It was nearly 20 years ago that the band gave their first concert at home in Ibbenbüren near Münster, in western Germany. They've come a long way since, and they just wrapped up a tour with Flogging Molly in the US.
The band will be the first to admit that, starting out, they never thought they'd end up on stage in trendy venues in an American music mecca like Los Angeles. But things have taken a surprising turn for the punk rock quintet. They've gone from being a local band to established names in the German music scene. In 2012, they put out their ninth album. And now, the five musicians have taken their show on the road to a new continent.
The punk quintet got its start on stages around Münster, Germany, before eventually making their way to other European countries including Switzerland, Italy, Spain, France and Austria. After their album "Amplify the Good Times" charted in Japan in 2003, the German punks headed there and garnered rave reviews from fans. It was the start of a series of successes in Japan.
'Our jaws dropped'
When the Donots' most recent album, "Wake the Dog," came out not just in Europe and Japan, but also in the US, the band realized it was time to think seriously about a US tour. Singer Ingo Knoll wanted to use his network of contacts with American musicians, including Nathen Maxwell, bassist in the US punk rock group Flogging Molly, which has long been an institution on the international punk concert circuit.
After meeting up at a festival in Austria, Knoll asked his friend for some help. And an answer came swiftly, Knoll told DW: "Two weeks later I had a letter from Nathen in the mailbox asking if we wanted to tour the West Coast and Midwest with them, and our jaws dropped. That was the greatest tour possibility there could be! You don't have to go around and play every day for six months in front of 20 people. Flogging Molly play in places for 2,000 or 4,000 people," Knoll said. "From there, it all took offf. We started figuring out how we could finance it."
Crowd-funding and disposable cameras
Donots guitarist Alex Siedenbiedel said he and the rest of the band knew that touring in the US would cost a lot of money and bring a number of financial risks with it.
"You have to keep in mind that no one knows us in America," he said.
But that's just what the five musicians were out to change by doing the tour. They called upon their German fans to donate some money in support of their US adventure. And it worked - through crowd-funding, they were able to cover the travel expenses. The generous fans will be rewarded with a live album and a DVD with impressions of the band's time on the road in the US.
Singer Ingo Knoll said the group tried another unusual idea while on tour. "We took 50 disposable cameras and told the fans that we would take some pictures of the tour, but that we wouldn't develop the film. Instead we'd auction them off, so the fans could get a goodie bag of impressions from the US," the musician explained. "So picture it: We had to fill up 50 cameras with 25 photos each. That was tons of work."
Heroes in the audience
The Donots were on the road in North America for about a month. Most of their shows were on the West Coast, but there was one exception: they closed their US tour with shows in New York. Their venues included: the House of Blues in Los Angeles, the Fox Theater in San Francisco, the Paramount in Seattle and Webster Hall in New York. Audiences were enthused with their music, said bassist Jan-Dirk Poggemann.
Guitarist Siedenbiedel agreed. "I thought going into it that we would be the warm-up band for US groups in half-empty places. But we almost always played in sold-out halls," Siedenbiedel said.
Donots drummer Eike Herwig was pleased to see so many fellow performers at the shows.
"There were musicians from bands that we thought were awesome 20 years ago - our heroes," he said. "And they were glad that we were in the States for once. They said that it's just cool and fun to watch us. That showed us that there really are these global connections."