2015-01-22 / Front Page

Grammy-nominated Singer-Songwriter Comes Home

By Mark Gorman

Tanya Donelly, of Newport, center, reached acclaim on the alternative rock scene with her bands Belly and Throwing Muses. Tanya Donelly, of Newport, center, reached acclaim on the alternative rock scene with her bands Belly and Throwing Muses. The name Tanya Donelly is permanently etched in Newport's storied music history.

But her story ranges far beyond Aquidneck Island’s shores. That’s what happens when your music earns you two Grammy nominations, a gold record, and a cover story in the rock industry bible, Rolling Stone magazine.

And to think that the story begins when Tanya was a first grader at the former Coggeshall Elementary School on Van Zandt Avenue.

It began innocently enough. Young Tanya's mother sent her to school one day with flowers in her hair, and some boys teased her. Classmate David Narcizo cheered her up and told her, "Ignore those boys. They're mean."

In grade four, Donelly and her stepsister Kristin Hersh joined the thoughtful Narcizo at Cranston- Calvert School's accelerated program. Little did the three know that in just eight more years, they would take the music world by storm after forming the band Throwing Muses.

Star is her 1993 debut album that went gold in the U.S. Star is her 1993 debut album that went gold in the U.S. Apparently, Donelly's creative side emerged early on. "Tanya and Kristin were always putting on skits and performing. It was just so natural to them," Narcizo recalled.

Local songwriter Bill Thomas, who for a decade wrote children's music and produced music videos for the “Captain Kangaroo” television show, concurred. "Tanya was always one of the most joyful and creative children around. So sweet and so happy." Donelly appeared in several of Thomas' music videos when she was 12 or 13.

By the time the elementary school friends graduated from Rogers High School in 1984, Donelly, Hersh and Narcizo–along with Elaine Adamedes and later, Leslie Langston–were well on their way to making it big– eventually signing with a major London record label, touring internationally and recording several critically-acclaimed albums. Throwing Muses is an important part of Newport's musical quilt.

Dave Narcizo, life-long Newporter, seen here with Donelly on her 2014 concert tour. Dave Narcizo, life-long Newporter, seen here with Donelly on her 2014 concert tour. After leaving Muses in 1991, Donelly, who sings and plays guitar, continued with her “side project,” The Breeders (started a few years before with Kim Deal of The Pixies), and then formed the band Belly. The new group featured Middletown brothers Tom and Chris Gorman, along with Fred Abong, formerly of Throwing Muses, on bass.

It was for her superlative work with Belly that Donelly and company received two Grammy nominations. In 1994, Belly had a gold record with their successful alternative rock album Star. They made national television appearances and landed on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Belly disbanded in 1996 and Donelly married guitarist Dean Fisher. But that's not where the story ends. If one were to ask, "What ever became of Tanya Donelly?" the answer would surprise few: she continues to write, record and perform fabulously creative tunes.

Since 1997, the songwriter has been prolific, turning out four well-received solo records in a 10-year period. Additionally, she has created her Swan Song series.

Recently, Newport This Week caught up with Donelly and asked about her current projects and her thoughts on returning to Newport to perform on Thursday, Jan. 29, at Salvation Café.

When asked if her latest efforts really represent her musical swan song, she replied, "No. It's tongue-in-cheek. It's open-ended. It's my lifelong goodbye party."

Beginning in 2013, she released batches of songs periodically. There are currently five different collections of tunes in the Swan Song series, with a sixth due out soon. They are available on her website, tanyadonelly.com.

NTW asked Donelly about her songwriting process. "It changes from song to song. Sometimes an idea comes to me at 11 p.m. and I wind up staying up until 3 a.m. to finish the song. My writing is concentrated and the hours aren't always suited for motherhood," she said. Donelly is the mother of two girls.

Writing with a deadline is really not her thing. "My daughter's school is celebrating its centennial and commissioned me to write a song. Boy, is that hard to do!"

The songwriter loves collaborating with the many musical friends she's made after 30 years in the business. "My friend Claudia Gonson sent me the chords to the song ‘Lucky Love’ from her phone. ‘Snow Goose’ came from (Throwing Muses/ Belly bassist) Fred Abong. The demo was just Fred alone on guitar, and we added all sorts of layers on top of what he sent," Donelly explained.

She recorded Newporter Bob Kendall's tune “Midnight Flower” on Swan Song and will play that, along with Greg Kendall's “Moon Over Boston” at Thursday night's show.

The performer is eagerly anticipating her return to Newport. "I am very excited to be playing at Salvation Cafe. [Owner] Sue Lamond has always been so good to me," she said. "I haven't played in Newport in over 20 years, I think. The older I get, the more I realize I wouldn't be who I am if I hadn't come from the creative soil of Newport.”

Donelly is not the only one looking forward to her upcoming Newport show. Stable Sound Recording Studio owner Steve Rizzo, who worked with Donelly during her Throwing Muses and Belly days, agrees. "I am very excited. It will be so great to see and listen to Tanya again," he enthused. "She is fabulously creative."

Throwing Muses drummer Dave Narcizo, who will accompany Donelly on a few tunes at Thursday night's show, agrees. "Tanya just gets better and better. I heard her current tunes during our tour last year, and it's a luxury to be part of it. She is just so comfortable on stage and really connects with the audience," he observed.

Some things have changed in 30 years. Coggeshall and Cranston- Calvert schools are now closed. Throwing Muses and Belly seldom play on tour. Donelly now lives in Boston, is married, and has all of the family experiences life throws at you.

Yet, some things have not changed. Donelly continues to write, record and perform insightful, poignant tunes that describe the human condition through her eyes. When listening to her recent Swan Song series, you get the impression that you are witnessing some of her best work, with more yet to come.

If you can, get a ticket at brownpapertickets.com or at Salvation Cafe and take a stroll down Broadway to Salvation for the show.

Welcome home, Tanya!

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