Stella Donnelly Mixes Anger and Compassion on 'Beware of the Dogs'
The Australian songwriter talks "Boys Will Be Boys" blowing up, balancing tone on her new album
Published Mar 08, 2019Three days after Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly initially released "Boys Will Be Boys" — a gently sung but righteously angry song about victim-blaming at the centre of her new album, Beware of the Dogs — Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault allegations online. Donnelly's message, accompanied by an equally compelling video, caught the attention of The New York Times and NPR alike.
"I wrote 'Boys Will Be Boys' before I ever knew that this sort of conversation would ever happen in a public way — the #MeToo movement hadn't re-emerged in the way that it did and all of that stuff," Donnelly points out in an interview with Exclaim!. Since then, the song has taken on a life of its own as part of a larger musical conversation happening about the need to listen to and believe women.
"That's why I've decided to put it on the album," she explains, before adding proudly that she'll put it on her next record too, if she has to. "It's still a story I feel needs to be told you know?"
She tells the story of a middle-aged farmer who heard the song on the radio while working in Australia's countryside — "he immediately stopped the tractor and broke into tears, and called into the radio station and said that he's gonna show that song to his kids" — and mentions her younger, teenaged brother; how the song might affect him and men in general.
"I think the reason we have such high suicide rates in our men in Australia is because of that patriarchal system and unrealistic pressures that we put on our men — to not show emotion and to not have that sensitivity."
That said, she contends that depth doesn't negate playfulness.
"You're never gonna be the fun guy when you call someone out — that's been my experience. I'm the grumpy feminist that spoils all the fun, but fuck it," she says with subtle laughter in her voice, "I still have fun."
She's right; despite the emotional weight carried by Beware of the Dogs, it's still very much a fun album, a rather upbeat affair that's just laid back enough to set the mood for poolside lounging or late-night drives. Jaunty tracks like "Tricks" are effortlessly catchy, often quite playful, and her suave single "Old Man" packs enough pep in its step that the lyrical middle-finger it lifts comes across more charismatic than scathing. On an even lighter note, "Lunch" is a charming ode to her hometown in Western Australia — "a taste of Fremantle," as she describes it. "It makes me feel closer to the people I love."
Having broadened her instrumental scope, Donnelly occasionally favours experimental approaches. Songs like "Die," for example, caught her off guard both during and after its creation.
"My secret favourite ended up being 'Die,' which is a song I never thought that I'd write in such a way of using synthesizers and drum machines and all that robot stuff. There was a point where I was like, 'maybe I should just fuck this off, it isn't working out.'" Fortunately, the end result is one Donnelly is "surprisingly stoked" with.
But it's the hope and compassion at the heart of Beware of the Dogs' songs, and the heartfelt way she conveys her messages, that makes them feel relatable: "I feel it's easier to relate to people who talk about things in layman's terms or in everyday ways," she says. And she thinks compassion can be contagious.
"It's never too late to learn more you know? It's never too late to listen and you're never too old to show compassion and empathy."
Beware of the Dogs is out now courtesy of Secretly Canadian.