Stella Donnelly on “Beware of the Dogs” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Stella Donnelly on “Beware of the Dogs”

Form and Function

May 10, 2019 Stella Donnelly Photography by Ray Lego Bookmark and Share

Gathering her voice between intermittent coughing fits and sniffles, Stella Donnelly apologizes for being sick for the interview, wishing that she were more readily able to express herself. None of that turns out to be a problem though, as the Australian musician maintains characteristic ebullience during our conversation that ranges from Pi day to the earliest beginnings of her life in music. Though she had been playing in bands for around 10 years priorroughly everything from punk to psychedelic bands, to even a covers band that was particularly fond of The B-52s’ “Love Shack”it was not until Donnelly released her breakthrough EP, 2017’s Thrush Metal, that she felt that she could call what she was doing a career. “The moment I quit my cafe job was when I realized I could do what I wanted for a living,” the now self-sustaining musician admits.

The process of her discovery was due as much to fate as it was to her cheerful readiness to take opportunities presented to her. Donnelly recounts how she had one song on SoundCloud that she called “Michelangelo Sky” that consisted of her playing roughly one verse with just her voice and a piano. Due to either fortune or fate, this track was enough to attract the ear of a small label owner out in Melbourne who messaged Donnelly on Facebook to ask if she would be interested in issuing a cassette through his label. “It was exactly what I needed at that moment because I had been feeling all this pressure about putting music out, but I just didn’t know how to do it. In Perth, where I lived, there isn’t much of an infrastructure for musicians, it’s all over on the East Coast where everything is happening,” Donnelly says.

Though at first Thrush Metal was limited to 30 cassettes, after some play on the national radio station Triple J, with songs as indelibly searing as “Boys Will Be Boys,” she quickly built a loyal fanbase that demanded more cassettes. “It almost shaped the way that I recorded [Thrush Metal] as well because I felt so relaxed in how it was going out, how it was only going to be 30 cassettes. I just was like, ‘Well, I’ll put out something that is really true to me and if it’s not produced and sounding really amazing that’s okay, I’ll just record it on this cheap equipment really simply,’” Donnelly remembers.

Eventually this momentum led to her playing at the BIGSOUND festival in Brisbane, Australia, where a label representative from Secretly Canadian approached her about a deal. Despite her relatively quick rise to fame and elevation to an international platform, Donnelly still feels very much a part of the local scene in the Australian port city of Fremantle (which is part of the Perth metropolitan area). It was here in this community that she played with several bands and forged relationships with artists of every stripe. She says that it was in this collaborative and mutually supportive scene where the very beginnings of her developing musicianship were honed, as well as where she learned to express her personal and political voice. Donnelly says that she sees her work “as one voice in part of a larger chorus from Fremantle.”

“My generation had this ‘enough is enough’ kind of feeling and a lot of the women I was working with were finding their ways of expressing that,” she adds. “Whether it was my friends who were artists, or in punk bands, or were poets, it just felt like I was part of a community that was speaking out at that moment.”

Finding it difficult to perform a character rather than deal with things honestly, Donnelly insisted on using this collectively honed voice to tackle abusers, the patriarchy, and the traumas and duplicities women face, in particular on Thrush Metal standout “Boys Will Be Boys,” which is the only track that is also included on her recently released debut full-length album, Beware of the Dogs. Donnelly says that while a lot of people had heard “Boys Will Be Boys” on the EP, she felt that the subject matter of the song was still very relevant. It was also a song that still resonates deeply for her. “Out of all the songs that are on that EP I still feel that one the most. It still hurts when I play it and it still feels relevant to me as a woman and as a songwriter. It’s still in time with me.”

Beware of the Dogs is full of moments excoriating the patriarchy and reckoning with the hard-learned lessons of love, but the delivery is almost always presented as genuinely endearing pop. “I’ve learned over the years that yelling at somebody doesn’t quite have the same effect as it would if I was to gently try to find a relatable way to explain to someone how I feel,” says Donnelly.

Remarking on the duality of Beware of the Dogs’ single “Old Man,” Donnelly explains that “it’s almost like a trick to lure you into this false sense of comfort with these folk sensibilities and then get you with the lyrics, but it’s also something that I enjoy and the lyrics are quite harsh so playing it live it’s almost like a coping mechanism for me to be able to play such nice music underneath it that sort of pulls the pendulum back.”

Beware of the Dogs’ cover art features a vulnerable Donnelly pinching her face in a defensive pose while a man’s hand attempts to wash her mouth out with soap. It also influenced the album’s title, which is purposefully ambiguous. “The album title came after the cover had already been shot. To me it means so many different things, and I think that is why I liked it,” Donnelly says.

Music is for her as much about personal expression as it is about creating a better more equitable world. “Art plays a huge part in transforming society, because you can go look up a political speech on YouTube, but that’s a specific thing to do. Music is a perfect platform because no one is stopping you, so you can sneak your political views into it because it’s listened to globally and universally, so it’s a perfect medium to use to get your point across.”

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May 13th 2019

In the Best Living Room Experience category, Never think won the 2019 Google Play Award. It’s available on Android and iOS platforms, as well as accessible from a web browser, making sharing any of Neversink’s YouTube videos with those without the mobile app easier.

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May 21st 2019

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June 26th 2019

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July 18th 2019

Stella Donnelly is one of my best and most favorite Australian musician. Best Wishes for Her <3