Minimal Rig, Maximum Impact
By Greg Rule
For over a decade, the Donnas have wowed the world with their “girls can rock too” attitude and energy. With five top-selling CDs to their credit, The Donnas’ popularity continues to spread around the planet.
Today the quartet is hard at work in Los Angeles , writing songs for their next album. BOSS caught up with guitarist Allison Robertson to discuss her approach to tone, and to find out more about what the band is up to. You might be surprised to learn how streamlined Allison’s setup is.
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When did you get your first stompbox?
I was about 15 or 16, and my dad gave me a couple of stompboxes. It took me awhile before I started using them, though, because I’ve always been one of those people who like to keep things simple. At first I didn’t think stompboxes were all that cool, but then, around 17 or 18 years old, I started thinking, “Hmm, maybe I should try some new sounds out.” So I got this BOSS pedal called the Metal Zone [MT-2], and that became my pedal for a long time. I remember when I got my first Les Paul … it sounded so cool through the Metal Zone. The first two records I did with The Donnas were all done with the Metal Zone. It was my sound, my personality.
Fast-forwarding to the present, what pedals are the most essential to your sound today?
For the last record, I borrowed a lot of pedals. I tried to take all of them on tour, but I didn’t enjoy having too many things to deal with onstage, so I’ve basically switched back to just using one pedal.
Which pedal is that?
The BOSS EQ pedal [GE-7].
How are you using it?
I use it to boost my solos, to get more sustain and mid action. It’s amazing … things that once seemed hard or difficult to play just melted away and sounded so buttery with that pedal. If I’d known about that pedal a long time ago, I think my life as a guitarist would have been a lot better. I like how it adds just the right amount of punch to my solos, and not necessarily from distortion. For years I thought that was the only way. But now that I use this pedal, it’s like, “Where have you been all my life?” [Laughs.]
Do you use BOSS’s famous TU-2 tuner pedal too?
I do. My dad initially bought me a regular [handheld] tuner, and then upgraded me to the white BOSS pedal. As soon as I got the pedal, I thought it was so cool, and it was easier for me to use onstage. It’s reliable and it doesn’t lie to you. I love it.
Even though you’re a minimalist, there must be a few other BOSS pedals that you’d like to try out, right?
Actually, my dream is to have BOSS send me one of each pedal so I can try them out in private [laughs]. I’m one of those people who hates going into a music store. I don’t know why, but when I’m in a guitar store, I feel really uncomfortable. And it doesn’t have anything to do with being in a well-known band or anything like that. I felt the same way when I was a kid. I just don’t like trying things out with some strangers standing there next to you watching. But how cool would it be to sit there in a room by yourself with a guitar, an amp, and every BOSS pedal! Lately I’ve been jonesing to have a bunch of cool new sounds.
Is it too early to tell us about the next Donnas album?
We’re writing, and we have a good amount of songs already. It’s kind of hard to describe. We’re taking a little more time than we normally would, but at the same time we’re hoping to get everything recorded by the end of the summer. I feel like the band is at a spot in our career where we want to experiment and come up with new sounds, textures, and tones that we’ve never used before. And also songs that you wouldn’t expect from us.... I mean, there are so many bands that we love, and types of music that we love that people wouldn’t expect, like ’80s new wave and dance music and stuff like that. I feel like it can all be incorporated into rock music as long as you don’t lose sight of who you are. At the same time, we want to sound quintessentially like what our fans appreciate us for. We don’t ever want to lose that, but I feel like there’s something bubbling underneath.
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Keep track of Allison and The Donnas online at www.thedonnas.com.