In Conversation: Stella Donnelly
Stella Donnelly doesn't want to let any moment go to waste.
Her excellent studio album 'Beware Of The Dogs' landed at the start of the year, and since then her life has been a full-on international whirlwind.
Near continual touring has kept her on the road, this procession of backstage areas, green rooms, and hotel lobbies.
Along the way she's found ways to occupy her time - reading, perhaps, maybe some additional lyric writing, too. But she's also developed her love of languages.
Chatting to Clash on the hottest day of the year, Stella explains that she's actually first language Welsh, and she's studying for a post-grad in European languages.
Often finding herself hunched at the back of the tour bus with a textbook and some language podcasts, it's a typically in-depth hobby from someone who leaves nothing to chance.
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So how have you been finding touring life?
It’s become a lot more curated on my part over the last kind of three years. When you first start getting tours and getting offers you accept everything until you become a little shell and then lately I’ve put certain measures in place that protect me, my physical mental health and then which internalised me to really enjoy what I am doing.
It’s not worth it for the people who come to the show for me to not be at least 80% (because no one is always a 100% all the time) but I need to make at least the effort to stay well. It means so much. You hear others speak about it and in yourself you’re like I’m fine though and then... phew!
Is there anywhere you haven't visited yet? Anywhere left on your to-do list?
I’ve never been to Japan before so I am really excited. I’m just going to eat everything. It’s going to be great. I have got some time off at the end of October through until Christmas which will be really nice.
Hopefully it’s some writing time off which in a way feels like time off anyway really. Having the chance to actually slow down and write will it feels amazing. If it happens. I am in that headspace. Julia Jacklin said the same thing after her first record: “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write this song again...”
I am so with that thought now and I just can’t imagine quitting pen to paper. I really admire the Nick Cave's of the world, that’s all they do is write. I wish I was there.
Can you write on the road?
No I can’t. Maybe if the flight is long enough I can maybe give it a shot. I feel like you’re in two different headspaces when you’re on tour, you’re in the space of getting to the airport in time and being in a van full of people and hearing music constantly as well. You don’t miss music when you’re on tour. It’s everywhere when you’re on tour. So yeah, we’ll see what the break brings.
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Is songwriting a studio experience for you, then?
I was actually really lucky with the album in that I wrote most of the songs in the album recording process. I had a bunch of other songs that I was going to record for the record and I ended up mixing them and most like ‘Old Man’ and ‘Trix’ and those songs and like ‘Die’ came together in the month that I did the record.
'Boys Will Be Boys' has made an huge impact...
That song doesn’t really belong to me anymore... and I get that. I think about a lot of people came forward to me with stories after I put out that song. And people still do kind of confide in me with their stories and so it’s quite easy to tap into that mentality because I’m still seeing things happen.
I played a gig in Austin the day that Kavanaugh was voted into the supreme court after everything he had done. There’s always new stimulus for performing that song. Unfortunately there’s always reason to keep performing that song and that’s why I keep playing it and why I put it on the record.
Is there a political dimension to your work?
Always, there’s always a political. There’s always you know what I go through in my personal life can be seen in a political sphere. There’s always a mirror. What happens in our personal life can easily be reflected on a bigger scale.
I think that’s what makes it’s so difficult. To see Boris Johnson flailing like he does and Donald Trump. We’ve all experienced some level of what they are doing globally. We’ve all experienced that on a personal level.
The lack of accountability on a political scale is really hard. You can politicise everything but particularly we’re not seeing enough change in terms of how women are treated.
Do your travels hammer home the universal nature of those patriarchal experiences? Or do you feel each country has a different twist on something that unpleasant?
Different, totally. That’s a really interesting question. The fact that these things are issues in every country pretty much. I have people that resonate with my music at times and that’s not a good thing. It’s this kind of conflicting thing. It’s relatable but it shouldn’t be and I wasn’t expecting it to be so relatable and that the thing it is very strange. I mean, not all of my songs are about these issues only two or three.
It’s quite disheartening but It’s also quite interesting the counterculture. I’m travelling around and all these people who are fighting this stuff. And you start meeting resistance and gaining ideas of how you will do that in my home.
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If your experiences filter into your work, will the next one be an on-the-road collection?
Absolutely but I also don’t want to write an album about touring. Yeah that’s the thing I don’t want to be “on the plane again” that is not what I want to be putting out in the world. It’s really important that I touch base with reality and be back in Freemantle where I live. Where I can be grounded and experience life like that. I probably have 15 songs about being scared of flying. It might make another record.
You must be very comfortable with the people around you...
I’m really lucky with my band. They’re my best friends from home so we’ve played in bands together for like 10 years. So they don’t call me Stella, they call me fuckface - you know what I mean? There’s no. I’m really lucky with my circle and even my manager and my publicist and everyone around me I can be very comfortable with and that’s nice. I’m really not happy to fake it a lot along the way.
That's another thing about your album - there's a subtle vein of humour in there.
It’s about finding the balance between sarcasm and satire and actually getting a message across and getting the shot of whatever is in your back. I know that sounds fucking lame! But for example ‘Seasons Greetings’ is meant to be kind of funny. If I just played that on my guitar playing solo it would’ve been okay but it just wouldn’t have had the same humour to it without having the weird guitars and stuff that makes it strange.
It’s about trying to find the balance between not taking yourself too seriously but also presenting the song in the best way. That’s my little formula that I’m not sure I’m even going to stick to.
Where do you think your value on the importance of words comes from?
Choosing your words wisely is extremely important to me. I struggle with that most of time, but it's true in songwriting.
I had Welsh as my first language for a little part of my life, and then English took over when I moved back to Australia. So Welsh became lost in the mix. I like to think that knowing Welsh has helped my writing. There are so many Welsh words that aren’t translatable to English, and you can look at what kind of meaning that puts on an object and certain places.
I might write a song in Welsh in the next year or so. You never know!
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Stay in touch with Stella Donnelly HERE.
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