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Live From The Current Studio

Stella Donnelly performs songs of her debut album 'Beware of the Dogs' in The Current's studio

Stella Donnelly performs in The Current studio on Saturday, March 30, 2019.
Stella Donnelly performs in The Current studio on Saturday, March 30, 2019.Mary Mathis | MPR
  Play Now [22:34]

by Mac Wilson

April 02, 2019

Stella Donnelly - Old Man (Live at The Current)
by MPR
Stella Donnelly - Lunch (Live at The Current)
by MPR
Stella Donnelly - Beware of the Dogs (Live at The Current)
by MPR

Stella Donnelly dropped by The Current's studio last week before performing live at the Turf Club with special guest Faye Webster on Saturday night. Donnelly sat down with The Current's host Mac Wilson to chat karaoke, swear words, and staying present through performing emotionally relevant songs.

Donnelly is no stranger to The Current. "I'm on home soil now, very exciting," she told Mac Wilson in the studio. Last Fall, Donnelly spoke with host Mark Wheat during her set at Iceland Airwaves and before that, performed at last year's SXSW on The Current's stage. Since then, she has released her first full-length album in March of this year titled Beware of the Dogs and garnered attention coast to coast. Donnelly is known for her fierce attention to detail and unflinching meditation on topics that range from home to political unrest to rape culture, all written with a signature biting wit.

Listen to the complete session using the audio player above, and read highlights from the interview below.

Interview Highlights

On performing in a professional cover band:

There are a couple of songs that I'm grateful for having to sing 400 times; they probably trained me without even realizing it. "Walking On Sunshine," I think was one of them. [...] But there are some songs I never want to hear again. We actually went and did karaoke in New York last week, and it was the first time I'd ever done karaoke because I'd just avoided it after having to sing covers for years. I just couldn't go near a karaoke bar. But I had a great time; I whipped out the old classics, it was awesome.

For the most part, we were just the background music for people's pharmaceutical company Christmas parties, which was great fun -- essentially [we] were just being ignored, or being heckled. I think both are pretty bleak situations, but I'd much prefer to be ignored.

On addressing white nationalism in Australia:

Donald Trump complimented our Prime Minister on our immigration policy, which I think says a lot. Obviously, I am a white Australian speaking about these issues, and I do want to acknowledge that. I use a lot of references [in] the songs. The southern cross tattoo is one of them. It never used to be this kind of sign of white nationalism, but unfortunately, it's become our symbol of that. I guess I'm poking my own white finger at those kind of attitudes.

On using new tools to make Beware of the Dogs:

I think there's beauty in restriction and only having a hundred dollar guitar, a living room, and a really shabby amp. You let the song tell the story in a way. But it was so nice being able to tap into the resources that I had to do the album; mostly just being able to put other instruments [in] the songs and allow a bass-line to tell the story as well as the lyrics, and allow the cheeky drums to be part of the picture. It's always something I've wanted to do, but I never had the resources to do it.

On writing lyrics in the vernacular:

Sometimes I feel there is no substitute for a swear word when you're trying to describe a certain situation. [...] Sometimes it's just the F word that you need, you know? And it's great because parents haven't actually been mad at me at all, they've all been really grateful because now they can blame me for why their children are swearing and it's not their fault anymore.

You can swear on Australian radio pretty much. Sometimes they've got like [an announcement that says] "This song has bad words, watch out kids!" So if anything the kids are probably turning the volume up in the car.

I play a lot of festivals back home, and they're usually family-friendly, and people usually ask me, "What about the children? Think of the kids." I've never had one child come up to me about my language. It's never the children; they love it!

On staying present while performing live:

I think it's really important to stay in the songs. I guess that's why I'm so glad I put the record out not long after writing the songs [and I] wrote them as I was recording in a way. I feel very much in time with myself, and I feel in the moment still of where I was at when I was writing those songs. I think it's really important to allow yourself to tap into that because it becomes a cover otherwise and I've done that, I did that.

As soon as a song starts feeling like a cover, I meditate on it and I think 'Why is this becoming less relevant to me now? Do I need to keep performing this?' The songs are still very real for me at this point.

More Video

Songs Performed

"Old Man"
"Beware of the Dogs"
All songs from Stella Donnelly's 2019 album, Beware of the Dogs, available on Secretly Canadian.

Hosted by Mac Wilson
Produced by Derrick Stevens
Engineered by Michael DeMark
Visuals by Mary Mathis
Web feature by Lydia Moran

Stella Donnelly - official site