Celebrating 20 Years of Belly’s STAR
Belly’s Star sounds so bright and timeless, it’s hard to believe it’s 20 years old. You heard me right: TWENTY YEARS!
In honor of this milestone, Belly singer/songwriter Tanya Donelly has released her original demos for the band’s classic debut, packaged with 4 new songs as part of her Swan Song Series marking her unofficial-official “retirement” from the music biz.
Recorded onto a reel marked “Breeders Demos” (the sequel to Pod was originally meant to showcase Tanya’s songs), the demos have been bootlegged across the internet but never officially released as a matched set.
The demos have a delicate, hushed quality (Donelly calls them “quiet and spidery”) that is really special. If you haven’t heard them, treat yourself to the whole set — a steal at $4.
To celebrate, I’m posting my Belly interview from the very FIRST print issue of WARPED REALITY, published a few months after Star came out.
Nice-T: Tanya Donelly Gets Her Own Band at Last
Tanya Donelly and her band Belly breezed into the press conference wearing white tuxedos and corsages. “It’s a contest to make ourselves as uncomfortable as possible,” laughed lead singer and songwriter Donelly.
“…and to hope that it rubs off on you,” quipped bassist Gail Greenwood to all of the journalists present.
A short while later, one intrepid reporter got up and asked the band,” How was prom?” — to which Tanya mock-tearfully replied, “I’m still a virgin, so it didn’t go so good.”
Alright, so prom was a bust, but things are definitely going well for Belly.
Since its release in January , their debut album Star has sold more than 200,000 copies.
Tanya’s winsome and dark fairy tales, partnered with her strong sense of melody, have garnered the band both popular and critical acclaim.
So what does all this success mean to the band?
“It means we can afford some new duds,” laughs drummer/graphic designer Chris Gorman, referring to the bands’ formal attire.
For Tanya, it means being (at last) in the spotlight — an exciting but sometimes nerve-wracking prospect.
For 8 years, she was second guitarist and occasional songwriter for her stepsister Kristin Hersh’s band, Throwing Muses.
For one album and an EP she did the same for Pixie Kim Deal’s band the Breeders.
In 1991, after Throwing Muses’ Real Ramona tour, she decided to strike out on her own. She recruited Muses bassist Fred Abong and childhood friends Tom and Chris Gorman — Belly was born.
Tanya is adamant that she wasn’t creatively “stifled” in the Muses: “It was the kind of situation where the two songs you heard were the two that I’d written that year,” she explains. “I had just recently started to write more. And any small tensions that did happen — well, I left before it could get weird.”
Tanya notes that she could not have left the Muses before that. Not only did she not have enough songs, but she wasn’t ready to form her own group, either emotionally or practically.
To her, being the center of attention means “having to show you’re a fun person all the time.”
But she’s learning, thanks to Gail, who’s extremely funny and with whom she shares an excellent rapport — and to her own growing confidence as a songwriter and performer.
Tanya isn’t letting all this “flavor of the month” status in the fickle alt-rock world — Buzz Bin on MTV, Rolling Stone photo shoots, Gap ad — go to her head.
And the band’s live show is gelling too. When I saw the band at CMJ in October, Tanya seemed shy and barely talked to the audience.
By contrast, at a recent show at the Paradise in Boston, Tanya joked between songs, even going so far as to have the lighting engineer illuminate the big zit that she was “cultivating” on her nose. “I rub butter in it every day!” she laughed.
What does the future hold for Belly? The next album is going to be more collaborative,” promises Tanya. “We’ll be doing nude performance art,” quips Tom. “After that,” continues Tanya, “I don’t know — we don’t have a lot of foresight. We’re just touring for a while, and then we’ll be making another record, and then we’ll be touring again!”
I’m sure that the next time around, prom will be perfect — or as Gail would say, “Kill-ah!”
Buy Tanya’s Swan Song Series on Bandcamp.
PHOTOS: TUXES BY ANDREA FELDMAN | TANYA + GAIL SHOTS BY SCOTT KARDON