(TW: mention of rape, sexual assault)
Stella Donnelly is on the up – winning two awards this past year in her native Australia and headlining her first UK show in November. Although this is her first solo EP, she is an experienced musician, playing in two bands (BOAT SHOW and Bells Rapids) and has been working on these songs for the past two years. The title of the EP, Thrush Metal, is a wonderful primer for Stella herself: female, funny and fearless. In a recent interview with the music blog Isolated Nation, she recounts a gig at a New Years Eve party a couple years ago where during her set she heard some “rich, old, white guy” say “When is this bitch gonna be over? She makes me suicidal.” Rather than being offended she felt empowered – this is exactly how she wants rich, old, white guys to feel listening to her music. I really like her. I also really like her music (SPOILERS).
‘Boys Will Be Boys’ is the rawest track on the EP, and the one that I’m sure will stick most in the minds of listeners. Be prepared, this one’s a sucker punch. In it, the artist is addressing her friend’s rapist, with brutally direct lyrics and a raw anger behind her voice. The lo-fi production and atmospheric tone of Thrush Metal means it’s perfect as a bit of moody background music for staring out of train windows or staying up until the early hours. However, when this song comes on, it pulls me out of any self-indulgent daydream I might be in and demands my full attention. Lyrics such as “your father told you that you were innocent / told you women rape themselves” are not easily ignored. I very much hope that this song is not written from a personal perspective but I also know that hope is naive and unhelpful. We all know this is not just personal. Recently, Stella Donnelly signed an open letter calling out the Australian music industry, along with hundreds of other women (many of whom have been driven out of the industry because of its toxic culture). The letter details numerous stories of harassment and sexual assault and, like the song, is as moving as it is necessary. Read the full letter here.
The other 4 songs on the EP give the listener a better understanding of Stella herself, this young woman from Perth. All are addressed to some anonymous ‘you’; a ‘you’ who she has something to say to; a ‘you’ who she is better without, whether she fully realises this yet or not. Stella admits in interviews that her songs are all deeply personal, though this much is clear from the music itself – the single electric guitar accompanying her, the tone of her voice (sometimes softened with a smile, sometimes howling with rage), the intimacy of it all. In ‘Mechanical Bull’, she’ll try and be the thing you want her to be, the “darling, tits, legs, honey sweetpea” – until she gets sick of it and throws you off, that is. In ‘Mean to Me’, she confesses “I can be rotten but I slowly gotta please.” The song ‘Grey’ is about her trying so hard to be the perfect colour for you that she ends up not really being a colour at all, just waiting for you to decide. Taking these songs together, it seems that Stella has spent a lot of her time giving too much of herself to people too willing to take; I know a lot of women like her. This EP feels like her recognising this and confronting the people who have let her down over the years.
It’s tiring not being listened to. Being talked-over, victim-blamed, misunderstood. All any of us need is to feel heard, in some meaningful way, by those who we need to listen. There is no better way of understanding a person, in a deep, genuine sense, than by listening to their music. When someone makes music, they let an echo of themselves out into the world, allowing it to reverberate endlessly in places they’ll never know. I think that’s why I’ve been listening to a lot of female artists lately – from Angel Olsen to Cardi B, Dua Lipa to Julia Holter – so I can listen to what they have to say and, in some small way, feel heard through our shared experience. I think Stella Donnelly is tired too and with this EP, deserves to have people finally listen.
-- Freddie Martin, December 15, 2017