Tanya’s new Life

Donelly is looking at music with fresh eyes
By BOB GULLA  |  February 14, 2007

070216_inside_donnely
“I HAD A BLAST”: Donelly.
Nearly three years have passed since formerly local heroine Tanya Donelly issued her last record, 2004’s Whisky Tango Ghosts. She’s since dedicated herself to raising her two girls rather than logging time on the road and in the studio.
 
Like all of Tanya’s projects (children included), her newest effort, This Hungry Life (Eleven Thirty), has come out kicking and screaming. Life was done a year before it was released in October, but pregnancy complications made the birth of the album that much more difficult. Answering to Gary Smith, her longtime manager, was like fighting off an angry dog. “Gary would call looking for the record and I finally had to tell him that I shelved it.” The pregnancy ended up OK, but suffering through it succeeded in changing her perspective on life. “Technically, I’m still in the business of music,” she says, “but it has become just another part of my life and not the sole focus. I have to say that I enjoy making music more when it’s not my only reason for being.”
 
That’s a considerable change from her heyday, in which Tanya and her stepsister Kristin Hersh, together and separately, were queens of indie rock with much ballyhooed work in Throwing Muses, Belly, the Breeders, and as solo artists. Tanya helped make music safe for women again and sold a lot of records in the process, both here and abroad, where her celebrity was considerable. “I don’t miss being famous,” she laughs, “not at all, and that surprises me. I do miss people. I miss the sense of community and traveling around with a large group of people is exhilarating. But I don’t miss touring.”
 
In recent years when the music climate began to change and Tanya couldn’t find a way to roll with those changes, she panicked. “I thought, ‘What’s this gonna do to my mental state?’ I kept waiting for the psychological fallout, but it never came and I guess that’s good.”
 
What did come was her ability to look at music with fresh eyes. “Making it has become as joyful as it was when we first started,” she says, “this great, enjoyable thing to do with your friends.” That joy surfaces on This Hungry Life, her fourth solo album. But it’s not the type of meticulously crafted effort we’re accustomed to hearing from the petite powerhouse. It was recorded live in the abandoned lobby of an old hotel in Bellows Falls, Vermont, which had been boarded up since the ’80s. For a brief time a couple of years ago, Smith used it as a club and an outpost for his storied Fort Apache Studios, which is how Tanya ended up there.
 
According to Tanya, the focus was never to record a live album, but to record an album live (notice the semantic nuance). The band featured Donelly’s husband Dean Fisher (Juliana Hatfield Three) on guitar, Rich Gilbert (Frank Black and the Catholics) on guitar and pedal steel, drummer Arthur Johnson (Come), Joe McMahon on upright bass, and violinist Joan Wasser (Lou Reed, Antony and the Johnsons). Bill Janovitz of the much-loved Buffalo Tom contributed vocals. It’s an intimate, sweetly crafted project that showcases Tanya’s sublime voice and poetic writing style. “I really wanted to get the energy that happens between the people playing and the people listening,” she says. “I wanted to get a little bit of that on record. Plus I think I sing better in front of an audience.”
 
Not that This Hungry Life is grand in scope. Her expectations these days are modest, and she’s incredibly thankful that fame visited her at all. “I had a blast when it was going on for us and I was so lucky that it happened. I don’t feel the urge to maintain it. Some of my peers feel that way. But I was raised not to spit in the face of blessings.”

At AS220
This weekend at AS220 there’s a feast of excitement for the musically malnourished, and it comes in many flavors. On Friday, February 16, local music gets a jolt of voltage in the form of outrageous hallucinogenic psyche-rock with XERXES, MUDBOY, and WISHING WELLS, joined by Austria’s PRIMORDIAL UNDERMIND and Brooklyn’s UP THE EMPIRE. Some of it’s electronic, some of it’s just plain freaky. On Saturday, grab a skinny tie and some fresh undies for Armageddon Shop’s Midwinter Meltdown, a regional punk rock and hardcore revue. The decibels kick off at 6 pm and run til closing, and will be perpetrated by bands from all over the area. Providence acts include HULK OUT, DOPEMATICS, NEOPROPHETS, and CONTEMPT FOR HUMANITY, and there are a bunch of other notable bands — 10 in all. You can find the complete list at www.as220.org. It’s an all ages show with a cheap door price ($6) and early start time/end time for the young uns. Concerned parents can contact the shop by phone: 401.521.6667. If you’re in the mood for some recorded matter by some of these bands and many other deeper projects, hit Armageddon’s website: www.armageddonshop.com
 and patronize local music.

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