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To Make Her New Album Flood, Stella Donnelly Submerged Herself in the Past

"I forgot about my bigger self in a way, and just kind of went back to who I am," says the Aussie singer-songwriter

Stella Donnelly, photo by Olivia Senior
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    It’s fitting that Stella Donnelly named her new album Flood — a title that calls to mind a natural disaster as much as it does an outpouring of emotion.

    The singer-songwriter wrote her sophomore LP following a one-two punch of unfortunate circumstances: Her boyfriend’s father had just lost his home in the brushfires that wrecked the eastern coast of Australia in early 2020. As fate would have it, just as Donnelly make the trek to help him move into his new house, COVID-19 struck.

    “We found out too late that the border to where we live in Western Australia had closed, so we actually had no way of getting back,” Donnelly tells Consequence over Zoom.

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    Donnelly made herself a temporary home in Bellingen, New South Wales, a “lovely country town” about halfway between Brisbane and Sydney. Here, she leaned into her habit of birdwatching (a flock of banded stilts, a native Aussie shorebird, feature in the cover photo of Flood) and soaked in the nature, taking a much-needed moment to reset before she was finally allowed to return home to Perth. But, of course, disconnecting from her usual lifestyle had its share of pitfalls.

    “I lost my sense of self [in Bellingen],” Donnelly explains. “I lost any sort of ego, or anything around music, because we weren’t sure if we would ever play shows again and it just felt like the world was kind of stopping forever. So I forgot about my bigger self in a way, and just kind of went back to who I am. Going back to Perth with that feeling gave me that sort of energy to write.”

    Besides the obvious perks of being back home, it also gave Donnelly access to a piano, an instrument she hadn’t toyed with much since childhood. Where her 2019 debut Beware of the Dogs was composed of playful, guitar-forward folk-pop, much of Flood puts the keys front and center, whether it’s on a sprightly number like “Lungs” or a gutwrenching ballad like “Underwater.”

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    “With a guitar, you’re hiding behind it, and it’s protecting you, and you can put pedals on it,” Donnelly says. “You can make it distorted, you can kind of make it what you want. Whereas a piano, it’s just there, and it’s gonna sound like a piano… just that honest sound. And I found that I couldn’t write anything pretentious. I could only write earnestly when I was playing on it, because it just felt like whatever it was that I was playing held more reverence for me.”

    Regardless of her instrument of choice, Donnelly’s music has been highly revered since she broke out in 2017 with “Boys Will Be Boys,” a chilling commentary on victim blaming in cases of sexual assault. On Flood, she explores a similar theme on tracks like “Underwater,” which was inspired by her recent ambassador work with a women’s and children’s shelter for domestic violence survivors.

    “The statistic that I walked out with that day that was just stuck to my brain was that on average, it takes someone seven tries to leave an abusive relationship before they can successfully leave,” Donnelly says. “So [‘Underwater’ is] a letter to an ex, it’s a ‘fuck you,’ but it’s also a more mature ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ in a way, where it’s a little bit more subtle.”

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    Find out more about the backstory of Flood by watching the full interview with Donnelly above. Then, head over to Ticketmaster to grab tickets to see her on tour this fall.

    Trouble viewing the video in the player above? Watch on YouTube.

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