Interview: Stella Donnelly on returning to Wales, touring with Alex The Astronaut

We managed to catch up with Stella Donnelly while in Wales recently, the beginning of what’s going to be quite the busy few months for the now Perth-based musician. She’s got a surefire successful run on the horizon at The Great Escape this week, before tackling the US with Natalie Prass and of course, a homecoming to talk about with Splendour in the Grass mid-year.

​Well Stella, welcome to Wrexham.

Thank you so much.

​I don’t know if I should be welcoming you or you should be welcoming me.

So what we usually say is, “Croeso I Gymru”, which is “Welcome to Wales”, or “Croeso I Wrexham”, so welcome Larry.

Thank you very much. How do you say “Thank you very much?”

​”Diolch yn fawr”.

Not even going to try. Maybe later. Maybe later. This is kind of a homecoming for you, the last week or so.

​It is.

Have you played you shows in Wales before as Stella Donnelly?

No, this’ll be my first ever show here, so I’m so lucky and I’m so grateful that it’s happening. I can’t believe it.

​I say ‘as Stella Donnelly’ because basically … stuff we were talking about before. I think you’ve performed in other guises.

Oh yes, yes, definitely. When I was a little girl living here, my aunty got me a little job being an actor on a radio soap opera, so my name was Sioned and I was in a radio soap.

Sioned?

Sioned, yeah. I was in a radio soap called Eileen, and I played Eileen’s daughter and that was really fun, so I used to leave school every second Friday and go and do that which was really cool.

Even in English, that sounds like a soap opera name.

Oh, totally, totally. It really is.

That’s amazing. Huge bunch of shows while you’re over here playing your own shows, you’re playing festivals like this. You’re playing The Great Escape and this is coming off a huge run of shows in Australia with Alex. So firstly, how are you feeling at the moment?

I’m feeling great, honestly. I’ve been able to really see so much and Alex and I had such a good time on tour, and I’ve really built up my stamina I think after SXSW and really been able to keep that going. Obviously, you have your off days or the days when you know you just need to have a sleep in; you can’t do all the tourist things you want to do. stuff like that. But I’ve been really, really lucky to just play in such nice venues around here in the UK and that’s just been amazing, and they’ve really enlivened me, you know? I’ve been invigorated.

Which is good because I saw you at SXSW… we’ve been bumping into each other all over the place. I think the last time I saw you was surrounded by dogs in Austin.

I was. That’s the best place to be.

​Looking ahead to the next couple of months, talk me through a little bit. How far down the barrel are you looking in terms of shows?

Well look I actually have all of June and July off to write, record and get an album going, and that’ll be really nice. I’m doing Splendour in the middle of that but other than that, I’m going to be just at home which I’m really looking forward to, but then I’m off away again. I’m coming over here, again I’m playing Green Man Festival and End of the Road Festival and bunch of other ones in between, which will be awesome. I get to go to Norway and a few other cool places, and then I head off on tour with Natalie Prass around the US, pretty much straight after that. That’s about a seven week tour.

Huge and apparently you met her at SXSW?

We just met each other there and it was just so lovely and we hit it off and her band are such nice guys. I really respect her as an artist. I think she’s amazing and I can’t wait to watch her every night for seven weeks. It’s going to be great.

It must be nice to because it’s so much money and effort and time going into something like SXSW, to be able to point to something and say, “Well that’s come out of it”.

I’m so, so lucky. I did 11 shows in five days or four days. I think I’m still recovering mentally from that, but it was really all worth it and the only reason we kept saying yes to them was because they were all such great opportunities, and I got to meet so many great people and chat to the guys from NPR. It was just such a great festival and as crazy as it was, it was definitely worth it. It was worth the little flu that I got afterwards.

​Oh that happens to everyone. ​I got it so bad last year. I’ll tell you a story about that later but this year I really looked after myself, so I was alright.

​That’s good. Stay hydrated, you know?

Yeah, have water instead of margaritas. Sometimes have both. The Secretly Canadian deal happened just before you went over, so it must have been really nice to meet the team.

That was amazing. They’re such a great team and I’d been lucky enough to meet the London office late last year, but I hadn’t really met all of the Americans. I’d only met Ben Swanson who’d come out to BIGSOUND. It was just such a great, great, great chance to meet everybody there and meet my agent in the US, Andrew as well.

Now that you’ve got a label behind you and you’ve got a team around you, how does it work now going into the studio, because I don’t imagine you’ve ever had that level of support behind you going into the studio?

​I often describe it as, “Ooh, I play a chord on my guitar and then I look up and I see dust on the horizon.” I could just see all this, “Oh my God, what’s going on?”, but I definitely am good at switching off and going back to just why I write music in the first place, and that’s really important to me. No matter what team I have around me, it’s not going to stop that, so hopefully. I’m really confident in the fact that I’m going to be able to really…music’s still really fun for me to write. I really enjoy it. It’s an escape for me, so it will keep going. It just makes it easier I guess with other things, you know

The team that I have around me are so good and they’re so about the music. They’re not about the money and it really helps when you have someone like that.

It means that there’s just less pressure put on you I suppose.

Totally and they’re cool with me if I need more time, I need more time and that’s just how it is. They would rather me be happy with the product that I’m putting …Here we go. I’m already saying ‘product’. Happy with the artwork or whatever that I’m putting out.

And with the other projects you have as well, are they taking a back seat now?

Yeah well I’m only really in one other project called Belles Rapids now, and four of us girls are all in other bands and have our own things going on, so that’s really just a love project.

Which project’s that?

It’s called Belles Rapids and it’s a four piece grunge band and it’s just a love project. We only ever come back to it when we can and it’s so great getting into a room with those girls and recording. We’ve got an EP coming out soon but we’re really chill about it. We’re all so busy in other bands so it’s really just something we can all do when we’ve got time, time off.

BOAT SHOW was like that as well for you.

It was, yeah. I’m not in BOAT SHOW anymore because I didn’t want to be always bailing on gigs and stuff, so I think that was a good decision. I’m really glad I can still hopefully be part of Belles Rapids and play music with them.

Your time with BOAT SHOW though must really have had pointed you in a lot of directions in terms of learning about the industry. Because it was all sort of happening simultaneously.

It was and it definitely helped me get better at guitar. Oh my god, I’d never had to play guitar so fast in my life. I was freaking out the whole time and that improved my playing a lot so I’m really grateful for that.

You’ve gone from one and a half minute songs to three minute songs, so you can slow it down.

Exactly. It was double BPM. It was insane.

We’ll next see you in Australia at Splendour, but you’ve got a bit more touring around here to get through first. But Splendour, what does it mean to be on that stage?

Well it’s always seemed like such a foreign, mystical, Quidditch World Cup kind of thing for me because I’ve never been. Opening over in Perth, you can just imagine what it’s like, so this big mystical festival, I’m really excited to be there and really, really stoked to be part of it.

You’ll catch the snitch at some point in the …

​I hope so, I really hope so. I might get a few bludgers to the head but that’s alright.

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For more about Stella, and to check out where and when she’ll be playing around the UK over the next couple of weeks, head to her Facebook page or here.

Photo: Stella Donnelly performing at Focus Wales 2018 (Photo by the author).