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Stella Donnelly is not afraid to ruffle feathers or disrupt the status quo. At 26, the Australian singer-songwriter has already made that clear with songs like her breakout singles, "Boys Will Be Boys," and "Mechanical Bull" off of her 2017 debut EP, Trush Metal. Both songs attack the folkways of misogyny and rape culture. And in the last two years, she's made a name for herself far beyond her country's borders.
In the era of the #MeToo movement where attention to such issues are accompanied by a heightened sense of urgency, Donnelly's biting wit and honesty in her songwriting has gained traction internationally. The lighthearted, upbeat sound of Donnelly's debut album, Beware Of The Dogs, acts as a conduit for such heavy, but necessary, topics.
Donnelly spoke with NPR's Michel Martin from Sydney about personal experiences that inspired the album, how her music fits into the #MeToo era and more. Hear the radio version of their full conversation at the audio link and read on for interview highlights.
On her songwriting reflecting her life
I mean for me, music is about portraying myself and about being really honest. And so when you put an EP out, you've only got four or five songs to really do that with. But whereas with an album, you can take your time and there'll be a song that's sad but then straight after that, I'll be a bit more lighthearted or funny or heartbroken and those sorts of things. So yeah, absolutely my friends would definitely say that [these songs are] me. It's as me as it could get, really.
On public response to her breakout single "Boys Will Be Boys"
It came out three days before Harvey Weinstein was called out online and then following that, the #MeToo Movement resurfacing after all those years. I was never expecting the listenership and the the broad audience I got for that song. I think it was possibly as a result of that whole conversation starting to take place and at the time, people were very threatened. It was the first time that the powers had to show some sort of compassion, and that maybe the pendulum was possibly swinging back a little bit towards women having the freedom to speak out about these issues.
When I put that out, I received extreme feedback. I had extreme feedback on both sides. So whilst I was getting sent inappropriate pictures or horrible messages from people or just constant barrage of comments on my stuff, I was also receiving letters from fathers who had heard that song and [said] they're gonna use that song as a resource to teach their children. I was hearing from young women out there who had used that song to kind of process things that had happened to them. I was hearing from old women. I was hearing from all sorts of people positively about that song. So, it was just a very extreme time. I think everything just heightened for me, good and bad. So it kind of met in the middle in a way so it wasn't too harrowing for me because I was able to look at the positives that I was getting out of putting that song out.
On the song "Old Man"
It's based on many experiences that I've had. I definitely didn't want to make it too specific. I guess, created a character, an amalgamation of many people that I've come across as a female artist and also looking at what had just happened in my world. When I put "Boys Will Be Boys" out, the #MeToo campaign hadn't reemerged yet. Then post that, I had watched life for me change as a female musician in this industry and I had watched life for my possibly future children change — if I had daughters and, you know, those sorts of things. It was also a way for me to put my middle finger up to anyone who had given me grief for "Boys Will Be Boys." I wasn't going to let that stop me from speaking out and staying true to my, I don't want to say cause, but to my values.
On the contrast between upbeat melody and heavy lyrics
I actually wrote kind of the music before the lyrics kind of came together, and often when I write something that sounds quite pretty or sounds quite energetic and upbeat and uplifting, I generally want to counter that with some heavy lyrics. I like creating that contrast. For me it's about communication skills.
Even just talking to you now, if I was yelling at you, "This is what I think OK, Blah blah blah!," you'd be too distracted by the fact that I was yelling at you to actually take in what I'm saying. I might be saying something really positive, but because I'm yelling it just doesn't quite get through as easy. I guess that was my technique of communication and education, maybe.
But it's kind of celebratory as well. It's a way for me to to sing about something heavy, but for the music to kind of cushion that. Especially playing live every night, there's the bed there of pleasurable sounds that allows me to kind of sit with those lyrics and feel comfortable saying them.
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