When Seattle horror punk band Schoolyard Heroes played Colorado Springs last month, they experienced a real Rocky Mountain high. "Jonah [Bergman] and I actually got horrible altitude sickness," says lead singer and goddess Ryann Donnelly, whose band is headed back this way nonetheless. "We spent three days in Colorado and weren't drinking enough water. Up that high, water evaporates from your lungs 21 percent faster, so playing a rock show is a bit more challenging than normal."
A Schoolyard Heroes show is anything but normal: The action-oriented band plays precision rock with the frantic Donnelly's operatic vocals and dirty prom dress dominating the act. Her voice is as powerful as Pat Benatar's, sultry as Debbie Harry's and harsh as Courtney Love's, a true Frankenstein of influences.
Schoolyard Heroes actually did start out as schoolyard heroes in junior high at Olympia, Wash. Drummer Brian Turner, guitarist Steve Bonnell and bassist, backup singer and songwriter Jonah Bergman originally began the band as a Misfits cover group. According to legend, 14-year-old Ryann insisted on being the lead singer. A self-confessed high school drama queen, Donnelly performed in every school musical that was put on: Me and My Girl, Brigadoon, Once Upon a Mattress, State Fair and My Fair Lady twice (but never as Eliza).
Schoolyard Heroes first earned notoriety in 2003, when they took second place in Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's "Experience Music Project's Sound Off!" competition in Seattle. Since releasing their debut, The Funeral Sciences, that same year, they've worked hard in both the studio and on the road.
How many bands can boast having three full-length CDs out while half its members are still under 21?
They look like the kids next door, assuming you live between the Munster and Addams families. Since graduating from high school they have all been living together, like the Monkees. Donnelly got accepted to a couple different theater programs for college, but turned them down to stay with the band.
But it isn't all business for Schoolyard Heroes. They schedule enough off days while on tour to be able to visit museums in the cities they stumble through.
"There was a tour where we visited a museum every day we had off," says Donnelly. "We visited a whiskey distillery in Kentucky once. Oh! And the Mtter Museum [of human pathology] in Philadelphia. We love that place."
Pretty much the only thing that the Schoolyard Heroes haven't experienced yet are protesters at their shows, although a recent online petition accusing them of Satanism earned a write-up in Spin.
"If I saw a giant sign reading simply, "Ryann is Satan,' that would be pretty great," says Donnelly.
"Anything, as long as the signs were badly painted in someone's garage with drips, and maybe a little stick figure of Satan with an X through it."