Not many musicians can boast they were part of a ground breaking influential band, but Rhode Island-native singer/songwriter Tanya Donelly can. In fact she was part of not one, not two, but three influential bands as a founding member of the hugely significant Throwing Muses (with step-sister Kristen Hersh), The Breeders (with Kim Deal of The Pixies) and her own band Belly.
“Nah. Sometimes. When it’s pointed out to me,” Tanya Donelly says on grasping how important she was in music history.
So many musicians would love to be part of one successful band, but you were part of three. There is no rhyme or reason, unless, maybe you went the Robert Johnson route and made a deal with the devil?
“The devil refuses to do business with me,” Donelly joked. “I’ve been very lucky to know the people I’ve known, and to choose and be chosen by some incredible songwriters and musicians and artists, starting with my amazing kickass sister and then all the good things that followed. I am always very consciously grateful for this, corny as that sounds.”
After doing the band thing for more than a decade, Donelly embarked on a solo career releasing the phenomenal debut Lovesongs for Underdogs in 1997. A series of LPs and an EP would follow with her last studio effort This Hungry Life being issued in 2006. However, the multi-tasking Donelly has been keeping very busy.
“I’ve been raising my kids full-time, training and working as a doula, working on a graphic novel with artist/illustrator Louisa Bertman, participating in the odd local musical event, a show here and there, and singing with friends now and again.”
Over the last few years, Donelly, has been taking part in the John Wesley Harding/Eugene Mirman Cabinet of Wonders in Boston and NYC and this is where and when the idea behind the Swan Song series was birthed.
“I started writing with some of the authors I met there. The concept of a fully collaborated series followed, and I reached out to a few more musician and writer friends to contribute words or music, as well as musicians that I admire to add their instrumental voice. It’s been challenging, and a total blast.”
The Swan Song Series features a who’s who amongst Boston-area (and beyond) cast of musicians including Bill Janovitz (Buffalo Tom, solo); Michael Hearst (One Ring Zero); Claudia Gonson (Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes); Brian Sullivan (Dylan in the Movies); Joe McMahon and David Brophy (both Joe McMahon Trio); Kraig Jordan (the Masons); Dean Fisher (Juliana Hatfield Three); Carrie Bradley (the Breeders, Edʼs Redeeming Qualities); Sam Davol (Magnetic Fields); Jacob Valenzuela (Calexico); David Narcizo (Throwing Muses); Anthony Saffrey (Cornershop); Chris Toppin and Hilken Mancini (Fuzzy).
“Very freeing, in fact. And a return to the joy of making music, from the ground up, with other people — a village full of other people, in this case” Donelly said of the recording process with her long-time friends.
For the EP series, Donelly not only brought in music friends, but author friends as well. She has collaborated with authors Rick Moody; Wesley Stace/John Wesley Harding and Mary Gaitskill.
“The writers are contributing original words, at least so far. I just met yesterday with an author I love, and that may be more of an inspired collaboration, with some sanctioned direct lifts from published work. Or he might just write me a letter, and I’ll work from that. But mainly, people are sending new words — in lyric form, or prose, or scraps.”
The first EP in the series, entitled Volume 1, is five songs with Donelly writing some of her best work. The EP has “general thematic connective tissue: windows, streets, stars, flashbacks, escape” as she states in the albums bio.
“It’s hard to say because each of these new songs involved a completely different process, and I’m historically bad at explaining process to begin with,” the rockin mother said of her songwriting style. “I tend to say crazy things about songs in the air, and hiding in trees and sand, and that’s just annoying. To me, anyway. But regarding motherhood I can say, with some degree of conviction, that my children have made me much tougher and much more raw, simultaneously, which can probably be heard in the lyrics.”
With a title like The Swan Song Series, brings to mind a few different images – Led Zepplin saying goodbye or, well…swans. But don’t panic. Donelly isn’t thinking of saying goodbye to music, not entirely.
“The name of the series is slightly tongue-in-cheek — it’s likely the last outlet for new music from me, but there’s no end date set. So even when the collaborative EPs end this year, I’m sure I will throw songs up on the site as they come to me, gratis.”