A founding member of Throwing Muses and the Breeders, Tanya Donelly left to start her own band Belly in the early 1990’s. Their debut album Star sold two million copies worldwide and the band were nominated for two Grammys.
The band split in 1996 following the release of their sophomore album King and subsequent touring with R.E.M. Since the split Tanya has had a successful solo career, releasing several solo albums up to and including this year’s compilation of her recent Swansong EPs. Tanya also made a recent guest appearance on ‘Paper Thin’ by Bristol based singer-songwriter and former BLM cover star She Makes War.
In February his year it was announced that Belly will be reforming with the line up consisting of Tanya, Gail Greenwood, Tom Gorman and Chris Gorman. We set the band some questions in advance of the band’s UK tour which stops off at Bristol’s O2 Academy on July 20th.
Why reform Belly? Why is 2016 the right time for a reunion?
Chris: Each member will give you a slightly different answer – it has been a topic that gets kicked around every couple of years. There has always been social, geographical and familial overlap between all belly members so there’s always been a hint of possibility, but it never seemed right.
Musically Tanya has played some charity events sharing the stage with Gail, and then more recently her Swan Song series included collaborations with Gail’s band Benny Sizzler and then came some songs written with Tom. Somehow in 2015 there was no good answer to the question “why not?” and we started to consider the possibilities. I think we were all in a place with our jobs and families where it became a ‘now or never’ discussion, and as soon as our US booking agents floated the idea and received overwhelming interest from promoters we just stepped off the cliff.
I think a real crucial aspect became the conversations around new material. Its one thing to get together and trot out the hits, but there is a different energy involved in creating new music as a joint effort. Before our first rehearsal as a group new song ideas began circulating via email and it was pretty clear that a particular creative chemistry was still very strong as we all started making contributions to the tracks working them into real collective Belly songs. Once a song passes through a communal filter it really does become its own unique thing, a band thing, and its that process that really made it clear that the time was right.
Did Tanya touring again with Throwing Muses have any part in the decision to reform Belly?
Tanya: The Muses tour was wonderful, and very fun and familiar, and probably tilled the soil for a Belly reunion for me personally, but the decision to commit was fueled more by my collaborations with Gail (and her band Benny Sizzler) and with Tom for my Swan Song Series, and by conversations that came up in person and via email, and through the simple fact of hanging out together. Similar to the Muses example, we are all in a place now to be able to take the time to focus on this tour.
When was the last time Belly played Bristol? Do you have any fond memories of the city?
Gail: We last played Bristol Feb 24, 1995. At Bristol University. I personally remember a beautiful old city where I bought a miniature jelly roll on a plate at a dollhouse and miniatures shop.
Tanya: I remember this shop!– and the beautiful river. And very good food, too…
How did Tanya’s collaboration with Bristol resident She Makes War come about?
Tanya: I knew Laura initially through my sister Kristin, and she and I struck up an acquaintance that turned into a friendship. We became virtual pen pals and I asked her to sing with me during my solo set before the Muses show in Bristol two years ago. I love her music, so when she asked me to sing on ‘Paper Thin’, I was very happy to join in on this beautiful song.
Are there any special plans for the UK tour and the Bristol gig in particular?
Tom: Well, this is a really limited tour – we’ve got other jobs, we’ve got families and other obligations and all the usual adult ‘life’ stuff – but I think we’re all approaching the whole thing as really kind of ‘special’.
It might not have ever even happened (strangely though, now that it is it kind of feels like it was inevitable). We’re not carrying full production and it’s actually all quite stripped-down and DIY, so it’s really about the material and the chemistry of us all playing together again, and that’s the important stuff. We’re really having fun rehearsing for this and I think we’re really going to have fun playing the shows. We hope that makes it fun and special for everyone who comes to see us.
Will there be any new material on this tour?
Tom: Yes; there are a handful of new songs we’ve been having a lot of fun working out. They’re definitely Belly, but also a little different, too – in the same way that we’re basically the same people we were, but we’re also changed and different.
Can you tell us a bit about the Swan Song series of EPs and the recent Swan Song compilation?
Tanya: The series was originally intended to be a retirement party in a way, at least in terms of any work released in my name. But it served to re-energise me instead; probably the obvious outcome.
Every song is a collaboration with an author and/or musician I admire and love. I tapped so many talented and amazing artists for this series, and I feel extremely fortunate and proud of this big batch of songs. I realized after Volume 5 that it might never end unless I gave it a physical body, and I wanted to hold the full package in my hands (with the art of Sue McNally attached to the music), so I went to American Laundromat and asked them if they wanted to release it as a whole. They said Yes.
What are your future plans?
Tanya: New Belly songs will be released at some point, though the form isn’t yet fully decided yet. But we are writing and have a very good (imho) bunch coming along.
As far as future plans in general: tomorrow never knows.
Belly play the O2 academy on 20th July.
Check out ‘Feed The Tree’ below: