- A 'Fifth' Catholic -
Posted - 10/30/2007 : 12:19:47
| American Chronicle.
Music & Motherhood - An in-depth interview with
American rock star Tanya Donelly
October 29, 2007
Tanya Donelly – The ex Throwing Muses, Breeders and Belly songwriter talks
about her most recent album, motherhood, and time spent in three of the most
influential female fronted American rock bands.
It is ten in the morning, New England time, when Tanya Donelly answers the
phone. There are a few unexpected gurgles from her end and eventually I can
no longer keep the question to myself and I ask if it is Harriet Pearl, the latest
addition to the Donelly/Fisher clan. Tanya Donelly, it seems, is just as at home
with domestic multi
-tasking as she is musically, as she explains that not even a babysitter going
sick will keep her from breastfeeding and answering my questions at the same
time. Somehow this doesn’t surprise me.
It was around the age of fifteen when Donelly and step-sister Kristin Hersh
founded The Throwing Muses. The band immersed themselves in the Boston
rock scene during the middle eighties, releasing records through the UK 4AD
label. It wasn’t until Donelly’s own abilities as a songwriter began to surface
that she realised it was time to move on.
“The reason behind leaving The Muses was really so that there weren’t two
main songwriters. To be fair, Kristin didn’t have to fear that anyway because
that was her baby. I started writing more songs and they weren’t really Muses
songs, so it would have been a real kind of schism to have these extremely
different songs on the same record. It started to be a struggle.”
By the start of the nineties Donelly had begun to collaborate with Kim Deal,
then bass player in The Pixies, under a name given by homosexuals to describe
“The Breeders was originally supposed to be Kim does an album, I do an album, Kim does an album,
I do an album! But at the time that I left The Muses Kim
was still in The Pixies and had no intention of leaving at that point. So Belly
sort of happened that way – very soon afterwards Kim left The Pixies but it
was kind of too late because I had already started a band of my own. Actually,
the demos for ‘Star’, (Belly’s debut album), - Kim and I did those demos
together. I wanna put them up on my website some day.”
When I point out in rather a flabbergasted way that many, many people would
want to hear this particular slice of musical history, she laughs.
“I know! And I am gonna get my act together very soon I just have to get off
Alas, getting off her butt is probably the last thing Donelly is thinking of doing
given the arrival of Harriet Pearl earlier this year and the responsibility of her
older daughter Grace Bee. I dare to venture how she believes motherhood may
have changed her.
“It’s affected the way that I arrange my life. I think the entire focus of my life was music and making
music and touring and recording and being with musicians and that’s wonderful but then when my children
came along it became secondary. My focus shifted, a consciousness kicked in.”
Twelve years ago when Donelly’s third band Belly were riding high with a number two album in the UK
charts, journalist Sylvia Patterson wrote an article about the band quoting Donelly’s recent run-in with a
Tarot reader. The quote read that she would do something in her late thirties, early forties that would
feed her soul. Donelly turned forty this year so has this particular prediction come true? And even though
she’s impressed that I remember it, does she?
“Oh that’s cool! I remember getting my cards read. You know what? I still have those tapes somewhere
because that whole session was recorded. I think that could be motherhood, and the path that
motherhood opened up for me. I’ve been spiritually inclined my whole life but it’s always been in a sort of
intellectual way, you know what I mean, like reading about it and a lot of field trips and study! And when I
became a mother it took on a much more visceral role in life so that could be part of it.”
So how on earth did Donelly find time to record her most
recent album, the aptly titled, “This Hungry Life”? The
answer is that she recorded it in 2004 with her manager
Gary Smith from Fort Apache at the controls.
“We recorded it at a small club in Bellows Falls, Vermont.
The concept was to do two live shows over two days and
treat it as a recording session. It was really fun to record,
energetic and lots of good vibes.”
Joining Donelly on the record is her husband Dean Fisher,
(previously a collaborator with Juliana Hatfield), Rich Gilbert
on pedal steel, Arthur Johnson on drums, Joe McMahon on
stand-up bass and Joan Wasser, (Dambuilders and Joan as
Policewoman), on violin. But with a string of solo albums
under her belt I wonder has Donelly missed the dynamics of
being in a band?
“I love playing music with people and I do miss being in a band but specifically I miss playing in The Muses.
I love playing lead guitar with Kristin and I have to say I miss that like crazy because that part of me has
never really found an outlet. You know it’s funny when we do these reunion things – the first time I did it I
was like ‘Oh my god, this is going to be so odd!’, but as soon as I got into the rehearsal space it was like
we had never stopped playing together. I’ve always been like ‘Oh I am never going to be in a band again!’,
but Dean and I are talking about maybe doing something more positive, maybe with some of the people
we’ve been working with, and going under a band name. The anonymity of that really appeals!”
Anonymity was something that went unheard in the earlier period of Donelly’s career when she frequently
graced the pages of glossy magazines, not only as a musician, but also as part of a high profile advertising
campaign for clothing giant, Gap. So how did that arise?
“They asked me to do it. I always thought that that series was well done. That campaign was so simple
and it was just as much about exposing artists and up and coming people as it was about selling their
She has also contributed backing vocals on records for other artists, most recently Dylan in the Movies,
and when queried about her involvement she is undoubtedly fond in her reply.
“He used to work at Fort Apache. He worked there for years and became a very, very good friend of mine.
So when he started doing stuff on his own he asked me to put down some vocal parts. He’s got a couple
of songs that make me cry.”
Donelly is also excitable about The Breeders’ last record, “Title TK”.
“Title TK is one of my favourites. I love it because I feel like Kim is just sitting and talking, y’know? I just
love the intimacy, and the lyrics I think are awesome. It’s something special.”
With a new album on the eve of release, a new baby and talk of collaboration with a classical pianist, 'it’s
a very different musical direction from mine', Donelly it seems has a lot on her hands. And then there’s this
rumour about a book?
“I am writing a book! It’s slow going! I had this image of sitting on the couch with my baby and writing my
book…and obviously you know how unrealistic that is! I am hoping to get back to it. It’s kind of like a
young adult thing.”
Tanya Donelly's album "This Hungry Life" is out now on Eleven Thirty Records.