Maya Ford Of The Donnas: The Interview

Maya Ford Of The Donnas Interview

Feature Photo of The Donnas courtesy of Maya Ford

If you were alive and into punk rock in the late ’90s and early 2000s, there’s a good chance that you dug on The Donnas, aka a band of teenage sensations, who took on the world in the modern era akin to The Runaways in the late ‘70s. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the band had numerous songs featured in movie and video game soundtracks, the most notable of which was “Take it Off,” which came off The Donnas’ iconic 2002 record, Spend the Night, which was featured in Guitar Hero. What’s more, “Take it Off” peaked at No. 62 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts in 2002.

And while vocalist Brett Anderson and guitarist Allison Robertson often garner the most attention when it comes to The Donnas, it must be said that the group’s bassist, Maya Ford, who ably held down the low end and did quite a bit of tasty songwriting, was imperative to the band’s sound. Moreover, considering The Donnas’ live spectacle was a crucial component in the whole shebang, Ford—who is one hell of a live performer—was much more critical.

Beyond Spend the Night, The Donnas unleashed several other outstanding records, such as 1997’s The Donnas, 1998’s American Teenage Rock ‘n’ Roll Machine, 1999’s Get Skintight, 2001’s The Donnas Turn 21, 2004’s Gold Medal, and their final record, 2007’s Bitchin’. Sadly, The Donnas hung it up in 2012, but their legacy and influence remain and can be in the numerous soundalikes that have come about since.

Time will tell if The Donnas reunite, but in the meantime, bassist Maya Ford dialed in for a rare career-spanning interview with to dig into it all.

Maya Ford Interview

Maya Ford Of The Donnas Interview

Photo courtesy of Maya Ford

What inspired you to pick up the bass? 

Watching 120 Minutes on MTV at Allison [Robertson] ‘s house and listening to early R.E.M. inspired me to play bass. I tried to learn to play guitar but wasn’t good at it. Bass seemed easier because there weren’t any chords to memorize, and the strings were bigger.

Who were your most significant influences? How do they remain within your sound, and how have you diverged?

I listened to a lot of pop music on the radio while growing up. I liked Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, JJ Fad and Tiffany. Then I started getting into cooler stuff when I met Allison, like R.E.M., the Pixies, Shonen Knife, XTC, Blur, the Pee-Chees, and Bratmobile. Then I had a metal phase where I listened to the Scorpions, Alice Cooper, Cinderella, Ratt, and Kiss. When writing Gold Medal, we listened to The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac. Now I listen to more glam and soul and the soundtrack to Once Upon Time in Hollywood and Harry Nilsson.

Do you remember your first bass and amp? What did that rig teach you?

I purchased a red Fender Squire from Schwain’s House of Music. It was cheap and crappy, and I put a Betty Boop sticker on it. I also had a tiny Crate Amplifier. That rig taught me to buy something better and bigger so people would stop making fun of me. So, I saved up some money and bought a Mesa Boogie 400 +. I thought the tubes were cool, and it was loud, and it came with two speakers instead of a giant 8×10 so I could pick it up and fit it in my car. I found a Thunderbird bass and liked how it looked and sounded and the neck was thinner than the neck on a P-Bass, so it made it easier for me to play.

What was your first professional gig?

We played at Day on the Green at lunchtime for our school when we were 13 and got paid $50; I was super excited to spend the money at CD Land and brag about it. I learned that playing outdoors was terrible because it was hard to hear anything, that I should probably get a better amplifier and play indoors, and that maybe we should practice more before we tried to play a show because we only knew four songs. The first Donnas show was at the Los Gatos Teen Center. I learned at this show that I had more fun playing Donnas songs than Electrocutes songs. The crowd would dance more and could sing along.

How did The Donnas form?

We were already a band before we formed The Donnas. I got a Tascam four-track in jr. high and recorded some funny songs with Allison and her Casio keyboard and this crappy acoustic guitar. We made a tape and called ourselves Charred Cookbook. We did some spoken word reading of bad teen novels and played disco songs backward. It was super funny and weird, and we incorporated a lot of stuff from sound effects CDs.

We decided to expand and asked Brett and Torry if they wanted to be in a band with us because they were our friends and seemed outgoing, and Torry had a garage. Our first name was Screen, then we changed our name to Ragady Anne and played Battle of the Bands. We put out a 7-inch with our friend John Maguire from KZSU, the Stanford college radio station. At some point, we changed our name again to The Electrocutes.

Then we met Darin Rafaelli at a show at Harry’s Hofbrau. He asked us if we wanted to record some songs and make a 7-inch, and we said, “Sure, why not? Sounds fun.” On a four-track, we recorded three songs in Half Moon Bay, where he worked at Mailboxes, etc. And so, both The Electrocutes and The Donnas kept playing shows for a few years until we eventually decided that it was time to focus on only The Donnas because they were getting more gigs than The Electrocutes. We had already played Japan, and we were still in high school.

 Was it difficult making the jump to Atlantic Records? How did that impact Spend the Night?

No, it wasn’t difficult moving to Atlantic Records; it was exciting. My band was happy on Lookout and didn’t want to leave, but we knew we had to if we wanted to get wider distribution and more fans to play bigger venues. It was the obvious next step and an easy decision. Spend the Night took longer to finish than all our other previous records.

We signed with Atlantic because they promised we would have total artistic control and could use our producer, Robert Shimp, whom we had used on our other records. They changed their minds and wanted us to bring in another producer, so Robert asked his friend Jason Carmer to co-produce with him, and the label accepted that. We didn’t lose any artistic control; re-recording it took longer.

Our managers, Molly Neuman and Joey Minkes got us a super powerful attorney who helped us navigate the contract, so we didn’t get fucked over by the label. We also got to fly to NY all the time and eat yummy Italian food at La Mela on Mulberry Street. I loved wandering around NY, buying vintage toys, getting cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery, and hanging out with Miss Guy from the Toilet Boys. It was also pretty cool having a music video on MTV and playing on SNL.

How did “Take it Off” happen, and do you remember recording it, gear, amps, etc.?

I wrote most of the lyrics to “Take it Off” after going on a date in New York at Barcode (a bar/arcade) with our guitar tech, who I only liked because he looked like Peewee Herman. Allison liked the lyrics and finished them and wrote the rest of it. We recorded it at The Plant in Sausalito and did guitar and vocal overdubs at Fantasy Studios in Oakland.

I don’t remember if I recorded it with my Thunderbird or my RD Artist. You have to use a 9-volt battery to make it work. It was too heavy to play live but sounded really cool in the studio. I used an Ampeg SVT classic with an 8×10 cabinet and an Eclair Engineering Evil Twin as the DI. We used a RE-20 and a u47 as mics.

Tell me about your riff writing process that shaped most of the band’s records.

Usually, I would come up with some lyrics and give them to Allison, and she would put them with some guitar riffs that she had been working on, or she would write lyrics and the guitar parts. She would write my bass lines, drum parts, and melodies, and then we would just learn everything at practice. Since we didn’t have two guitar players in our band, my bass lines needed to work with her guitar parts.

I would feel like a total loser if I messed up during a guitar solo. Her dad was a professional guitar player, but she taught herself to play. She was already playing violin in school, so she knew more about music than I did. My parents were cheapskates and didn’t want to rent me an instrument, so I was always in general music playing the triangle or the recorder. Allison always liked making mix tapes and playlists, so we would listen to lots of music when writing to get inspired.

The Donnas’ music has been in numerous video game soundtracks. Do you have a favorite?

I’m not very good at video games. Guitar Hero is my favorite. I used to play it a lot in my apartment in L.A. with my friends. Rock Band was fun, too. I’m currently playing Animal Crossing. I love old Nintendo games like Rock ‘n’ Roll racing; it has the best soundtrack. Mario RPG is the only game I’ve ever beaten.

How do you view the way you play today vs the past? What has changed?

I haven’t played in a long time, so I guess that’s pretty different. I never considered myself particularly good or talented at music or playing bass, but I think I learned a lot and improved by playing tons of shows worldwide and making records for many years. So, I guess I feel like I’m an okay bass player now, and I was super excited when the San Jose Mercury News said I was the 24th-best bass player in the Bay Area.

Tell me about your bass guitars, amps, and pedals.

I have eight Thunderbirds because I love them, and we were sponsored by Gibson. I still have my first Thunderbird that I bought when I was 16. It’s cream-colored and from the ’80s. I have a few Nikki Sixx edition Thunderbirds; one has a mirror pickguard. I like the Matte black goth edition Thunderbird. They have one override switch that makes them louder, like Spinal Tap, they go to 11.

I also have a black vintage Thunderbird from the ’70s that I bought on tour in Chicago, I think. I set one Thunderbird on fire with a blowtorch in the parking lot when we played Lollapalooza for fun. I also broke one when we were filming a commercial for the Olympics. It was a rental, so it didn’t have my usual strap locks. It fell into the snow, and the neck snapped.

And I still have my RD Artist, but I don’t play it much. I really love my short-scale Epiphone coronet bass from ’64. I used that on Gold Medal; its warm, round tone and 3/4 scale made it easier for me to play more complicated bass lines. I bought a Fender Mustang bass with an offset body from ’72 and a Rickenbacker 4000 from ’79 to record with, but we never finished that album, so I didn’t get to use them. Mike Mills played a Rickenbacker bass, so I always wanted one. And I was born in 1979, so it seemed like a good year.

I traded a Guild and an SG to get that cool Fender Mustang. The Donnas got to tour the Gibson factory in Nashville, and a guy there who made Thunderbirds offered to make me a custom bass from his new company, First Act. It’s a bright pearly pink color and has a penguin that I drew on the pickguard and penguin prints on the frets. I designed it only to have one override switch and three strings because I never play the 4th string, but then I decided that was silly and put the 4th string on.

I don’t use any pedals except for a boss chromatic tuner. I could ask Allison what pedals she likes. She has one that says [Boss] Metal Zone on it. She’s super good at pedals. I play with a 1.0 triangle pick and an Ampeg. I got a mini Korg synthesizer two years ago to try to make some synth-pop in my bedroom, but I’m not very inspired by it and wanna play my bass with humans and not machines and headphones.

What are your short and long-term goals? How will you achieve them?

My short-term goals are to take my mom to the DMV and finish watching Melrose Place. My long-term goals are to finish my film degree and make a movie.

How do you view The Donnas’ importance in modern punk music?

I definitely feel like we inspired and encouraged a lot of bands to play rock music and pick up guitars; therefore, we are important.

Will the band reunite?

Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but my fortune teller told me, “Don’t worry, everything will work out fine.” So, I hope so. Allison has the best guitar tone; I miss listening to her play solos onstage every night. I saw the Baseball Project play live recently and was excited because Peter Buck played a Gibson Les Paul, the same guitar Allison plays, which sounded like her.

It was a tiny venue, so I was right in front of him and took pics and sent them to Allison. I didn’t know any of their songs, and I don’t even like Baseball, and I was hoping they would play some R.E.M. songs. The guitar and bass sounded so good together that they made me want to play them again. So maybe we should go on tour with The Baseball Project so I can do a bass solo with Mike Mills on Tighten Up by Archie Bell and The Drells. They can open for us.

The Donnas

Photo of The Donnas courtesy of Maya Ford

Maya Ford Of The Donnas: The Interview article published on Classic© 2023 claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain Creative Commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with All photo credits have been placed at the end of the article. Album Cover Photos are affiliate links and the property of Amazon and are stored on the Amazon server. Any theft of our content will be met with swift legal action against the infringing websites. Protection Status


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