Death threats, rubbish exes and #metoo: Stella Donnelly tells the story of her take-no-prisoners debut, ‘Beware of the Dogs’

"I love dogs. Make sure you put that in!"

“Oh, I still get death threats every day, all sorts of endless comments from trolls. But hey, I’ve learned that you’ve done something right when you’re pissing that sort of person off, y’know?”

Life for, and conversations with, Stella Donnelly moves quickly. Nestled into a freezing Shoreditch pub just hours after her arrival from the middle of a record-breaking heatwave in her native Australia, there are no signs of jet lag as she chats to Dork about the impending release of her debut full-length record, ‘Beware Of The Dogs’. A visceral, searing, emotionally raw takedown on society and the modern patriarchy, the album looks set to ruffle the same neanderthal feathers that the phenomenal ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ did, when its rage-filled blast at those pointing their fingers at the victims of sexual assault rather than at the instigators, first arrived.

Primarily written in the studio that she had booked after, by her own admission, bluffing that she had enough songs when in reality she was nowhere near, the album came together after life took a left-turn as her relationship fell apart. Throwing herself into writing, a rush of songs came flooding out. “I think everything had been sitting there waiting to come out, but I hadn’t given it a chance?” she says about this hot streak.

The emotional ‘Allergies’ was written the day before recording, Stella’s voice noticeably wavering as she was “bawling her eyes out all day”. The tongue-in-cheek ‘Season’s Greetings’ pokes fun at family get-togethers, you know the ones, where that one extended family member that nobody really likes turns up (“I think families are good because you’re forced to be with people you don’t choose,” she laughs). As Dork asks her whether her family are nervous about becoming her writing material, she giggles. “Ha! You should talk to my ex’s, then.”

But for all the personal moments, it is the wider issues of patriarchy in the current society that Stella is known the most for. Fearlessly taking aim at the post (and current) Kavanaugh world, album opener ‘Old Man’ is savage in its cold fury.

“I had been riffing on it for a while, that chorus and the ‘China Girl’ guitar line, and then it came pouring out. I knew what I wanted to say because I got mad.” The trigger point, as it was for many, came with the #metoo movement. “I got to reflect on certain situations that had happened to me as a young musician, a teenager playing in pubs and working with older men.”

Understandably not wanting to be drawn on specifics, Stella describes the song as “definitely hypothetical, I’m playing a character here. It’s essentially someone I’ve created in order to make it easier for me to perform without directly having to go back to a certain memory.”

Being in the US at the time of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation was an interesting time for the singer, with shows in Austin and Dallas proving to be the opposite to what she was expecting.

“You get fed so many stereotypes about certain places, but I had beautiful people, men, coming up to me and crying about that whole situation. It just restored my faith in humanity, y’know?”

Talk, as it usually does when discussing these things, turns to the likes of Piers Morgan (“Eurgh,” she grimaces), and the current furore over the Gillette advert (she hasn’t seen it, but is fascinated by the concept).

“It’s hilarious, my sister and I have this funny dialogue about people like that whenever we hang out. WHAT’S NEXT? Marriage equality, actually. WHAT’S NEXT? DOGS MARRYING RABBITS OR SOMETHING??”

She dissolves into laughter at the insanity of it all.

Talk of the cavemen leads to ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, and the reaction to it. The one song to appear on both releases so far, it appears slap bang in the middle of the record. A deliberate move?

“Yeah exactly, I haven’t moved on, and we haven’t moved on. That song still needs to be sung, unfortunately.” Targeted initially at female friends, the reaction from trolls shocked Stella. “Oh man, that was when I knew that I had burst the bubble of my inner circle of progressive-minded people.”

With her dad anonymously fighting trolls online (“I kept recognising these names as anagrams of his own name,” she laughs), she has learned now to not read the comments. “I just visualise them sitting in their mum’s apartment with greasy KFC fingers and writing this stuff; I felt a lot better about it!”

Another major target of her fire is the Australian government itself. “Australia has probably the most inhumane immigration policies, to the point where Donald Trump compliments us!”

With talk of offshore detention centres, the ongoing persecution that the First Nation are suffering, and the rumbling on of controversy around the date of Australia Day (a day of mourning for indigenous Australians), it’s clear that while we may be transfixed with Brexit and Trump, they have their own major issues down under.

“The dogs [from the album title] for me are the people in power, parliament and the media. It’s not a slight on dogs. I love dogs. Make sure you put that in!” she smiles.

Stella’s ability to laugh and smile through all of the online abuse is staggering. Turning heartbreak into great song material is nothing new of course, but the no-bullshit delivery that elevates it into something else, something more powerful. Fearing writer’s block and burnout, she also suffered from a form of anxiety about leaving, a struggle to transition from the over-stimulation of tour life with her quiet life in Fremantle, a city in Western Australia far removed from the music industry hubs of Sydney or Melbourne.

“I always struggle going home actually, because you go from this detached existence. You put up walls to survive touring, especially as a solo woman, and coming home… It takes time to break them down again to let people I love back in.” With major tours across the globe booked for 2019, it’s going to be a while before she can retreat to those quiet spaces again. But in the meantime, those dogs better beware. Stella Donnelly is coming for them all.

Taken from the March issue of Dork, out now. Stella Donnelly’s album ‘Beware Of The Dogs’ is out 8th March.

Words: Jamie MacMillan

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