Stella Donnelly might be the only person at SXSW playing showcases for two different countries. The Australian artist is, obviously, repping for Down Under while in Austin, but she’s also on the bill for the Focus Wales showcase too. “I feel so cheeky!” she laughs, the din of the sound from several stages bleeding together behind her. “Just taking that dual citizenship as far as I can.”
The 25-year-old might be based in Fremantle now, but she was born in Wales and lived there until she was “nine or 10”. “Every time I hear the word Wales I get really excited,” she says, grin spreading across her face. “When you live somewhere when you’re young and then move somewhere else, your memories of that first place will always be fairytale-like.” To Stella, her birth country is a place of forests and castles, free from the trappings of adult reality.
Right now, she’s living out a different fantasy as a musician who’s been given the chance to make records and tour the world. Last year, she quietly self-released her debut EP ‘Thrush Metal’ with the aim of selling a few tapes, and had plans to study social work at uni. Now, she’s signed to Secretly Canadian and is trying to “ride the wave until I fall off”.
Part of that adventure is making her first full-length record, due for release early next year. “I haven’t had that much time [yet],” she says of its progress, referring to the whirlwind circulating around her at present. “But it’ll be like the EP where each song will have a different vibe. This record will be a little more playful.”
There are playful moments on ‘Thrush Metal’, like the soft, marbled psych of ‘Talking’, which feels like the perfect reflection of the musical legacies of the two countries Stella has called home. The EP was largely picked up on for its inclusion of something far more serious, though. One week before the headlines were swamped with allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo hashtag started trending, the musician released her slow-burning breakthrough song ‘Boys Will Be Boys’. Fittingly, it was her way of venting her feelings about a friend’s sexual assault. “You invaded her magnificence,” she sighs early on over lullaby guitar pickings. Later, her rage manifests with steely determination: “Like a mower in the morning, I will never let you rest.“
Its timing was a strange coincidence – fate, you might say – but one that’s given the song even more power. What started as such a personal story has become indicative of a much larger conversation across the whole of society. “We both realised once I’d written it that it was bigger than both of us,” Stella says of her and the friend she wrote it for.
Since its release, she’s received a ton of messages from people touched by its sentiments wishing to share their own experiences with her. “There’s journalists I’ve been speaking to in Australia who’ve been trying to get this stuff out for so long – they tried it 10 years ago and it just didn’t fly,” she says. “It’s really strange. Even if it reaches one person and helps them, I’m happy with that, but it’s been this much bigger scale. It’s like the pendulum’s really swung back.”