a custom stamp, then burned copies at Spark Central and handstamped them.
Johnston also designs the band’s show posters, which the pair prints at home and colors in with markers.
“It makes it more authentic too,” Woith said. “People can connect with that.”
The way things are going though, Donna Donna might not have to do their own printing for much longer.
“Things will happen and we’ll just look at each other like ‘Why?’ ” Johnston said. “It’s been really surreal.”
“I wish I could tell you the secret but I don’t have one,” Woith added. “We really just do whatever seems like fun. I guess everybody else likes it too.”
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