After releasing two well-received albums in the early ’90s, the American four-piece split in 1995 as its members succumbed to the pressures of fame and burn-out.
The band members went their separate ways, Donelly has maintained a solo career, while bassist Gail Greenwood played with all-female grunge act L7 among others, and brothers Tom (guitars) and Chris Gorman (drums) ultimately went into commercial photography together.
‘We had had a pretty healthy email chain running by the time we were actually physically together again,’ recalls Tanya, ‘so we had already lapsed back into our common sense of humour, so we were already somewhat re-bonded.
‘I would say by the time we were walking downstairs into what Gail calls The Rock’n’Roll Control Centre – which is where we practice and sometimes record, I would say I had butterflies – how was this going to feel? Would the muscle memory return? Is the connection going to return – the chemistry? And really with in 10 minutes we were back in shape. I mean not musically,’ she laughs, ‘but the feel was there.’
In summer 2013 Tanya had started releasing a series of EPs called Swan Songs, with each release featuring songs she had co-written with others.
‘They were a collaborative thing, and I reached out to Tom because I missed writing with him and I reached out to Gail because I missed writing with her.
‘She sent me some music, and Tom sent me some music, and Chris got in touch with me and kind of said: “Seeing as everyone’s starting to play together, maybe we could expand on that?” And so I would say that maybe the Swan Song series broke the ice for us to start playing together, but we had talked about it sporadically over the years.
‘It was just everything kind of aligning for the first time in 20 years, our kids are all sort of old enough to be self-cleaning,’ she laughs, ‘we have businesses that are in a position we can put them on hold long enough to tour and record and we’re also in a place individually, where we’re missing it – the music and each other – it was just time.’
And fortunately, as it turns out, the nature of their original split, made the reunion that much easier.
‘We drew a line under all of that, and we’re not revisiting it, but through the gauze of time, I think we were just wiped out. It wasn’t really acrimony, as much as it was fatigue and confusion – being young and dumb!’
The band re-emerged into the public eye in 2016, playing a couple of home-turf dates in Rhode Island and a short tour. They subsequently launched a Pledgemusic crowdfunding campaign, and the resulting album, Dove, was released last month.
First time around the group was signed to seminal indie label 4AD, but this time they have self-released Dove.
‘Kristin [Hersh], my sister, was one of the first to do that, to set up a patronage system, and I think she’s pioneered that model in a lot of ways, so that was something we wanted to try this time around, and in the spirit of this whole project, Belly: Mark Two, being very DIY.’
As Tanya says, there was a sense of unfinished business for the group.
‘Oh sure, yes. We felt it was more of a rending than a dissolution. We all felt like there was more that could have been done, and I’m hoping that we’re rectifying that now. We did so many B-sides that sometimes I feel like, how did we only make two albums when we were in the studio so much?’
Whereas Tanya wrote most of debut album Star, Tom and Gail had started having more input on its follow-up, King, and have again on Dove.
‘I think this one would have been the natural progression had we stayed together, we were moving towards a more collaborative system.
‘It’s about community. One thing I have learned in the interim over the past couple of decades is that I’m a team player. It’s not only when I feel I’m at my best creatively, it’s when I’m happiest, which at the age of 52, you think where is my spot of warmth in this? And for me it’s writing with other people – that’s my 11th hour epiphany!’
While the band were making Dove, Tanya says they didn’t let the weight of expectation get to them: ‘Not when we were making it, we isolated ourselves somewhat – in a positive way. It was after it was done and mixed and ready to go, that’s the point where you step back from your own love for what you’ve done and think, how generally lovable is it?
‘And maybe at that point we had a couple of: “I hope people like it” moments. But that’s not as pressing any more as it was, if I’m honest. It’s very simplistic, but we just want to do what makes us happy.’
While the band has a busy immediate future, there are no plans beyond that – for now.
‘Interestingly, we haven’t really talked about it. This is going to make us sound like simpletons, but we really are taking this one step at a time. I think we learned our lesson last time, and living that way is more pleasurable in the end. We don’t set ourselves up for anything, we’re just doing it as we love it.’
Recent years have seen a resurgence in the Rhode Island/Boston scene that Belly emerged from. Throwing Muses, the band she formed with her half-sister Kristin before Belly are still going strong, as are reformed alternative rock-legends Pixies, and The Breeders, the band Tanya launched with the then-Pixies bassist Kim Deal.
‘I feel very grateful that we all still seem to have a place that doesn’t endanger anyone else’s space – that space is still a narrow bandwidth that belongs to those bands. I’m grateful that that’s still a viable humming bandwidth for all of us.’
And she remains close to Kristin: ‘We just played some shows in Boston together - a couple of months ago we played two nights at the Boston City Winery. She’s endlessly working and touring, so she’s not around as much as she might be, but I try to grab her when she slips into town.’
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Saturday, June 9