A conversation about the power of brutal frankness on the day of the Australian artist's first UK show
Stella Donnelly sits in the dimly lit back bar of a Swiss restaurant-cum-music-venue in Soho. Thanks to yesterday’s 23-hour red-eye from Perth to London, the 25-year-old is sniffly and congested, though still sparkly-eyed and chipper. During our time together, her enthusiastic, attentive chatter is punctuated by occasional pauses to self-medicate with delicate slurps from a pot of rapidly-cooling ramen, and her attention only briefly diverted as she jumps up to warmly welcome the young support act and her mother.
Not counting an open mic night she did for laughs while visiting her sister in Brighton, tonight’s sold-out show is Donnelly’s first in the UK and she’s buzzing with anticipation. “I’ve been in London a bunch of times, but it feels new every time,” she beams, her grin as striking as the over-sized, silver, cartoon mouths she wears as earrings. “Look, if every year’s like this year, I’ll be very happy. I think it’s been a big shock, because I put out an EP that was meant to sell 40 cassette tapes, and then move on, and then everything went a bit bonkers.”
2017 has been a landmark year for Donnelly’s burgeoning solo career. Having taken a temporary break from her other musical commitments – punk band Boat Show, and all-female alt-rock outfit Bells Rapids – the singer-songwriter’s arrestingly lo-fi and humorously-titled debut EP, ‘Thrush Metal’, was released in April to widespread acclaim. She then secured a spot at Australia’s answer to The Great Escape, Brisbane’s Big Sound festival, where she won the inaugural Levi’s Music Prize honouring the most promising new artist, and $25,000 in prize money that’s already funded this promo trip to Europe and helped secure the services of Lorde and Flume’s PR, Claire Collins.
“It’s always been very important that I work with good people, because I’d rather not do music if not,” she explains of her recruitment criteria. “I was gonna start university this year, doing social work. It’s really important I get to do this the right way, and not treat people badly, and have the people who represent me have integrity, because I’m an advocate for gender diversity in line-ups, and safe spaces at shows. So Claire’s one of those people.”