People

Stella Donnelly

It might seem like Western Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly came out of nowhere this year. But hers isn’t the kind of talent that simply materialises overnight. “Apparently I have not shut up since I came out, according to my parents,” Donnelly says – and she sang in her first band at high school. Still, 2017 was the year it all came to a head: in April, Donnelly released her long-time-coming debut EP Thrush Metal, going on to play at Australia’s answer to SXSW, Bigsound Festival – where she won the inaugural Levi’s Music Prize – later becoming Triple J’s Unearthed Artist of the Year, and amassing a cult following along the way that’s grown to international proportions.

“I’ll remember [2017] feeling like Christmas, but for Christmas I was given only skydiving vouchers and I’m scared of flying! But then I do the skydive and it feels amazing!”

Donnelly has a charisma that’s hard to turn away from, but at least part of her popularity can be attributed to her talent for unbridled honesty, conveyed in tales of love (A Poem), working in hospitality (Mechanical Bull) and darker societal truths. Perhaps the most poignant track on Thrush Metal is Boys Will Be Boys – a chillingly personal and to-the-point expose of rape culture, beginning with the words, “my friend told me of a secret …”.

“It felt like a release of emotion when I first wrote and performed [Boys Will Be Boys]. Then it became more and more important to me when I realised how important it became for others to hear it.”

To see Boys Will Be Boys played live is to witness the audience insantaneously settle into awed silence. And the events of recent months have only served to compound the song’s effects. “I have definitely been hearing good feedback from more men … than I thought I would,” says Donnelly. “It’s beautiful to get messages like that.”

“I want at least one person in the audience to relate with a song that I’m playing! It feels like a hug when someone understands you!”

Along with her solo work, Donnelly plays guitar in two Perth-based bands: addictive punk outfit Boat Show and the 90s-tinged Bells Rapids. “There’s something really special about being in a band!” says Donnelly. “It’s the closest I’ve felt to being in my primary school netball team.” Allowing her the chance to hone her musical skills while sharing a stage, the experience “also gave me the confidence to get out there and do my own thing,” explains Donnelly. And now she’s there, she’s going all the way. Her plans for next year are “more skydiving, with an album on the way”.

Stella Donnelly plays The Newsagency, Sydney, on December 8.