The sun of Donoma rose up gradually over several years as friendships were formed and musical skills were honed. The band formed as something that Stephanie Vogt called “not even a band at the time,” but an evolution of a friendship which took years to blossom. Stephanie and Shelle Mounce grew up in the same neighborhood and Stephanie recalled seeing Shelle around, and was a bit intimidated by her, calling her the “cool chick riding her skateboard with the bright blue hair.”
But at a house party years ago, the two finally sat down and began sharing their love of music. By 2008, Donoma as a band was born and they made their debut playing at the Chicago Peace Fest. In 2011, the band released their debut album “A Sight of the Sun.”
Flash forward ten years later and Donoma has evolved into a fine-tuned machine. Last year, they released their third full-length studio album “American Rust,” and in preparation for their upcoming show at Public Craft Brewing Company on Saturday, May 15th, they sat down with Donny Stancato to talk about their past, present, and future in this exclusive Smart Reader interview.
Stephanie Vogt – vocals
Tim King – guitar
Shelle Mounce – bass
Nick Campolo – violin
Darrin Wolf – drums
Donoma is taking the stage at the all-new Public Craft Brewing Company, 628 58th Street on Saturday, May 15th. Show stars at 8pm with guest Robin McDumphy – Admission is free
Smart Reader: How did you first get into music?
Stephanie: I think it just was in my blood since I can remember. I picked up my first guitar at 14. I always liked writing my own things and playing my own stuff. So, it’s just kind of always been something that I needed to do to survive.
Darrin: I grew up in a family of 11 kids and my parents made all of us learn an instrument. I started with guitar and that didn’t work for me. So, I played drums. I don’t think they were very happy with that, but I never stopped since.
Nick: I’ve always loved music as far back as I remember listening to it. My parents put me in violin lessons. I started playing with the orchestra. I really enjoyed that.
I love classical music. At the same time, I also love rock music. I grew up with a lot of different rock music, and I had basically put my violin away for literally decades and brought it out for a couple of things. Once was a wedding for a niece, and the other was to play with Donoma. So essentially my violin was asleep for a few decades before I brought it back out. I’ve always loved music — it’s always been a comfort. It’s been something that I related to.
Tim: I started playing guitar in the blues scene. Alonso Smith, of The Real Deal, started teaching me guitar when I was around eight. I have been pretty much glued to it ever since. I’ve been in and out of so many different types of music.
Shelle: Music was always like a big connection in our family. You know, you get together, jam some tunes. I remember my dad staying up sometimes till two, three o’clock in the morning and music blaring. My dad was a musician, too. And even on my mom’s side, my uncle, he’s started as a bass player in the late sixties.
So we always had that connection. My dad passed away in ’97, and I just really stuck with it. I think the first time I ever picked up a guitar was around age nine. As I evolved, I realized I was playing the bass lines on a guitar. So, I just made it easier for myself and moved to bass.
SR: Who inspired you to make music?
Stephanie: That’s always a tough one. I can name 30 million things that possibly give me inspiration. Pearl Jam, as you know, that’s one of my favorites. I listen to some of the old, I guess like Stones. And Dead Boys was a big inspiration.
Darrin: Van Halen, Queen were big ones for me.
SR: For somebody who is unfamiliar with Donoma, how would you describe your music to them?
Shelle: Rock and roll. Good old-fashioned rock and roll.
Tim: A kick in the ass.
SR: Tell us about that first show that you played together as a band. What was that experience like?
Shelle: Which phase of the band? Each phase of the band has had a different feel to it. Energy levels are completely different.
Darrin: I can tell you the first show I played with these guys all together. I had about a month to learn like 50 songs. I had only met Tim maybe a week before that. It was a little nerve-wracking. It was at the old Public actually.
SR: What is your creative process like, what gets your juices flowing?
Stephanie: Oftentimes, someone will kind of come in with a skeleton idea of a song. And then we seem to just jam through it and take it from there. We used to write something, and it would be like, bam, bam, bam. We have a song and that’s it. But after playing for as long as we have, it’s helped us to professionalize our tactics a little bit more. Strip things down to get to bare bones minimum and see how epic we can end up making it.
SR: What inspires your music and lyrics?
Stephanie: A lot of inspiration just comes from everyday life stuff. It used to be, I think with the first two albums, was more internal emotions. Relationship stuff, or—
Shelle: A little bit more poetic.
Stephanie: Yeah. With this last album, American Rust, we really wanted to take our personal lives out of it and just, take a look at the outside world. To look at what’s happening today. To step into somebody else’s shoes and the things that they’re going through and reflect on that.
Nick: One thing I find really interesting is we all come from different music interests. We go off in our own directions and listen to completely different things. But when we put a song together, oddly somebody will come up with something, and there tends to be a generally unanimous agreement that that’s the right thing and that works. So, it’s kind of interesting how we come from such different backgrounds and listen to different things but we agree on what works.
Shelle: But even when we disagree, it’s usually the same thing, too. Like, ‘No, we should change that,’ or ‘That doesn’t flow right.’
Stephanie: Definitely musically, and lyrically, too. I think our lyrics are so thought out. They change a hundred times before they’re ever finished. It’s like, “Oh, this one little word doesn’t feel right.” Or things change right before we get in the studio. We can add a couple extra words to the chorus or things like that, so it’s definitely a process.
SR: What is one message that you want to give to your fans?
Stephanie: It sounds cheesy, but never give up hope. This past year has been really rough, and everybody’s extremely traumatized whether they realize it or not with everything that’s been happening this past year. And it’s rough. But take each day one day at a time and never give up.
Shelle: The sun always shines in the morning.
Darrin: Everything’s going to be okay. It’s all going to be all okay.
SR: How does the band prepare for a show?
Stephanie: Well right now, getting ready for this Public Brewing Company show, we’ve been practicing a minimum three times a week for several hours each day.
Shelle: Considering we’ve had almost a year off—
Darrin: How long can the drummer play without passing out?
Stephanie: We want to try to look our best. We talk about things that we want to personalize for each show. Maybe different covers that mean something that day. How we want the stage to look and our presence to look.
Shelle: Or even just the venue that we’re playing at, sometimes even the stage setup can have an influence on the set list.
Stephanie: We want to make each show that you go to unique. So, every time you come to see us, you’re never seeing the same show twice.
SR: Does the band have any pre-gig rituals or anything?
Nick: Should we tell him about the sacrifices that we–
Darrin: I don’t think we can talk about those.
Stephanie: That stays secret.
SR: What is your favorite song to perform?
Shelle: I would have to say Rustbelt Tragedy off the new album. That’s my favorite. It just hits you right away – right in the kisser!
Stephanie: Yeah. Rustbelt Tragedy and Common Man has been a fun one.
SR: Referring to music, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Stephanie: Tune your instrument.
Tim: Ken Casey told me to keep punk rocking, I never stopped that. That was a good one.
SR: How do you think Donoma’s music has evolved over the years?
Stephanie: Quite a bit. We started out as this kind of, wannabe hippie-esque kind of thing.
Shelle: Stuck in her rainbow pants.
Stephanie: I did. I wore rainbow pants. Today, there’s a lot more thought that gets put into it. The turning point for me was the first show with Timmy out at the Brat Stop. We ended up covering “Hang Onto Yourself” by David Bowie. And that was the first time I really felt like, “We’re a goddamn rock and roll band!”
SR: You released your first album, A Sight of the Sun, in 2011, how has the process of creating a record changed over the years?
Stephanie: There was a lot of excitement, but that one was DIY just about everything.
Shelle: Yeah. We did everything down to screen printing, hand screen printing the cover of the CD.
Stephanie: All the arts in there, it was all hand drawn too, and then we just make copies, but it was pretty.
Shelle: And we were just like babies technically, considering we’ve been together for so long. And even like the writing process was completely different. It was new and exciting. And we’ve all played with other people before, but it was just so different then.
Stephanie: That was the first album I learned how important it is to tune your guitar. That’s how long ago that was.
Shelle: I’m still on cloud nine over that first album. I still have a copy that I haven’t opened, but the other copy that I had stayed in my CD player. And just listen to it, like, “Yeah, we did this.”
Stephanie: There’s this feeling though, when you finished an album and you don’t know if people are going to like it or not, and it doesn’t really matter. There is this feeling of – “We did this – We made this and it’s going to last forever, whether other people hear it or not.”
SR: Your sophomore album, Falling Forward (2017), was critically acclaimed and got a ton of mainstream press from it. How did you handle that? I mean, you guys had a good campaign out there.
Stephanie: We did. That was an interesting one. We’d never had that kind of campaigning before. That one was interesting. Actually, I’m not even sure how to answer that one.
Shelle: I mean, we were just like, “Okay, this happened and now we have to promote this…”
Stephanie: One scary thing about doing so much heavy promotion is having people talk about our album—there’s been some good reviews, and a lot of good reviews, but quite a few bad ones too.
SR: How do you handle the bad reviews?
Stephanie: Take it and learn from them.
Shelle: Bad publicity is still publicity.
Stephanie: The one common complaint I heard was that that album was all over the place, and I kind of felt that as we were releasing it too. We want to be the band where it’s like – there’s no limits, we can play whatever genre, or write however we want to write. But at the same time, when we put it all together in one album, it doesn’t have a flow. There’s no real structure to it that makes sense.
SR: With that 2017 album Falling Forward, you used a Kickstarter campaign and that went over very well. What made you decide to do a Kickstarter campaign?
Stephanie: At the time, we were ready to hit the road. We wanted to see how far we could take the band. And making money to get out there is really difficult. And I think that Kickstarter had just started to be a thing, so we gave it a shot. It was a lot of nights working the phones and sending out emails! I was overwhelmed with the amount of support, I never in my life would have imagined.
SR: One more question about Falling Forward. What was the creative process like making that album? This is your second album and people are expecting something, a lot of bands flop on their second album.
Stephanie: That was a fun one. Actually, a lot of times we wanted to just take a whole weekend and camp out, down at our studio space. The producer we worked with, Mike Hoffman, was very kind and helped us kind of come up with some super creative things we probably never would’ve thought about.
Shelle: And that’s the one, we had a list of 24 songs and almost recorded all of them.
SR: And you put 12 tracks on the album then, right? So you’ve got a B side album coming out soon.
Stephanie: Probably should! But yeah, it was a lot of good stuff. I think it made the band closer.
Shelle: And learning how to work with each other. When you’re literally stuck in a room for three days.
Stephanie: In a basement with no windows.
Stephanie: We would fall asleep on the floor. Who knows what time it was. maybe it was like two in the afternoon or midnight and one of us would be, “Okay, let’s record a little bit more.”
Shelle: I’ve literally woken up with Steph on me like, “Hey, I need you on bass.” I’m like, “What?”
Stephanie: “I have an idea!”
Shelle: “Let’s do it.”
SR: Your newest album American Rust, came out right when the pandemic hit. How did the state of the world influence your latest album?
Stephanie: The world was in shambles as we knew it. Everyday you turn on the news, it’s some other big, terrible thing that’s happening. And I think even before this pandemic, it was the last few years—the last four years—have been really eye-opening of what other people are going through, and where we are at in this time and place. What are we doing to help that? So, it was very emotional, I think for a lot of people, just a very emotional wave of things. And we just wanted to step onto the other side of what some people are going through.
SR: Did you go into the writing process and the writing the music and the lyrics as, “I think we’re going to put out a political album”?
Stephanie: I don’t know if we thought about it as political.
Shelle: It wasn’t like an intention at first.
Stephanie: We had an agenda with this one.
Shelle: We had an agenda. Yeah.
Stephanie: This one was very different. We wanted to reflect on the world, and then maybe kind of be a little bit of a mirror for other people.
Nick: In the last five years or so, we’ve become very much aware that there is a situation of divided people right now. There’s haves, haves nots. And the divide has gotten greater. There’s a lot of people that had been left behind. And so that was what a lot of the songs were about is those people that were left behind.
SR: What is your favorite song on the new album?
Darrin: I’m going to say “Home.” I just think it’s a fantastic song. It’s fun to play. It’s fun to listen to.
Stephanie: “Common Man” was the most challenging and rewarding. It started out as a jam idea and initially inspired by the hurricanes and flooding devastation. I took a night absorbing as much news as I could and then sat on the front porch all night with my notebook and a pack of beer and the lyrics were born.
Tim: It’s a really hard one, but I think “Nobody Wants Us” probably captures me as an individual.
Shelle: For me, it’s tough between “Nobody Wants Us” and “Rustbelt Tragedy,” for sure. Same thing, fun to play. Awesome to listen to. You can listen to it at a low volume, or you can crank it and blow your eardrums.
SR: What inspired the artwork for the new album?
Stephanie: Timmy was the one that actually brought it up. We wrote Rustbelt Tragedy, but we didn’t even have that title. We got done writing it and Timmy goes, “Well, this is kind of the essence of the rustbelt.” And from there we took it away, I guess it was like, okay. Yeah, you’re right. We need to get this middle-class feel, that’s what we’re going for.
Tim: Not to mention Kenosha has the whole automobile history and a long line of working middle-class people. It came together pretty easily.
Stephanie: We took a drive around just to see if we could snap photos of some junked-up cars and yards or something like that, you know? Couldn’t find any.
SR: How important is it in today’s environment to play live shows again?
Shelle: On a scale of one to a thousand? 2000.
Darrin: Honestly, it’s what keeps me going. Like if I had to go another year without this, I don’t know what I would do.
Shelle: I was looking into getting a shipping container and start building a home out in the woods in Tennessee. That was my next step.
Nick: The way I think about it, when we play live music, we’e interacting with each other and we’re also interacting with the audience. The audience gives us something back – there is a special feeling there. And so, I think live shows are really essential.
Shelle: Super essential.
SR: So, the mainstream music industry and the local scene has changed so much over the last 20 years. You can find any artist anywhere, listen to any of their music, Spotify, Band camp, Apple, all that stuff. But how does a band get to the next level, and how do you feel that the internet has impacted the music scene?
Stephanie: Oh, it definitely has.
Darrin:That’s the ultimate question: How do you get to the next level? Everything is just so over-saturated right now, there’s so much competition. So, you really have to be on your A-game to set yourself apart. And I think we are, I think we’re right there.
Shelle: You have to spread the word.
Darrin: I mean because, you can get so many hits on Spotify or something, but you need that audience there to feel it.
Stephanie: Yeah, with the Spotify, I mean, you’re putting that out, you get, I think it’s like 0.00001 cent of a penny every time somebody plays.
Shelle: Well, and that’s also why merchandise is very important. If you love a local artist, support these local groups by buying a shirt or a sticker, a record, show it to somebody, give it to a friend as a gift.
Stephanie: It helps the bands keep moving forward.
Shelle: And it’s a great conversation starter, “Hey, bro, nice shirt, what is that?”
Nick: There have been books written about the post internet music culture. What has really changed things in a big way is that the revenue from recorded music has dropped to nearly nothing. This has left many touting that the way to make it today should be to rely on live shows. But something to consider with that idea is this. Most people in our society listen to recorded music on a daily basis. But only a tiny fraction of the population goes to live shows, and those that do that do so very infrequently. So that makes it difficult to cover all the costs of creating music from live shows. Mind you, we love to play live and most musicians I know do too. But most people prefer to enjoy music in their homes, or their cars, or a host of other places other than a live music venue. The situation with recorded music has changed several times in the last 20 years, but never for the better. Currently the format for listening to recorded music is streaming. But streaming pays almost nothing. The problem with streaming is not a technical one. The problem is that current legal framework is such that government sets the rate for streaming royalties at a very low compulsory rate. The streaming royalty legislation was largely a result of lobbying efforts by the streaming service companies and big tech, and were written with their interests in mind. At the end of the day, these are challenging times for up and coming music acts.
SR: What are your thoughts on the local music scene in Kenosha?
Shelle: The Kenosha scene is pretty tight knit when it even varies from genre to crowd. Everybody just loves to just be around each other, share the good vibes, have a good time. Listen to some rock and roll, or jazz, or blues, punk rock, what have you.
Nick: We’re lucky to have the Kenosha scene. There is and has been a lot of talented acts in the city. It’s been that way for quite a while.
Darrin: True. I moved here from Chicago and I had no idea what to expect, and I was extremely surprised and really happy about how big the music and art scene here is. It’s amazing.
Shelle: Everybody supports each other.
Stephanie: It’s a family knit town.
Nick: Yep. Very much.
Stephanie: One of the good things is the camaraderie of musicians here — nobody’s trying to set fire to your amps in competition. Everybody’s here to help each other and support each other.
SR: How can the Kenosha music scene be improved?
Tim: There’s not enough places to play. I think right now there’s places that are starting to come up. But I think that’s always been a really hard thing for venues and being a local band. There’s only a handful of places you could even have a good show at. That’s changing.
Shelle: So usually when you’re playing a show, there’s two other awesome bands playing that night. They’re usually your friends, too, and you want to go see them. You can’t give them the support. They can’t give you the support. So also trying to like alternate, “Hey, when you guys playing—Oh, maybe we shouldn’t play this day so that we can go see them.”
SR: Who are some of your favorite local bands?
Stephanie: Ghost Machines is one of my favorites.
Shelle: I just have to think back two years ago.
Stephanie: Old Junk, I don’t know if they’re still playing right now. I think they are getting back.
Nick: Ash Can School.
Stephanie: FowlMouth has been a big inspiration for me, too.
Shelle: Earth Mother puts on a really, really good set.
Nick: I really like Space Echoes.
Stephanie: Yeah, there’s too many. I just, I get so excited about everybody. I feel like I’m missing a ton of bands.
Tim: There’s so many cool new bands and a lot of young musicians, too, which is really inspiring too. I really like seeing Kenosha grow like that.
SR: How has COVID affected the band?
Shelle: I learned banjo.
Tim: I have to wear sweatpants now.
Darrin: I own about 20 more snare drums.
Nick: Well, we’ve been asleep for quite a few months, we didn’t get back together to practice until recently.
Stephanie: Just a couple of weeks ago. Before that, we stayed in contact with Zoom meetings or things like that.
SR: Did you jam in the Zoom meetings?
Stephanie: We tried. It was tough. We did a few outdoor practices together, just acoustic and tried to get together that way. But it was a really rough time and kind of heartbreaking not being able to see each other in person.
Darrin: There was a lot of videos that I sent of the band just of me drumming saying, “Hey! Listen to this!”
SR: What can fans expect for your upcoming return to the stage at Public Craft Brewery?
Tim: Bring a change of underwear.
Shelle: Underwear, earplugs.
Stephanie: From what we got planned, even though this is our first show back, I think the show is going to be one like we’ve never done before. The show starts at eight with Robin McDumphy opening the night.
Tim: She’s from We The Heathens, really incredible.
Stephanie: This one is a free show. No excuses.
Tim: It’s been like two years since we played Kenosha too.
Stephanie: And obviously we want everybody to be safe. We don’t want to pressure anybody to come out somewhere where it’s uncomfortable still. We’re still in the middle of this pandemic, but just trying to put our bootstraps on again. And I guess, trying to go for it.
SR: What are the band’s plan for the rest of 2021? And then moving forward to 2022.
Darrin: We’re going to take over the world. That’s on our list.
Shelle: Melting faces.
SR: Any plans of getting back in the studio?
Stephanie: Not right away. I think we’re going to try to focus on doing the tour that we didn’t get to do. We’re still writing. We’re definitely still writing.
Shelle: We’re always writing.
Tim: Yeah. We didn’t really get a chance to promote this album. The pandemic got right in the way.
Stephanie: So that’s going to be our main focus. And then in the meantime, we can’t help ourselves writing new stuff.
SR: If Donoma could write its own headline, what would it be?
Shelle: Look out!
Stephanie: Boobs! It’s definitely boobs.
SR: What is your favorite venue to play in Kenosha?
Darrin: Public Craft Brewery.
Tim: Honestly, yeah. Public’s been fun.
Stephanie: We haven’t gotten to do the new stage yet, which I’m really excited about, but yeah, Public’s always pretty good.
Shelle: The Port
Darrin: Fusion is also up there.
Shelle: We have had some of our best shows at Fusion
Stephanie: I have been very, very impressed with how Aimee and Danny have taken over Fusion and how well they’ve been handling everything.
SR: Dream venue to play?
Shelle: Our own private yacht. And we invite people.
Tim: The Colosseum.
Darrin: The Metro.
Shelle: Oh, the Metro. Double Door.
Nick: We did Double Door, right? Route 20, too.
Stephanie: Yeah Route 20’s a good local place to play.
SR: Some people think rock is dead at least in the mainstream music scene. Do you guys think there’ll ever be another so called Nirvana mainstream break out band?
Darrin: You’re looking at it.
Stephanie: Yeah, I would think so. I think people are itching for something. I don’t think they know it yet, but they’re itching for something.
Darrin: They’re hungry, and they’re thirsty.
SR: How do you guys decide on what cover songs to perform?
Stephanie: We do ones here and there just for fun. But generally, we try to do something that’s meaningful. Say, an artist that we really admire had passed away on this day. We try to use covers as more of a recognition.
Shelle: And if you come out to the show on May 15th at Public Craft Brewing Company, you just might hear one of those.
SR: What’s on your current playlist?
Tim: Poison Idea
Stephanie: I’ve been on a Townes Van Zandt kick lately.
Shelle: Mine’s all over the place. One genre, another genre, another genre.
SR: Favorite beer or drink before or after a show?
Stephanie: Miller Lite, sponsor me.
Tim: Irish car bomb.
Shelle: Scotch scotch, scotch. Scotchy-scotch, scotch, scotch.
Nick: Depends, whatever craft beer that they have to have on stock. Stout, preferably.
SR: Let’s take a deeper dive into your influences and opinions on other musicians. I’m just going to name a band or an album, and you’re just going to give me your 2 cents:
First: David Bowie.
Stephanie: Earth shaking.
Darrin: Unlike anybody else. Never a dull moment.
Shelle: Bowie hits your soul.
SR: Sam Cooke.
Stephanie: Oh, inspiration.
Nick: Yeah. Inspiration.
Tim: Just, beautiful artist.
SR: The Meat Puppets.
Tim: Very fun people.
Shelle: Coolest dudes after a show.
Darrin: Can I just say the nineties?
SR: Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Stephanie: Oh gosh, it’s apples and oranges, dude! They’re both good.
Nick: I’m going to say Beatles.
Tim: I’m a hundred percent Stones.
Shelle: I was named after a Beatles song. My dad would be rolling in his grave if I didn’t pick the Beatles. But, my mom was going to get a Rolling Stone logo tattooed on her butt, but she never did it.
SR: Nirvana or Pearl Jam?
Stephanie: Pearl Jam.
SR: Misfits or The Ramones?
Tim: Misfits, dude.
SR: Bright Eyes. I had to throw in one of my favorite bands here.
Stephanie: You’re going to hate me, but I’ve never really listened.
Darrin: I love Bright Eyes, I think he’s fantastic.
Tim: Honestly, I’ve never heard of them, but I got to put them on my Spotify now.
SR: Is Led Zeppelin the greatest rock band of all time?
Shelle: Nope, we are.
Nick: Led Zeppelin is fantastic. I love them. I don’t know if I’d say they’re the best though.
SR: Bruce Springsteen.
Stephanie: Another big inspiration.
Darrin: Fantastic songwriter.
SR: Blind Melon’s album “Soup.”
Darrin: Yes. I got to see them play that live front-to-back. Amazing.
Shelle: It sounds like it should be in the toilet!
Tim: Keep the first four albums.
SR: Guns N’ Roses – “Appetite for Destruction.”
Nick: Oh, that’s a winner.
Shelle: Start to finish. You can’t change it.
Stephanie: There was nobody on Guns N Roses at the time.
Darrin: It’s my favorite album to go bowling to.
Nick: I was working in Indiana when I heard that song, “Welcome to the Jungle.” And then I stayed in the parking lot and didn’t go in until it was done. I was captured.
SR: Huey Lewis and the News.
Darrin: I Want a New Drug.
Shelle: Trying not to quote American Psycho.
SR: Eddie Vedder.
Shelle: He’s amazing. I love him.
Darrin: Honestly, yeah. He’s an amazing human being, does good stuff.
Tim: Very good performer, too.
Stephanie: Eddie, you need to meet me sometime.
Interview conducted by Donny Stancato, edited by Jason Hedman.
Pics of Donoma by Donny Stancato, other pics taken from Getty images.
This interview originally appears in a condensed form in the May 6, 2021 print edition of The Smart Reader.