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The Donkeys Revive Sitar Rock

Published: Monday, May 14, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 19:05

The Donkeys

Christina McCord

It’s tempting to call The Donkeys a surf-rock band, but that would be selling them short. The San Diego-based group is as fun as you might imagine, if not more. Their music is smooth and laidback, but you never know what to expect with The Donkeys. Even trying to find out more about them is hard. You’re bound to find strange things if you type in their name into a search engine (there’s a very sad looking children’s book entitled “The Donkey That No One Could Ride”) but they’re definitely worth looking into.

Born With Stripes, their debut album released last year, has several tracks highlighted with a sitar. Sadly, keyboardist-guitarist Anthony Lukens said they are opting for a streamlined live show and won’t bust out the sitar for this tour. Then again, it’s probably better to keep things simple for Lukens, who suffered a bit of a tumble recently.

Enjoying your time before tour starts?
Anthony Lukens: Yeah actually, I’ve been stuck in bed because I fractured two vertebrae last week. I’ve been lying around, literally, totally chilling hard.

Can you walk around?
That’s what I’m doing! [laughs]

Should you be walking?
Yeah. I gotta say I’ve been taking it easy. Luckily, I don’t need surgery or anything.

What happened?
Long story short, I fell off a little cliff. I was getting out of the water – there’s a spot where you kind of have to climb up a little cliff to get out of the water – and the tide was high and I just kind of got slapped off the rocks and landed on my back. Kind of gnarly.

Will you be ready to head out on the road?
I’m a little anxious about it. I’ve just been concentrating on getting better by then. I’m not going to be [doing any] lifting. I’ll offer a beer to anybody who wants to help me out at Yucca Tap Room. It’s gonna be fine.

What is it like to be on tour with The Donkeys?
It’s exhausting, but it’s fun. We just do a lot of driving and play the radio game and the movie game. Just like all sorts of childish lame games. We party too hard and don’t sleep enough and have to drive the next day. We’ve all known each other forever pretty much so we’re just like siblings. It has its pros and cons. It’s good. We’re a band of brothers.

One of the coolest things about your band is that you have a sitar. How did [band mate] Jesse [Gulati] get into it, and how did you decide to incorporate it into your music?
Well Jesse’s a full on – he’s a real Indian. [laughs] It’s not like it’s a white guy playing the sitar, so it gives us a little more cred. He has family in India and goes back there somewhat regularly. He had a cheap [sitar] a long time ago and decided to buy a nice one recently. It’s pretty cool. He took lessons from a real master and had to go meet this guy at this house really early in the morning, “Karate Kid” style and couldn’t question anything this guy said. He got his at Rikhi Ram, and George Harrison bought a sitar at the same shop. When he came back he was more excited to play it. He was shy about it before, but I was always trying to get him to play it more and more because it sounds so cool. We tried to incorporate it bastardly style to make it work with our thing but that was the point to have a rock record with a blend of the two styles. He does a thing here in San Diego at this bar. He calls it Sitar Sundays and plays with this really cool drum machine his parents got him in New Delhi. It’s really cool.

What’s in store for you guys this year?
We have about 20 songs that we’re ready to record. The main thing when we get [from tour] back is to record. We have a couple shows and then just want to get this next record in the can.

The Donkeys w/Sun Ghost, Young Mothers, Danger Paul, Yucca Tap Room, May 14, 8 p.m., free

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