Best of What's Next: The Donkeys
Perhaps you know San Diego’s The Donkeys as the hazy, laid-back Americana-psych outfit signed to the Dead Oceans label. If you’re a Lost fan, though, it’s likely you know them primarily as Geronimo Jackson. Thanks to a tip from Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn, the band was approached by a Lost writer to re-record their song “Excelsior Lady” as “Dharma Lady” for the show, which had referenced the fictional, Grateful Dead-esque Geronimo Jackson act throughout its run. Donkeys guitarist/bassist Tim DeNardo did lead vocal duties on the reworked tune (Sam Sprague sang on the original), and recently chatted with Paste about getting sucked into the Lost vortex, hearing his band’s song on TV and The Donkeys’ plans for the future.
Paste: What are you guys doing right now? What’s the band up to?
Tim DeNardo: We’re actually just in the process of recording. There’s a new record coming out—we found a guy in town that we’re doing it with. Just squeezing it in between work and chores, so it’s taking a little longer than we thought, but it’s turning out good. … We’re hoping to have it done by the end of this next month here, and then we give it to the label and they take their time with it, so I’m assuming end of summer, maybe early fall.
Paste: Are you fans of Lost?
DeNardo: I [am]. I’m the one in the band that had seen it beforehand… We’re not big TV guys, [but] I had a roommate that was a big sci-fi nerd and he had all of the DVDs. I got sick one day and just watched them all. And I got hooked.
Paste: Yeah, that happens. How did you guys first get involved with reworking and recording “Excelsior Lady” for the show?
DeNardo: Eddie [Kitsis, a writer for the show] had contacted us. … I guess he had heard about it from Craig Finn [frontman for The Hold Steady] of all people—I guess he’s friends with him. He got a hold of us and asked if we would be interested in working with them. At first, we thought they wanted us just to write a new song, but then it came clear they wanted us just to kinda change up that one.
Paste: And what was that process like? Did you just rewrite and rerecord it?
DeNardo: Yeah, we just ended up going back to where we did record it. We have a friend who has a bunch of cool analog gear so we thought it would be appropriate to record it there and go for the whole “old” sound. We just went up there for a weekend and were kind of messing around with it for a little bit. We didn’t change it too much—it’s kinda recorded more the way we play it live as opposed to the way the album version that we did is. For the most part, they just wanted some minor changes.
Paste: What was it like to hear it actually played in an episode last season? Did you watch that episode?
DeNardo: Yeah, totally, it was really bizarre. At that point I was really into the show anyway, so I was just kind of caught up in it. He had told us like a brief idea, or we had to sign off on something that had like an episode name on it. … I felt like I had a general idea what was gonna happen so I knew when to expect it. But it just kinda came on randomly—I had no idea, didn’t see it coming, so it was really cool, actually. It was a big surprise. It was really bizarre to hear it on TV.
Paste: So you guys have never done anything else with other TV shows or movies or anything like that?
DeNardo: Oh no, we have—we’ve done a couple for different TV shows and movies and stuff, but for some reason this one was… having it be something that I had followed, it’s like, I don’t know, the size and scope of Lost is just kind of crazy. This season, the big ads were like, “20 million viewers tuned in to the season premiere!”
Paste: Yeah, and all those people heard your song. Have you seen a lot more people finding out about you from Lost or coming to your MySpace page or anything like that because of that song?
DeNardo: I feel to a certain extent. It definitely hasn’t been like, a make-it or break-it kind of situation, but yeah, there’s a little bit more awareness for sure. And yeah, every now and then we get people at the shows yelling “Geronimo Jackson!” … It’s a good and/or bad thing.
Paste: Have they ever approached you for doing more as Geronimo Jackson?
DeNardo: Not music-wise. They had an idea when we were recording this song to do like a little behind-the-scenes for the DVD extra footage, I just don’t think it worked out. I guess the way they handle it is they make a bunch of different bonus features and then see which ones work the best. You know, they sent us a guy with a camera and one of the crews when we were recording it. We hung out for a couple days. But yeah, that was about it as far as extra-Geronimo-Jackson-curricular activities.
Paste: If you’re still following the show, are you going to watch the finale? What do you think will happen?
DeNardo: Well actually, we have rehearsal on Tuesdays [when the show airs].
Paste: Oh, right. That interferes.
DeNardo: Yeah, I kinda fell behind on my viewing. My biggest problem with TV is just—I can’t stand this cliffhanger business. I like to watch it all at once anyways.
Paste: Yeah, especially for Lost, the DVDs are definitely better.
DeNardo: Yeah. I had this grandiose idea that I was going to catch up on the Internet and then watch the finale live, but I just didn’t go through. I have no idea, I don’t know what’s going on. Is it exciting?
Paste: (Laughs) It’s… it’s okay. I don’t know.
DeNardo: I started watching the first three episodes and then it was like, “Ehhh, well, alright. I have to sit down and just do it.”
Paste: Yeah, I’ve followed it from the beginning and I don’t know how I feel about the final season yet. I think Sunday will make up my mind. I have one more question, I guess: If you were in the Dharma Initiative, what do you think your job would have been?
DeNardo: Oh jeez. Oh dear. I don’t know. Knowing my luck, I’d probably be one of the janitors. (Laughs) We’d be the band. The Dharma band.