Tanya Donelly

Best known as singer, principal songwriter and rhythm guitarist of Belly — the quartet she formed with friends from Rhode Island that bridged the ’80s/90s underground with her distinctive, melodic sensibility — Donelly’s dulcet vocals, storybook lyrics and neatly-stitched, guitar-centric compositions propelled her to stardom amid the alt-rock boom. After releasing two EPs, the band’s 1993 full-length debut, Star, was certified Gold, selling more than half a million units. Its biggest single, “Feed the Tree,” a melancholic fairytale about family and death that reads as a cheery, love-tested anthem, was a staple of the era’s teen tape decks and bygone pixie magic, marking a commercial success befitting Donelly’s critical adoration. It topped the Billboard alternative chart and the band earned two Grammy Award nominations, for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Performance. But before Belly existed, before the band was a fixture on MTV and its frontwoman a heralded voice of her generation, Donelly co-founded two of the alternative rock movement’s most influential bands.

She formed Throwing Muses in 1981 with her stepsister Kristin Hersh. The first American band signed to tastemaking British label 4AD, Donelly injected an evident pop sensibility into the quartet’s unconventional formula and wrote some of the group’s most memorable, early-era songs. “Not Too Soon” showcases Donelly’s knack for alt-pop sublimity — which she cranked to 11 in Belly — while “Angel” rings alongside the best late ’80s jangle. While on tour with seminal Boston band the Pixies in 1988, Donelly befriended its bassist Kim Deal, and soon formed the band that would become The Breeders. Its 1990 debut, Pod, recorded with lauded engineer and producer Steve Albini, was a critical darling and often name-checked by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. The album endures as one of the alternative rock era’s most notable and enduring offerings — its cool, transmuting, feminine rock hymns can be heard in modern artists such as Julien Baker, Courtney Barnett and Phoebe Bridgers. Donelly and Deal also appeared together on 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell’s influential This Mortal Coil project, singing Chris Bell’s “You and Your Sister” on its third and final album, Blood.

After Belly released its second album, King, in 1995, Donelly left the band to pursue a solo career, releasing five studio albums steeped in pop, rock and folk, and a number of singles and EPs including collaborations with fellow New England-based artists such as Juliana Hatfield, Letters to Cleo, Morphine, Buffalo Tom, and Joan as Police Woman. And her collaborative spirit didn't end there. Donelly’s 2016 anthology for American Laundromat Records, Swan Song Series, gathers five EPs of pairings with some of Donelly’s favorite artists and authors. Its follow-up for the label, Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters, released in 2020, furthered this collaborative spirit with nine tracks of sublime orchestral folk-rock. In 2021, Tanya and her close friend Brian Sullivan of Dylan in the Movies teamed up to form the project The Loyal Seas, releasing their first album Strange Mornings in the Garden in Spring of 2022.

In 2016, Belly reunited with a tour of the US and UK, followed in 2017 by their long-awaited and superb third album Dove. After touring again in 2018 and 2023, they are currently in the process of writing and recording their fourth album.