Stella Donnelly is coming to the end of the busiest year of her life. The wry songwriter has boomeranged around the world on tour, far from her home in Freemantle, on the coast of Western Australia. She catches up with Music Week on the eve of her final dates of the year, which kick off with five nights in Perth. Before that though, she’s celebrating her dad’s birthday.
“Oh it was beautiful, we did dinner and cake,” begins Donnelly, who’s nursing a bit of a cold. But the frog in her throat matters little, the 25-year-old is a new indie star, making waves with fingerpicked melodies and sweary, hilarious lyrics that read like bedroom post-it notes. She’s happy to be home, even just for a little while.
“It’s very slow and very relaxed, everyone’s on a different timeline,” she says. “I’ve been away for eight months this year, so whenever I’m home I appreciate it. It’s lovely to come back to a place where you can go to the shops in your pyjamas and no one will give a shit.”
Donnelly – who was born in Wales and acted in a radio soap called Eileen while at school – has packed in the gigs this year, from SXSW and The Great Escape to End Of The Road and an American tour with Natalie Prass. Demand has been high ever since last year’s Thrush Metal EP took off, thanks largely to Boys Will Be Boys, a threadbare ballad that addresses sexual abuse. It was a powerful introduction to Donnelly’s style.
“I feel like I can say things how I feel and unapologetically be myself,” she reflects. “It’s very personal, but it’s me. If you were to meet me at my café job you’d get the same person, obviously I wouldn’t be singing at you, but I would be just as honest or real.”
Donnelly no longer works at the café and misses the customers, but relishes the fact that her audience is now far more substantial than a morning coffee queue.
“I feel very privileged as a white Australian who’s never had to live with the oppression non-white people have, and when I get given a platform, I can’t just get up and sing la, la, la. It’s important I use it for good.”
Signed to Secretly Canadian, she chose her team carefully, asking “the difficult questions first”, such as, “How do you feel about gender diversity, safe spaces and me saying whatever the fuck I want on stage?”
As she finds her way in the industry, Donnelly is encouraged by the scent of change. “Right now is probably the safest time in history to be a woman in music,” she says. “It’s still not where it needs to be, there are still girls being groped and having photos taken up their skirts, but there is accountability now.”
Donnelly will continue to be a force for change, and with her debut album (some of which features a band) due early next year, she’s excited for the future.
“It’s essentially just a really sad diary,” she says, breaking into laughter. “That doesn’t sell it very well!” Self-deprecating or not, Donnelly will fly in 2019.
RELEASES Thrush Metal (out now)
MANAGEMENT Philip Stevens
LABEL Secretly Canadian
NEXT GIG TBC