Bangers from Down Under: Hot Donnas

A prog-psych-funk indie rock band?

In my time in New Zealand so far, I have been lucky enough to see Hot Donnas perform live. TuneSoc, a society based around creating, performing and listening to music, held a ‘Cosy Night Out’ at the student bar, inviting impressive acts such as Bootleg Rascal, Hot Donnas and Dolphin Friendly. It was through this event that I came to find out about this exciting, eclectic band. Hot Donnas are a four-piece band formed in Dunedin. When it comes to genre, the band themselves are very loose with their definition, self-describing as ‘progressive psychedelic fusion rock’ and ‘fusion between alternative rock and the alternative surf sound of Dunedin.’ The difference between these sounds is apparent between their two albums: Greek Yoghurt has much more of a psych-funk feel to it whilst Dirty Paradise almost feels like a British indie rock record. Hot Donnas consist of Jacob Sydney King (vocals, rhythm guitar), Gene Mace (bass), Mitchell Sizemore (lead guitar) and George McLauchlan (drums).

Their first album, Greek Yoghurt, released in 2017 is a good starting point to introduce the band’s sound. The title track ‘Greek Yoghurt’ is their most popular song by far, and it’s clear to see why. The track is extremely funky and bounces with energy, playing with reggae influences to create a truly catchy tune. The track also shows off King’s strong vocals, often clear but sometimes almost growling as he sings. ‘Tulips’ opens ethereally; a solo guitar plays cleanly with heavy reverb before the rest of the band joins in, demonstrating the ‘alternative surf’ sound prevalent amongst Dunedin rock artists. Hot Donnas enjoy playing with stereo effects, pitting the two guitars against each other right and left, and it’s quite common to hear in their songs, adding a dynamic feel to each track. And lastly from their debut album – ‘Salt.’ This track is a softer, more atmospheric track that reveals again that fused psych-funk sound of ‘Greek Yoghurt’ but incorporates a stronger reggae feel through McLauchlan’s drums and Mace’s bass.

Dirty Paradise, their second and most-recent studio album, was released in 2018 and is more rocky and less funky than Greek Yoghurt. The opening track ‘My House is a Hotel’ opens immediately with loud, distorted guitars and heavy drumming, which fade and grow in between King’s vocals. To me, this album largely feels like a British indie rock record – the lead guitar has swapped out reverb and wah pedals for distortion, King’s voice is more relaxed, reminding me of Julian Casablancas at points, and the drums are more prominent. ‘Friends with Benefits’ has a similar feel – a short but lively track with a powerful, thumping bassline and fast-paced drumming. My favourite song off the album is ‘Oh So Wise,’ which combines their newer rock sound with elements of their psych-funk roots. A bouncy lead line plays through the song and the bassline switches between a rhythmic psych-style and a more punk-like thumping style.

Although still both relatively new and small, Hot Donnas have managed to create two unique, well-produced albums and have changed their sound quite dramatically. I reckon there is a lot more to come from this band.

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