Rhode Island alt-rockers Belly were one of the biggest bands of the 1990s. Now, after a 23 year hiatus, they’re back in business. Jamie Walker caught up with band founder Tanya Donelly – of Throwing Muses and Breeders fame, to discuss the tour, new music and what made Belly decide to revive themselves from their own ashes.

Hi Tanya, let’s start off simple; for anyone who hasn’t heard Belly before, how would you describe your music?

I guess “Alternative Rock” is still the easiest and broadest description?

Because we’re a fully collaborative team, I think all of our various musical backgrounds and loves can traced in our music ~ my own history in Throwing Muses and the Breeders, Gail’s in L7 and Bif Naked, Tom and Chris in Verbal Assault. The music that shaped us individually as players also has a huge range ~ from Neil Diamond to the Misfits, the Beatles to the Cocteau Twins, X to Ennio Morricone, Kate Bush to the Ohio Players.

Belly had a lot of success early on, and have spoken about the band’s split before, was that quickfire success a part of the reason for the split? Or were there other factors?

I’m sure the pace of our first go-‘round had much to do with the split.

I’ve said this before ad nauseam, but we all have a pretty blue-collar approach to work, that can be a double-edged sword in making music. We wrote many songs and covered a lot territory in just a couple of years, and took very few days off, and the burn-out came much too quickly. We were basically in the mind-set that if we sat down for a minute, it would all be over.

It’s been noted that even after the band split you kept in close contact. When did the ideas of a reunion start to surface and what made you want to finally pull the trigger on them?

The idea of a reunion bubbled up occasionally for almost the entire length of the split, but we’re now in a collective position of being able to put the time in ~ i.e. older kids for those of us who have them, businesses that can be put on hold for short stretches, etc. I’d also written a couple of songs with Tom and with Gail’s band Bennie Sizzler separately for my last solo project (Swan Song Series) and that may have cracked open the door a bit more, too. Very simply, we also just really missed playing this music with each other and missed writing together.

Tell us about your new album, how long did it take to write? And how did it feel being back in the studio?

We wrote a handful on songs specifically for the 2016 reunion tour, mainly to keep the shows from feeling too much like a nostalgia trip. Once we started writing, we didn’t want to stop ~ and the reaction to the new songs on that tour was very enthusiastic and sweet, so that absolutely inspired and encouraged us to continue. The bulk of the songs were written over the course of about a year ~ we sent each other snippets of music and Tom patched those fragments together, and then we would add more on top. When we were finally able to get together in the same room in 2017 (in Gail’s basement, the “Rock and Roll Control Center”), we fleshed everything out and pulled it all together structurally. And even in the studio with Paul Kolderie, we continued to write the song Mine was worked up in the 11th hour in studio, for instance. The whole experience had a great flow and being in the studio together again was a blast. LOTS of laughter in this unit.

In line with this, how much are you looking forward to hitting the road again?

We’re psyched to get back on tour, and especially about playing the new stuff live. The shows on the last tour had a very communal and band/audience interactive vibe, something we were surprised and very moved by. Assuming this time around the novelty of us playing again will have lost its edge, but Dove will take up that space and sense of “new”.

You’re hitting Brighton on the tour, is it somewhere you’ve played before or have you visited the city? If so, what do you think of it?

We played Brighton in 2016, and in the past many times, so we’re familiar with that beautiful place. We all grew up in the same seaside town in Rhode Island, and salt water is in our blood, so the atmosphere there is sort of a familiar one. I love the boardwalk in Brighton, which is a very singular and special place it could be compared to a lot of summer shores, but there’s really no place exactly like it. We love it there.

It’s been 23 years since your last album, how do you think music has changed since then?

We’ve all been somewhat active in music in the interim, so we’re not too thrown by any major differences as far as our work goes. Obviously social media has had a massive impact re: spreading the word and connecting with listeners. Our circle of music still tends to be a relatively organic model ~ we don’t have extra tech outside of our own instrumentation, we’re basically a classic drums/bass/guitars/vox system. Coming off the back of a few festivals, it’s hard not to notice that loop-triggering etc has made a huge comeback, mixed in with some amazing musicianship. No taste-policing here: my heart has room for many musical choices.

8) What can people expect from your show? Plenty of classics? or a host of new material?

We’re playing a very even blend of all three albums ~ Star and King and Dove ~ with some old b-sides thrown in. And plenty of banter.

9) Finally, why is the Belly reunion tour the must see show in Brighton?

Well, for all the reasons already mentioned ~ new songs and old, vibe, banter. And because it might be the last one there for a long while?