Fremantle-based singer, songwriter and journeywoman guitarist Stella Donnelly spoke to Grok this week about her debut EP “Thrush Metal”, her experience playing with Boat Show & Bells Rapids, and the importance of being earnest.
How many instruments do you play, and which is your favourite?
I mainly play guitar, a bit of keys, and a bit of harmonica when it’s necessary. I don’t know if you count that as an instrument. I think if I had a better keyboard it could possibly trump guitar, but at this point that’s definitely my favourite.
How long have you been writing your own songs? Have you felt them improving?
I’ve been writing music since I was 16, but I’d say I’ve been writing semi-decent songs for about a year or two. I think my favourite song in a set is the one you’ve just written, because it’s the freshest and it’s a combination of all the bands you’re listening to at the time. I hope it’s improving. Even now I’ll probably look back in a few years and go “oh my god!”
Does this debut feel a long time coming?
*Laughs* Yeah! I’ve been bullshitting to my family and friends for about 5 years “Oh I’m about to go record my EP”. But then it felt like every time I’d go to record something, it wasn’t right. I wasn’t sure and I couldn’t verbalise myself well. So it’s been a long time coming for me and I’m really happy it’s finally done.
Do you have a favourite venue to play at?
I’d say definitely Mojos, and not just because I live in Fremantle. We face all sorts of issues as artists, particularly female artists, and I think Mojos has been the quickest to address that. I’ve been confronted by drunk or violent people and they’ve been kicked out within a minute of me talking to the bar staff. I find it feels like a safe space, and I love the stage and vibe there; it’s really nice.
So has Fremantle always been home, and has living there influenced your song writing?
No, I grew up in Quinns Rocks, so very north of the river. I definitely go to more gigs now because there are always so many great gigs at Mojos. I think that there definitely is a music community in Fremantle, but I’m not sure that I’m in it. At the same time I think there’s just as much of a hub in Perth.
Have you got any dream collaborations?
I always wanted to collaborate with Ali Flintoff from Boat Show, and I’m playing guitar in Boat Show now so that’s really a big thing for me. But I’d love to collaborate song-wise also with Hugh Manning from Shit Narnia because his lyrics are incredible. I guess I’m influenced by anyone who’s quite lyrically honest and earnest.
Tanaya Harper who’s the lead singer for Bells Rapids writes really cool songs, and I’m lucky enough to play in that band as well. Jacob Diamond, who’s amazing, was probably one of the first local artists that I became sort of obsessed with. I rocked up to all of his gigs and I think it freaked him out a bit.
Where is the inspiration behind ‘Thrush Metal’ coming from? How would you define the tone of the EP?
The inspiration for the name was literally a play on words; I was making a joke with the Bells Rapids girls about putting out a post saying “come to a thrush metal show!”, and maybe a few of us had thrush at the time, which is pretty gross.
The inspiration behind the whole EP was to have as real of a live-gig sound as I could. The whole EP is a bit of a mishmash; there’s a couple of acoustic sounding songs and there might be a love song. They do all link up in that they’re very low-fi and raw, essentially solo with my voice and a guitar.
There’s a lot of pressure coming through in the lyrics to ‘Mechanical Bull’. Was it difficult tapping into that?
It started being about a big angry relationship I was in, and I was beginning to feel quite suffocated by the relationship itself. Then at the same time I was working in a bar and I was feeling a lot of pressure from that—I had to rock up and I just copped it a lot as a lot of females do.
I got home from work one day and I was just over it, and I think it taps into that. I think a guy had grabbed my arse on my way out of the shift and I thought ‘that’s enough’. I needed a holiday—I needed to get away—and instead I wrote Mechanical Bull.
‘Mechanical Bull’ right now has over 39,000 plays on Spotify (60,000 at the time of writing). Did getting that out feel as crazy as it sounds?
Whoa, holy shit! That’s great news, thanks for letting me know! Yeah, it was so weird seeing that dumb photo of my noodles hanging off my face on Spotify. It all became a bit real—the Thrush Metal thing became a little bit real. I went “okay, my family in the UK are going to see this now; it’s becoming a little bit bigger,” which is quite funny. I was stoked, obviously.
How has Perth been in terms of developing your music?
So, so good to me. Perth’s music industry is so good when it comes to plugging each other and trying to get each other’s stuff out, I can’t complain. Maybe it’s been exciting all along and it’s just because I’m doing stuff now, but it is so exciting. I think there’s been so much of a push for gender and culturally diverse line-ups as well, and I hope that keeps happening. I really can’t complain at this stage.
What do you want to accomplish with your own music?
I want to be able to play more gigs, maybe go over east, and eventually write more music. Maybe put a band together with my own stuff, that may sound different I’m not sure. At the moment I’m just really excited about getting better on guitar with Boat Show and Bells Rapids—I think I have a long way to go in the next year. So I want to play more and I don’t know, see where it goes.
Thrush Metal launches April 6th at The Bird, Northbridge and is available online and through Healthy Tapes cassettes.