Home > Interviews > Tanya Donelly

 

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Boston Beats: Please state your name, age and occupation for the record please.
Tanya Donelly: Tanya Donelly. Iím 38 years old and I am a songwriter and a musician.

BB: How did you get into music and when did you learn to play?
TD: I started playing guitar when I was 14 with my sister Kristin [Hersh]. We started by learning Beatles songs from a songbook that we had, and then we started writing our own stuff.

BB: When did you write your first song?
TD: Probably around that same time, when I was 14.

BB: Were you writing lyrics and music?
TD: Yeah, it was a song (oddly enough) that had to do with both of us, Kristin and I, being radicals in the sixties and activists and hippies. We started out writing kind of social commentary kind of songs. Our first song was about Kent State, which was something that had happened decades before. It meant enough that it was the first subject matter for me.

BB: Is this something you played later in life?
TD: No, no, no. (Laughter) I learned very quickly that socially commentary was not my forte.

BB: Tell us about your song writing style. How does a new song usually come about?
TD: Usually it comes sort of independent of whatever Iím doing at the time. They kind of creep up on me. I usually write away from my guitar which is kind of weird because then I have to mix the guitar with whatís going on in my head. But there are times that I sit down specifically to write and I canít really say which is better for me because they both end up being pretty productive.

BB: Whatís your definition of productive?
TD: Being happy with a song in the state that itís in. I donít think a song is ever actually finished. Thatís just my personal opinion. I think you actually have to make the decision at some point.

BB: What are some of you musical influences or favorite albums?
TD: I love Essence by Lucinda Williams. Red Dirt Girl, Emmylou Harris. Right now Iím listening to my friend, Joan Wasserís band, Joan As Policewoman and I love it.

BB: Youíve been in a number of bands in Boston and have started up a number of them. Can you tell us a little about that and what that overall experience was like?
TD: Yeah, sure. Throwing Muses started out as a Rhode Island band with Gary Smith who produced us at the time, heís actually my manger now. He was a Rhode Islander as well and he kind of urged us to go north because there just seemed to be more of a music scene going on in Boston at that time. We were getting a lot of press in Boston already even though we hadnít reached out yet. So we all quit college and came here.

BB: What year was that?
TD: That was 1986.

BB: I know you guys were getting a lot of radio coverage around that point to I believe it was WBCN that actually was putting you guys in their rotation.
TD: Yeah, yeah. And then we got signed to 4AD and things started to really pick up and it became full time for us.

BB: So how long did the Throwing Muses project last?
TD: Well I was there a long time. You know, my sense of chronology is very poor. We recorded four records and then a few EPs as well. And I left in 1990.

BB: For The Breeders?
TD: Yeah, well, Kim and I formed the Breeders while I was still in the Muses. Originally it was supposed to be a side project. The way we were going to work it was Kim would write the first record and then I would write the second record. But then I left the Muses, and I wanted to find something else full time. Kim stayed in The Pixies for another year. So the group of songs that was going to be the Breeders second record ended up being Bellyís first record.

BB: Which was?
TD: Star. All of those songs were going to be Breeders material. Actually, Kim and I demoed that stuff together. This was around Ď90 or í91.

BB: Would you say that Belly was the band that really took off?
TD: For me, yeah. Itís hard to say, but if Kim didnít have the Pixies and I wasnít in the Muses then I think we would have stayed in the Breeders. That was the original plan. But then Belly really took off.

BB: How many records did Belly have?
TD: Just two, we didnít even make it to three. We had about four albums worth of material because we did so many B-Sides. We actually ended up releasing a couple of B-Side records, but I donít really include those formally.

BB: Which was bigger for you?
TD: Star was the really big one. King did respectably as well but it didnít get a lot of radio play.

BB: And how long did Belly last?
TD: Until í96 I believe.
 

 

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