Name: Tanya Donelly
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Recent release: Tanya Donelly teams up with Brian Sullivan for the debut album of their band The Loyal Seas. Strange Mornings in the Garden is out via American Laundromat. Loyal Seas will also play shows on June 25th at the Burren in Somerville MA, August 6th at the Boston City Winery, and August 13th at Bowery Ballroom, opening for Buffalo Tom.
If you enjoyed this interview with Tanya Donelly and would like to keep up to date with her work, visit her on Instagram, and twitter.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Yes, every time! I think those redirections are the natural continuing of whatever inspiration came first, and should be trusted.
If I follow ego instead, and make a premature decision about what that first inspiration should mean and where it should go, it can make for a very clunky song. Always much better to let the new sparks in as they come and follow them along.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I do feel spirit when I’m writing, and whenever I’m alone and focused, I fall into a functional trance. This is also the case when I’m listening to music or cooking or walking in the woods or staring at the sea, but but most strongly when making music.
It feels like re-entering a familiar and warm room, where someone left behind some ideas and sounds to pick from.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I love this wording ~ tends towards the infinite ~ because there is no such thing as finished. Deadlines and schedules often set the rules for when a song is “done” and we call it finished when the clock runs out.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Incompletion makes things, and people, lovable.
Brian and I were good partners in bouncing these songs back and forth until we were equally ready to call time. But I do think a song is an infinite thing, post recording and release, most obviously when it’s played live. I change words and tweak things live all the time, and it’s never exactly the same thing twice.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
It changes song to song ~ sometimes I am happy to share something as is and move quickly on, and others I know I have to keep on the shelf for a bit. The ones that come out whole cloth are exciting, and almost separate from me. The ones that need simmering are usually a more familiar mystery.
One of the reasons, and there are many, that I love collaborating so much is that this process becomes an education for me, and is way more fun, when other minds are involved. I love company.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Production and mixing are very important to me.
The lockdown stretches of the last two years encouraged me to dive into both, in a homespun sense. I put out a series on bandcamp that I produced and mixed, and really love those pieces of it.
That being said, I prefer to have fresh but seasoned ears and greater skills for most projects, and most often have Paul Kolderie or Jon Evans, who mixed and played on this Loyal Seas album, take on the mixing. They are both basically geniuses. And mastering, which is sometimes the unsung piece of the puzzle, is also very key. Shoutout here to Sean Glonek at SRG Studios, who mastered Strange Mornings in the Garden.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Totally relate to this. I always end up having a next thing waiting to be worked on, in order to balance that emptiness and energy dip after a release, and that is unintentionally intentional. And usually there are shows waiting to be played at the end of a project, and that also fills the space that opens up.
At some point, I’d like to try to just let the emptiness happen.