For Tanya Donelly, the breakup of Belly in November, 1995 hit harder than she could have ever expected. After all, it wasn't her first experience with leaving a band, nor was it her second.
But it was the worst.
A veritable fixture in the alternative-rock community through the years, Donelly began penning songs in her early teens and has been writing steadily ever since. She was in three important bands. First there was Throwing Muses, then The Breeders and, most recently, Belly, which she formed and led. But it wasn't until tensions began developing in Belly that Donelly noticed something was seriously wrong.
Then came the big breakup and the resulting breakdown, she said.
"I sort of had a little breakdown after the breakup." Donelly explained, with a nervous laugh. "It's funny they're such similar words. I didn't have to be institutionalized or anything, I'm not on any behavioral drugs, but I had a really hard time with it and I didn't expect to. So it really took me by surprise.
"I thought by the time we left each other things had been ironed out," she said. "And I thought I was going to be OK and I was being very grown up about it, and
I just lost my shit!"
For a few months, Donelly didn't play any music. She didn't touch a guitar.
It only brought back bad memories, she said. But in the spring of 1996, she started writing again, drawing from her experiences past and present. What came out of that period of musical recovery is her new solo album Lovesongs For Underdogs, due out Sept. 9.
Putting behind her the musical differences and the
personal conflicts with Belly, Donelly has finally found her own space in which she said she can be herself again. "I wasn't a big fan of musical democracy when I decided to go solo." she said "And it was sort of an angry decision. Not angry, but kind of a defeated position when I decided to go solo. But at this point I'm very comfortable with it, and I've learned that it's probably the best way for me to go."
Lovesongs For Underdogs is a 12-track foray into Donelly's newfound freedom. Both introspective and highly personal it marks a new chapter in her songwriting career. Though she said her basic writing techniques haven't changed ("just a guitar and a vocal line"), Donelly is exploring new ways to present her music. "This time around most of the record I co-produced with Wally Gagel, who works with Folk Implosion. He's much more of a gearhead than I am, which is why I wanted to work with him, 'cause I wanted to sort of start incorporating samples and drum machines and stuff, just sort of subtly, you know."
On "Lantern," the album's fifth track, a drum machine backbeat introduces the
song, and marks Donelly's smooth transition into bringing electronics into her sound.
"Mysteries of the Unexplained" is Donelly's attack on the media. "That's about pop culture basically," she said. "More
specifically about American media culture. I'm just basically trying to
remind myself that it's easy when you're embroiled in it to become
myopic and lose sight of anything else in our vast and interesting planet.
So its sort of reminding myself that in order to remain sane, I have to pay attention to the world outside of the pop-culture world."
As far as her future in music is concerned, Donelly said she is looking forward to life on her own, but not alone. "It's not a lonely thing, that's the thing," she said. "I mean it sounds so sad and lonely like you're alone in the woods, but solo doesn't mean alone. I'm still playing with a variety of musicians who are all contributing musically, so it's not being alone at all. It's actually much more communal than a band because I get to play with so many different people."
In this way, Donelly is happy to be out of the world of musical monogamy. "I'm excited about the prospect of playing with whomever I want to for the rest of my life," Donelly added. "That just makes me so happy. To know that in the future I can call up anybody and ask them to come play with me because I'm not musically married anymore."