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By Christopher Stipp

Archives? Right Here…

In the end the letter would sit there until I finished this piece. More on that in just a moment.

When I stumbled upon Belly, most known to many as the group who made “Feed The Tree” a part of so many mix tapes in the early 90’s, I was emerging from my chrysalis of musical ignorance. My diet, until then, consisted of a milquetoast cadre of hip-hop, rap, R&B and every bland, vanilla, soul-crushing Top 40 hit you could ostensibly name. It was my senior year in high school and I was, understandably so, teased and publicly harangued for my taste in music. When other students pined for tickets to see U2 during their Zooropa tour I was steeped in the rhythm and soul of the musical choreography put on by Janet Jackson when she came through town in support of her JANET album.

It wasn’t until after I graduated high school, nearly 18 years of age, in the spring of 1993 when a friend took me to see 10,000 Maniacs at a huge outdoor amphitheater in Illinois. You want a definition of “watershed”? That was it. The musicianship, lyrical richness, passion, energy, all these things collided in my body and I knew I had a conversion of some profound kind.

It wasn’t until a few weeks had passed when I leaned of the Maniacs’ demise. Just as I thought it would be a good idea to dip a toe into this brave new world it was all I could do to try and keep myself from slipping back into old BPM habits. You have to understand that it is not a joke when I say that I still hadn’t yet purchased a Rock album, not even after the Maniacs show, once in my life. Ever.

But, it was Tanya Donelly who wrested my wallet free from my stingy pocket and it couldn’t have happened in the most odd way.

It was strange but as I was channel surfing one afternoon Tanya gave an interview to a local reporter in Chicago about an upcoming show she was getting ready to do with her band Belly. During the story they played a clip from the “Feed The Tree” video. While I took enough notice that I’ve never forgotten about it, and this is the important part of the story, it didn’t do a whole lot for me. Nothing, in fact. What happened, though, during the following weeks is notable in that the news segment stayed with me. The clip replayed over and over again in my head. I was humming “Feed The Tree” to myself every now and then when it played on the radio. The tune had such internal resonance for me that Belly’s STAR would be the very first Rock album I would ever purchase in the USED section of a small record store and, to this day, represents where my musical renaissance began.

I started purchasing mass quantities of CDs, eschewing the latest urban additions as if they were the ugly girlfriend I was happy to have cheated on, and I can tell you there has never been a time in my life, from the Summer of 1993 to the Summer of 1995 where I assimilated so many different variations on an alternative theme. From Juliana Hatfield, The Blake Babies, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, to KMFDM, Curve, Elastica, Rage Against The Machine, I was just insatiable. Although, I never forgot about Belly and, in fact, I was voracious in my consumption. From $30 imports from Japan, a special order vinyl that had just one notable song on it that I just had to have and pestered some poor record store owner as to whether it arrived, rough sounding bootlegs of Belly shows, to say nothing of the singles, magazines, tickets, of buying everything at their merchandise table when they finally came back to Chicago, I was enamored to the point of fiscal bankruptcy when it came to Belly. The music just did something to me that I still can’t explain very well without sounding like a complete geek. It was the mixture of lyrics and melody that defied you to listen to a world that wasn’t controlled by Cock Rock Neanderthals who only wanted to sing about the superfluous nature of their “dark” and “misunderstood” lives. Tanya had a grip on these things and, instead, used her music to work out more thought-provoking issues.

I remember standing in line, a line of one actually, during a bitterly cold October afternoon in 1995 as I kept my place in line for a show that would be one of Belly’s last. Determined to be the first person through that door to see the General Admission show, only to recede to the back bar area after the first song, it was at show I learned I had a condition that I didn’t know about: claustrophobia. However, I still remember the three times I did see the band to be on par with the arena rockers I would later measure everyone else against; being in a small club didn’t matter, it was more intimate and I remember Tanya always leaving the stage with a smile, not a sneer and splintered musical equipment, in her wake.

The band’s demise shortly after the tour that year and Tanya’s eventual solo career has been one, for me anyway, of evolution. I think I would’ve grown embarrassed as I reflect on the amount of my spending, my stumping, my need to collect everything, my unadulterated support for a band that just played musical notes and chords if it wasn’t for the book I wrote that was inspired by those two years of self-exploration and unwavering devotion. Tanya evolved as well. She got married to the bassist of Juliana Hatfield’s band, Dean Fisher, had two children, Grace Bee Fisher and little Harriet Pearl Fisher, and still turns out some of the most evocative and melodic that no one I know seems to be listening to.

Her latest, THIS HUNGRY LIFE, is a live album that puts to shame any live album you have in your collection for the simple fact that this is sold as a live album, yes, but it sounds unbelievably sharp. I would dare any casual listener to try and take a taste test of this album and, save for the clapping at the end of songs, try and pick out the imperfections. It’s that precise and it was good enough to get me riled up enough after sensing, again, no one cared about me talking about it in public, and I decided to see what I could do in devoting an entire column to Tanya and this work.

It’s not often I get to talk to someone who has been the basis for so much of my own creative endeavors, who really is at the core, the nexus, of who I hold up as the litmus test for any artist who wants to preen, whine, play dress-up, break a guitar or two or do anything less than make great music and enjoy the station they’ve been given in life. In fact, I count this interview as the completion of a circle she started drawing for me in the ephemera almost 14 years ago; damn near ½ of my entire life on this planet.

She was an absolute joy and delight to talk to, my hand was getting numb from inserting so many “(Laughs)” into the piece, as I played the part of journalist and geeky fanboy all at the same time; she managed to top Lost’s Josh Holloway as the person who exuded the greatest sense of joy while talking to me, a complete stranger. We talk about her music, her passions, her kids, her inspirations and I even manage to take a jab at her procrastination that, unless it was just great timing, yielded the motherload of every Belly nerd out there.

It was at the end of the conversation, though, that Tanya inquired about the book I wrote and it’s involvement of her music in it. She insisted that she send payment for a copy of her own even after my heart sank as I tried to stop that nonsense (I would’ve sent every other copy I had for free), feeling not only like I was the kid in the Mean Joe Green Coke commercial who is overcome with gratitude for that sweaty jersey, but when that envelope came to my house it sat on my desk unopened until this week, only after the construction of this piece had been completed. It was only after the work was done did I ever feel entitled to enjoy the spoils of my labor and thankfully with Tanya’s consistent output of music she is still amazing me in a way that makes me feel 18 again when I wait for that special New Music Tuesday to roll around in anticipation of a new album and I can see what else is on her mind this time.

Here’s to hoping she never stops trying to part me with my money.

CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Hi, is Tanya there?

TANYA DONELLY: Yup, that’s me.

CS: This is Chris.

DONELLY: Hi, how are you?

CS: I’m fine. How are you doing?

DONELLY: Doing very well, thanks…I’ve got a new baby.

CS: Yes, congratulations on that.

DONELLY: Thank you so much. There’s a lot of juggling going on in that department.

CS: I just put my one-year old down for her morning nap.

(Laughs)

DONELLY: That’s what mine is doing right now.

CS: And I don’t think she was really ready yet, either. I just knew this interview was coming up and said to her, “You’re going down within the next twenty minutes.”

DONELLY: That’s what I did too. Hopefully that’ll work out.

CS: It’s an odd thing, trying to coordinate their schedules around my schedule. Life doesn’t feel like it’s about me anymore but I’m fine with that. But let’s get into it with the fact that this album, THIS HUNGRY LIFE, has been out for a few months. I bought it the day it came out and have been loving listening to it ever since.

DONELLY: Thank you very much.

CS: And it’s weird insofar that when I heard this was going to be a live album I was expecting something less than what this record actually is. The clarity, sharpness and precision on THIS HUNGRY LIFE trumps any live recording in my collection.

DONELLY: Well, we did the multiple takes of things. It was more that we wanted people to be there while we were recording so they suffered through us starting over sometimes, multiple takes and lots of tuning because that’s what I really wanted to do rather than just taping a show. I really wanted it to be people in the studio with me, sort of speak. It was fun.

CS: Now, was it the ten core songs that eventually made it onto the album or were there other…

DONELLY: No, we also did a set…We also recorded a set of…Because we went straight to Bellows Falls from touring the record before that so there’s actually live recordings of WHISKEY TANGO that we did on tour which I will probably put up on the site.

CS: You know, since you went there, I did my homework preparing this interview and I know I’ve read that in a few places. “When I get to it…” “When I get to it…” What is up with….

(Laughs)

DONELLY: I just have to give my web mistress just a ton of stuff and let her struggle with it. I’ll find some of the archived material and hand it over and…she can deal with it.

CS: And, because I am an uber nerd, and I’ve been a fan for a long time, I’ve known that you’ve said you were looking to put out a children’s album. Where is that? I have a child that’s nearly four and I flatly REFUSE to allow the Wiggles anywhere near my stereo.

DONELLY: I know!

(Sighs)

It’s just been…It’s the kind of thing where we put it together, a bunch of us, and then we were really excited about it at the time and then it just got passed over and passed over and passed over and everybody started losing their enthusiasm, which happens…The main thing people are saying is that it is all over the place. Too much different…I mean that’s what we liked about it.

CS: Right.

DONELLY: It’s very varied but it’s what labels don’t like. I guess…I don’t know…Children’s music, so we’re told, except for a few very lucky instances, children’s music doesn’t really sell well. Stuff like The Wiggles will because it’s completely catered…and this is not at all. This is like regular rock music with just lyrics that are appropriate. So, people are just having a hard time figuring out just how to market it. At this point, the woman who started the whole project, Chris Tappin, she’s probably going to put it up on CD Baby and we’re waiting to hear…she’s going to let me know if that happens and then I’m going to let people know.

CS: Good. Good to hear. I am just not down with a lot of children’s music that’s out there.

DONELLY: I know…

Well, neither is my daughter. She just listened to what we listened to…she never really listened to the kids music, per se. In fact, the other day, just to give you a little window into her perspective on the world, I said as we were looking at something to listen to, I said, “Do you want to listen to The Beatles?” And she said, “Mom, that’s a little baby-ish for me.”

CS: Geez…What is she really into then nowadays?

DONELLY: She likes Blondie a lot. She likes Smoosh. You know who they are?

CS: No.

DONELLY: Is your oldest a girl?

CS: Yup.

DONELLY: You should check them out. It’s S-M-O-O-S-H. They’re an indie band of two sisters…and I don’t even want to say they’re four kids because they have a huge adult following. I wouldn’t even say it’s kid’s music, it’s just music that just happens to be made by kids. And they’re great.

[Chris' note: I hope this doesn't get me on NBC's To Catch A Predator but I checked them out and this is a really great band of girls who know how to rock the mic.]

CS: Was that important to you as a parent when you became one, coming from a fairly rich musical pedigree, to give your kids a full exposure to different kinds of music?

DONELLY: I was less focused on what I wanted her to listen to than what I did NOT want her to listen to. Our attitude from the beginning was if it’s driving us crazy, it’s not good for the family. (Laughs)

So, we sort of played her the stuff we liked and she likes that. She likes that stuff…She’s a big Vic Chesnutt fan. She loved him…When she was little she called him “Vic Ketchup.” And Big Star, she really likes, and she also has her…she and her friends listen to things like “High School Musical.” She has to have SOMETHING that doesn’t belong to…has nothing to do with us.

CS: Of course.

DONELLY: Hanna Montana.

CS: Not Hanna Montana. The child of Tanya Donelly and Dean Fisher …Hanna Montana.

DONELLY: I just don’t say anything. You know, I listened to Shaun Cassidy when I was her age so…That’s the kind of stuff that you laugh at affectionately. It’s not harmful; there’s no harm in it. It doesn’t really bug me as long as she still…she’s good at compartmentalizing. (Laughs)

CS: And that wasn’t difficult? Exposing her to that kind of music as a kid? I only ask because I’m thinking of mounting some kind of campaign to get my kid to listen to Wilco, Neko Case…

DONELLY: No! It’s amazing how they get it. Like Gracie loves the fact that David Bowie is always dressed up. He’s cool, he’s a different person all the time, he dresses up, he has all these songs and characters. They get into that you know what I mean? They way that she listens to stuff…I find things in it that I had forgotten about when I was a kid. There’s so much that they can re-introduce YOU to when you’re introducing music to them.

CS: One of the things, and it makes me feel old to say it, of being a fan now for fifteen years, the lyrical content of your music, while it has always been rich and melodic, there has always been a dark undercurrent of things you’ve said have been auto-biographical, things you’re dealing with, I’m speaking here presently of a great example off of THIS HUNGRY LIFE, “Kundalini Slide”. That’s a dark song but unbelievably deceptive with how delicate it sounds. Is motherhood helping to make sense of the world, life, in general?

DONELLY: I think motherhood makes me focus on hope more than I did but it doesn’t but…it’s not a cure-all for what ails me or anyone in this world. I don’t know, that’s a tough one because sometimes I feel like it really changes the way I write and, other times, when I actually sit down and listen to stuff I’m like, “Nah, not really.” (Laughs) “Not so much.” But, I think that stuff stays in my music more than it used to now that I am functioning for people other than myself.

And it still comes out. On a song like “Kundalini Slide” those concerns, I think, are more global than just my own little…shit. And I do tend to think more outside of myself, obviously, that’s what happens, as you know, so that manifests itself rather differently now, it’s more concerned for everyone else. “How can I fix things for my children?” It’s making sure that I function well for my children and do what I can to make this a better place.

CS: And how is the writing process for you now? Do you have the same kind of groove, methodology, you’ve always had?

DONELLY: No, it’s completely different because it’s so much more structured. Especially with two kids there’s no such thing as ‘drop everything and write’ anymore. I have no books in my diaper bag.

(Laughs)

I do what I can! You just don’t have the luxury anymore of saying, “I think I’ll write today.” It’s more like little scraps of paper everywhere and when I have time in the evening, if I’m not exhausted, I’ll put it together.

CS: I believe you’re deserving of a lot of credit. Not so much for just creating the music you did that put you in the public sphere years ago but because you’ve been so prolific since then with your recordings you’ve released with the amount of responsibility you’ve had in the last few years. Has that been a conscious decision, to stay on top of your art?

DONELLY: Yeah. We are very fortunate in that we’re still are managing to get by without day jobs. And I think that being the case it gives us the opportunity to still make this work. As a result, I can still release more than I might if I had to be working all the time.

It sounds like you have a day that’s similar to mine…

CS: Yeah, you’re right. I absolutely find that I am able to write better after everyone has gone to sleep. I do my column late at night or trade in eating a lunch to get in some good, solid writing. Just with trying to start my second book it has been very difficult because I just don’t have that kind of quality time anymore.

DONELLY: Yeah, I know, I know. You just have to mourn that and go, “Alright, how do I get it done now?”

And, speaking of that, I heard about your book but I haven’t had the chance to hunt it down…

CS: Oh…You know, I’ll make this a brief story: It was written about six years ago, it had Belly as a sub-plot but only in the sense that I had the germ to write it when I learned of Belly’s demise. I almost am loathe to admit that my iPod is jammed full of Belly bootlegs, B-Sides, Singles, albums, tribute albums from other fans circa 1995, everything and anything; the band meant a lot, artistically, to me as a listener of music.

DONELLY: Oh, that’s cool.

CS: Yeah, but that’s also strays into Uber Nerd territory. The story itself, the core of which deals with the demise of things you never know about until it’s too late to do anything about, was just too tempting not to weave the band into the narrative.

DONELLY: Wow, that’s amazing.

CS: I self-published it, got a well-known artist to draw the cover for me and when it was all said and done I sent a copy your way, just as a cosmic way to say “Thanks” for the muse-like inspiration.

DONELLY: You know, things used to be so…I’ll say that there isn’t hardly any filter between my mail and me.

What is it called?

CS: “Thank You, Goodnight.” At the end of the day it’s a story of people when it’s post-coming of age and they’re in that nebulous area of when it’s pre-adulthood. It was kismet when I wrote it because I did this all right before my first daughter was born.

DONELLY: That is so great.

CS: It’s amusing…We actually talked, twice before this, during Belly’s last tour in 1995. You did a show at the University of Illinois and then a show in Chicago a few days later in late October. The first time, at UOI, you were enjoying a book and I intruded lightly. And then, in Chicago, I was standing in line, the first, from about noon until show time. That’s borderline lame and sad at the same time. It’s damn near embarrassing for me to even think about.

DONELLY: No, believe me. I have had plenty of those.

(Laughs)

I just spent the weekend with Gail [Greenwood, Belly’s former bassist] and we had a big, mushy, sentimental time so it’s completely ripe for this conversation.

CS: How is she doing?

DONELLY: She’s awesome. She’s great. She’s still making music with her mate but mostly she’s doing graphic design right now. They have a graphic design company that’s extremely successful. She’s just busy, busy, busy.

CS: Since we’re kind of on the topic, I know you’ve said that there were so many other songs Belly has done that no one has heard and it’s come back to the line, “When I get the time…”

DONELLY: Well, the main thing that I want to release are the demos. For STAR, which are actually Breeder’s demos, which, unfortunately, when I went back to try to mix it down the integrity of the tape is a little bit compromised…because they’re so freakin’ old…but I think Ivo Watts-Russell, who used to run 4AD, I think he has a CD of it. I’m going to see if I can wrestle that away from him and just put it up as-is.

CS: I’d like to know…When I was looking back at the period when Belly was nominated for a Grammy, when you were probably at that critical and media saturation point where it was nonstop attention, and now you’re at the point where you can comfortably do whatever you want is there some acceptance of that time for what it was?

DONELLY: Oh yeah. I do and for a long time I wrestled…there were a few years there where I was like, “Why am I so OK with this?” With the fact that I’m not famous anymore because I do have a tendency to push things down until they…start to form cysts.

(Laughs)

And so I thought, “Oh, here I go…” where I go around with my hippy-dippy face on and just say, “Oh, it’s OK. The universe has given me so much and I’m fine…” And I was trying to just, “Let’s get this out. Let’s weep. Let’s grieve.” And I did. Briefly.

But, I am fine.

And it took me years to kind of figure out, “Oh, I’m just fine and let’s accept the fact.” It’s not like I couldn’t handle fame anyway. I mean, that was so cool that I got to do that and we had such a blast and now I get to do other stuff that I wouldn’t be able to do if I was still doing that. I’m a full-time mother to my children and I still get to make music…I have time to write and time to do other things that I want to do and do projects with other people. And, you know, I really do feel like I’m fine and especially with raising kids I would rather do that under the radar, so to speak. I think everything has worked out.

The only thing is…is sometimes I wish I could get this music to more people. That’s the only thing but it’s never a lifestyle issue for a second.

CS: I think that’s one of the nicest things of being in the place I’m in today, after following the band as long as I have, for as much as I care about the music and what it means to me, is that I can honestly state that I don’t know of an artist who has matured and evolved as well as you have.

DONELLY: Well, thank you. My gosh…

CS: When you get down to it, you can be as experimental as you want, but it does all come down to the music and the quality of it.

DONELLY: Yeah, I know, and that’s definitely true. And when you are in the thick of it and you’ve got A LOT of people involved in your music, it gets convoluted. You can have as much integrity as a person can have and you still have twenty people constantly in your ear telling you what’s going to happen next and your process and how you’re going to do it and when they need it and how they need it. It doesn’t matter how shut-in you try to be, it gets in there. And I don’t have to deal with that.

CS: Did that happen with KING’s creation?

DONELLY: KING was not so much…not so much with KING because, at that point, everyone just trusted us implicitly because STAR was such a fluke. There was no buzz around STAR until it happened. The label was not like, “Oooh, this is going to be so amazing.” And because that was such a big surprise they essentially said, “Ok, just do it again.”

And when Belly broke up, and with my first solo record, they sent me back in a few times, it was mixed a couple of times, they made me write more and take songs off and put songs on. They were very…on top of that one. Which, at the time, I was kind of in a panic myself, that was my year of panic, and then after that I calmed down.

CS: Do you think you’re calmer about the process?

DONELLY: Yeah, because music is in a very different place in my life now. It’s a part of my life, it’s not the theme anymore; it’s in there, it’s a part of a larger holistic picture now and it’s not the only thing that I have.

CS: Is the process as therapeutic as it has been or is there a shift in it’s ability to…

DONELLY: Oh, definitely. Absolutely therapeutic.

Writing a song is still one of my greatest joys and it’s how I stay healthy…it’s like anything you do for your health. I need to do that and I enjoy doing it. It’s weird, and it’s such a great position to be in too, as the whole family is in on it. Dean and I write together and play together and Gracie is right there with her suggestions. It’s really nice because it’s part of our life together.

CS: To that point, on one of my favorite songs “White Belly” is just saturated in darkness but it’s so melodic and peaceful to listen to. Do you take a song like that, something that’s really quite heavy and then try to find a way, pushing the content aside, to make it digestible?

DONELLY: Yeah, you know, that’s a really good question because for years…and I think this one of those un-self-aware things that, when you’re young, because I said, “Oh, no, no, no, it’s just natural. It’s the way I write.” And I do think that to a certain extent that’s true. I’m much more attracted to melody even though the stuff I’m interested in singing about is not always pretty but I’m very attracted to melody. But, as a person…(Laughs)…the older I get the more I realize as a person I tend to, when I’m dealing with something, past or present, I do tend to do it in a very “How can we make this easy?” sort of way. I’m not a head-on, confrontational person. I’m more of a “Let’s all sit down and talk about it”, “Let’s go to the beach”, “Let’s figure this out,” kind of person. So, musically, that’s how it happens for me too. It goes, “I have to say something very ugly right now so I’m going to make it really pretty to listen to.”

CS: And your husband, Dean, is an amazing musician as well. I remember seeing him play live when he toured with Juliana Hatfield, has he been a good sounding board for your music or do you have your own way of doing things?

DONELLY: It depends on the song. He’s a great arranger.

Some of the things I do pop out full-blown and there it is, that’s it, it’s done. And sometimes I definitely will say “Can you help me with this one?” and more and more, I have to say, he has become sort of the musical director when we’re recording. Like he and I will hash things out at home and he’ll actually do a lot of the showing people the song, what’s going on with it, because I’ve always got a baby on the hip or…I mean I haven’t handed it over completely but, to be honest, the places where I excel are more during the songwriting process and playing live and, as far as being in the studio goes, I have shorter and shorter patience with it.

I’ll go in on the first day and say, “This is the song, this is what I kind of want to do…” and then Dean will hash things through and bring it back to me. He’s become sort of liaison in a way. Which works out GREAT for both of us because that the stuff he loves and I get to do the things I love and it just works out real well; it’s been very fortuitous that we have the kind of strength and interest we have.

CS: You mentioned playing live. I know you’ve said you’ve had issues with stage fright in the past. Has that waned a little bit?

DONELLY: It has, a little bit. I still get very nervous but I don’t get…(Laughs)…It’s not a pathological condition. I think it’s just more natural stage fright that anyone would have and it’s not so horrible as it used to be.

CS: Any hint that you’re going to be touring a little bit more than you have been?

DONELLY: Well, we’re going to do something in the summer, is what we’re going to do and I’m hoping…and I don’t know if I should…Kristen and I are sort of talking… it’s SO beginning stages…and probably silly…but we’re trying to hash out something to experience something together this summer. Manly, because we miss each other and, also, I just think it would be fun for people and fun for us. I can’t see why it wouldn’t work out at this point. It would be mid- to late-summer we’re thinking.

CS: And where is that children’s book of yours?

DONELLY: That has fallen so far…

CS: D.O.A?

DONELLY: I just took it out a few weeks ago and I wrote another chapter and I kind of worked on some stuff and then I put it back and, at this point, that’s how it’s going. I have this image of myself, breastfeeding on the couch while I write my book. (Laughs) It’s not quite panning out.

CS: Oh, come on. Did you really think that would work? I could have told you that years ago!

DONELLY: It’s not going to work at all.

CS: Then what’s the deal? They’re like ten pages long. I read them every night. It’s the biggest con in the book business. Just write ten sentences and you’re golden, you’re done…

DONELLY: Right! But this is a young adults book.

CS: Ah, OK…

DONELLY: Not even young adults, more like ten to twelve year-old girls. Adventure girls kind of stuff. That one’s going to be a long time coming…Actually, at one point I was thinking, “I wonder if could make this a much littler kids book?” but there’s too much I wanted to do in it.

CS: Any good inspirations, then? I know you’re a voracious reader…

DONELLY: Yeah, Gracie is at the point where she’s starting to read really interesting stuff so I have been reading a lot of, I pre-read things for her, so I read a lot of interesting…There’s a lot of good young adult work out there.

CS: Lemony Snicket?

DONELLY: She doesn’t like that….She’s not crazy about that yet. She really wants to be but she gets creeped out.

CS: What have you been into?

DONELLY: I’ve been reading a lot of travel non-fiction lately just because I’m interested in the world right now and…I’ve been reading just really weird, weird stuff. Like I just finished a book on the Moors of al-Andalus. Something will pique my interest and I’ll go to the library and read a book on it. I’m mostly into non-fiction right now but the last real good piece of fiction I read was “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” And I was just going to start the new John Irving book my mom just got me, “Until I Find You.”

CS: Irving has been a rather strong writer. He’s produced a lot of good work.

DONELLY: He wrote one of my very favorite books, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Some of his stuff I just really love.

CS: Since I only had a couple more questions I just wanted to know, because I’m getting older and these things are getting harder to find, what new music should I be listening to? What has rocked your boat lately?

DONELLY: What a bad question…only because it makes me feel so guilty. I really like the new Cat Power record.

CS: I’m a huge Mazzy Star fan and a friend said based on that I should find something enjoyable on the album.

DONELLY: Oh, you would. Absolutely. And, Joanna Newsom; I like all her stuff, actually.

[Tanya asks Hattie what mom listens to. Other than a gurgle and a coo, no new information is forthcoming.]

I know that my husband is a big jazz fan. He is a big everything fan.

CS: Does he have like the big, expensive high fidelity set-up in the house?

DONELLY: No. No, no, no. He’s not like that but he has been collecting a lot of stuff lately. What else? Hmm…What else? Those two are really the only things I can think of. I know, though, as soon as I get off the phone I am going to think…

CS: Of a few, right. Gary Smith asked me that question and it put me in such a quandary because it’s hard for me, nowadays, to find good music. The musical landscape, when I open Rolling Stone [Evidenced by the current issue with Panic! At the Disco on the cover] and realize that I can’t relate to the mascara wearing boys preening and emo’ing their hearts out.

DONELLY: Yeah, Dean keeps up with it. He’s impressive because he listens to all…he just got an iPod and he listens to everything, all kinds of stuff but, me, I don’t really as much. It’s annoying to say but I’ve been listening to a lot of African music.

CS: Really? Like Ladysmith Black Mambazo?

DONELLY: No, no…Yeah, a lot of compilations because, what I am doing right now, is trying to figure out what I like…OH! I know something! Joan as Police Woman. It’s my friend, Joan, Joan Wasser, who played violin on the record, the new record of mine and she has her own record out which is really beautiful. It’s called REAL LIFE. So, I have been, actually, listening to that. A lot of nepotism going on in our house.

CS: Where do you see yourself evolving in the next few years, musically? To read your lyrics you’ve already run the gamut of life, death, religion and everything in between. Is there light at the end of all this or are there always those things which will gnaw at you?

DONELLY: Oh everything, that’s going to happen. For the most part I am a person who walks in the sun in my daily life and the only place where I can process, aside from conversations with my husband, that’s where I process my anger. One thing I have been doing, though, is doing a project here and there with other people which may or may not see the light of day so I have to stop talking about all these possibilities.

CS: Because it’s evident you can’t follow-up on anything you talk about!

(Laughs)

DONELLY: Exactly!

(I laugh)

CS: You’re awful and I have no problem saying that from the side of a frustrated fan who needs more good music in their lives. You’re a disappointment as a woman of inspiration to so many, namely me.

DONELLY: It just takes me years to do these things but it’s fun because it brings out stuff I don’t usually do, that wouldn’t come out of me otherwise. More collaborations, maybe, in my future.

CS: Well, thank you so much for talking with me, Tanya.

DONELLY: Thank you so much.

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