An Interview with Tanya Donelly & Thomas Gorman of Belly

90s Alt-Rock Band Belly Is Back — And Playing Boston Calling | The ARTery

There is a whole entire family tree of music from the late 80’s to the mid 90’s that I absolutely love. Without going into explicit detail of how they’re all connected, the tree includes the likes of Throwing Muses, Pixies, The Breeders, The Amps, Frank Black and most importantly (for the purposes of this interview), Belly.

Belly has long been one of my personal favorites of said family tree. Their two initial albums, Star and King have been in constant rotation for me, for years. Seriously, does it get any better than ‘Full Moon, Empty Heart?’ Tanya Donelly is a fascinating songwriter in that she perhaps has found the perfect balance between literary sense and pure intuition. If you aren’t familiar with Belly, you can head over to their website here.

If their 2016 reformation and subsequent 2018 album, Dove wasn’t enough, this coming year (2021), they’ve got a new b-sides album coming out. It’s call Bees and you can preorder it here. Today, for the first time, I’ve got two members of the band “in the house.” We are joined by both Tanya Donelly and Thomas Gorman. Great interview! Dig in.

Andrew:
Tanya & Thomas, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Lets dive right in. The group’s first album, Star was released in 1993. What do you remember about the recording of that record? Looking back, do you still feel close to those songs?

Tom:
We recorded part of Star in Nashville, and part of it in Liverpool- talk about music-history pedigree! It was exciting. Tanya had made quite a few records already with Throwing Muses and The Breeders, but being in ‘real’ studios was new for the rest of us. It was Belly’s first record, and I don’t think there was much in the way of expectations, so there wasn’t the sort of pressure that came along when it was time to record King.

Andrew:
In 1995, Belly released King, which was sort of a departure from what we heard on Star. What lead to the shift in sound?

Tom:
We toured pretty relentlessly after Star, and Gail Greenwood had joined the band right after Star was released. She came from a more Punk/Hard Rock background, and all the live experience from touring sort of tightened things up. There was a lot of experimenting and trying different sounds, and overdubbing stuff in the making of Star. Glyn Johns’ production style for King was more straight-forward-set up, play the song a couple times, move on. Minimal overdubbing and layering. Treat it more like a ‘live’ recording, so that had a lot to do with the way the sound changed.

Andrew:
Your most recent album, Dove was released in 2018. I really enjoyed it. It’s everything that makes Belly truly awesome. What was the inspiration for the new record? How was the recording process different compared to your first two records?

Tom:
Initially, we were just going to do a reunion tour, but pretty early on we thought, well why not try working on a couple new songs? The two new tunes we played on tour in ‘16 came pretty easy, were fun to play and just seemed to ‘fit’, and between Gail, Tanya and I, there wasn’t a shortage of material kicking around, so we just decided to go for it.

The mechanics of writing and recording Dove were very different than with Star and King. It’s a completely different world now as far as making a record goes than it was twenty or so years ago. The first big difference is that we don’t live very near to each other anymore, and we’ve got other jobs, families, etc., so hashing out songs in a rehearsal space several days a week like we did when we were younger isn’t a possibility. Things have to get worked out and stitched together remotely, with a lot of emailing of files back-and-forth. And the economics of going into a full-featured studio for several weeks to a month with an engineer and a producer just isn’t an option for the majority of musicians anymore, so DIY is the name of the game if you want to record music. Luckily, the tools available to make decent recordings mostly at home are reasonably affordable, so we were able to piece things together from a tracks recorded in basements, bedrooms, closets. It’s a trade-off-that ‘all in a room together making noise’ vibe is hard to simulate, and sometimes something may get lost from making a record this way, but if it’s the only way to make a record, that’s the way it is.

Tanya Donelly stays busy with Belly again – and more – The San Francisco  Examiner

Andrew:
As a vocalist and lyricist, who are your biggest influences? How do you go about developing your own unique style?

Tanya:
That would be a very long list in full, but here is today’s boil-down of writers who have impacted me the most: Leonard Cohen, Jeannette Winterson, Virginia Woolf, Mary Margaret O’Hara, The Beatles, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Elvis Perkins, Rumi, and Mary Oliver.

I love that the second part of this question is in the present tense, because I am and will always be ‘in development.’ My singing voice and lyrical voice grow stronger the more I collaborate with other musicians, and this was first sparked in Belly when I started co-writing with Tom and Gail, who are both ridiculously inspired songwriters and musicians, and who write music that has always pushed me forward lyrically.

Andrew:
Often times lyricists are only telling stories when they write, and other times, words can be intensely personal. Which is it for you?

Tanya:
Two things can be true. And more. I sometimes write words that sound like fiction but are fully based in fact, and I also sometimes write words that sound transparently autobiographical but are whole-cloth fictions. And then further mixing that up, I can write lyrics that are a storytelling version of something very true, but then also write songs that unintentionally pull something true out of a very tall tale. So, it’s a mixed bag of verbiage, and like most lyricists, I hope anyone who listens just applies it all to whatever they hear and feel.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Tom:
After a couple decades of not having a working turntable (or a decent stereo system for that matter, really….), I bought one a couple years ago. I dragged my old vinyl collection out of a dusty corner of my parent’s basement where it had been sitting since about 1991 and started rediscovering the experience of listening to records again. I can’t say I’m a ‘collector’ really, but I have been making a list of things I want to have on vinyl. The few records I’ve bought since getting a turntable again have been either from a local used record shop, or new releases I’ve tried to buy directly from the artist.

Belly @ 9:30 Club - 8/13/2016 — ChunkyGlasses

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Tom:
There are a lot, really, but there are few that regularly get put on at my house. Wings Greatest Hits is a consistent mood elevator, Dusty In Memphis is a beautiful album, and it’s a regular Sunday morning ritual to listen to Saint Saens Symphony No. 3 followed by the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack.

Andrew:
Once COVID-19 is done with us, what’s next for Belly? Any chance we see a new album, or a tour?

Tanya:
We were in the final stages of planning and curating a multimedia mini-festival in Providence, RI, scheduled for August 2020, but obviously that had to be shelved. Our b-sides album, Bees will be released in 2021, and hopefully we’ll be able to plan something next summer?

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists who are just getting started?

Tanya:
My advice would be to listen, to trust, and amplify your inner voice and instincts. And to write, play, and work from that place. And equally importantly, to maintain control over your work from the outset, and do your homework around how you want to manage your art, and life. Every single day of your life on this path will require making ethical and soul-mining decisions regarding both.

Also, and easier said than done: don’t do this alone. Find your kin, and keep them close.

Tanya Donelly goes solo with a little help from friends - The Boston Globe

Interested in sampling the music of Belly? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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