Name: Stella Donnelly
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, activist
Recent release: Stella Donnelly's new single “Flood” is out now. It's the title track to her new studio album, slated for release on August 26th 2022 via Secretly Canadian. Pre-order for EU, US, Aus.
Recommendations: Spells by Jenny Hval and Easy by Mesadorm
If you enjoyed this interview with Stella Donnelly and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started trying to write music when I was about 15. My early influences were Billy Bragg, Paul Kelly, Catatonia and Angus and Julia Stone.
I loved the story telling aspect of music and simply the way it made me feel and transported me to another place even as a child.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
When I listen to music that I love, my whole body gets goosebumps all over it, I tear up even if it’s not a sad song, I want to jump around and I get transported to a different time in my life or someone else’s life. It’s so enriching.
I try and hold that standard when I’m writing music, I want it to physically alter my state.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I definitely strive outside of my abilities when it comes to producing and writing, it’s so lovely to be able to articulate something that your mind has just given you as an idea.
I challenged myself on Beware of the Dogs by incorporating a band. Now on this record – Flood - I have challenged myself further by writing a bulk of the songs on piano which is not my first instrument.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I don’t really know what my identity as a songwriter (or human!) is and I don’t really give it much thought if I’m honest. It changes from song to song as I try and tell the story the best I can.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
The key ideas behind my approach to music and art is to create a little universe in the song that I’m writing. And to know when to hold back on production, trust my instincts - not all songs need drums etc.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I don’t really think about that stuff.
My taste in music spans many decades and I think I put more importance on individual songs rather than genre.
I’ll always use whatever is at my disposal to create something, whether it’s software or an upright piano in the kitchen.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My capo offers me a new pallete of paints everytime I move it up or down the guitar, my baritone guitar allows me to write basslines, the piano, the voice memo app on my phone and Garage Band.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Everyday is quite different for me depending on whether I’m touring or taking time off at home. I always try and exercise, meditate and take my iron tablet everyday though!
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
The creative process behind most of my songs is that I’ll play the chords and hum the vocal melody for about two months before I finally piece a song together.
But the song “Move Me” came in one afternoon, it was such a lightning bolt moment that left me feeling quite dizzy and alive afterwards, it was really cool.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I like listening to music alone and with friends, I have no preference on that. I really love it when my housemates are playing records and I’m in another room and I just hear random melodies and chords. That always really inspires me to write.
When it comes to writing lyrics, I have to be alone. But the rest is always fun when there are people around to help make my instrumentation ideas come to life.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Music is a way to put a frame around my world to capture certain moments.
I think music’s role in society is actually magic, there’s no other word to describe it.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
So many records have helped me find confidence in myself.
Jenny Hval’s record Blood Bitch really strengthened my power as a woman, A Seat at the Table by Solange was so educational for me.
It’s incredible how much we can learn from music and process things in our own lives.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I’m yet to read David Byrne’s How Music Works but I feel like it will enlighten me on this very topic.
I don’t think about it too much. As I said, music is mystical and magic to me and I worry that if I apply a scientific formula to the whole thing, the whole facade will collapse and I’ll be unable to write.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
No I don’t, all I know is that sometimes it feels really good and sometimes it fucking hurts!