Q&A: Ryann Donnelly Talks About Leaving Seattle, Loving Madonna, and Writing Her Own Lyrics for the First Time Ever

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Thumbnail image for ryann donnelly.jpg
Kyle Johnson
Weekend plays at 8 p.m tonight at the High Dive, Ryann Donnelly's last Seattle show before moving to New York.
This year has

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Q&A: Ryann Donnelly Talks About Leaving Seattle, Loving Madonna, and Writing Her Own Lyrics for the First Time Ever

  • Q&A: Ryann Donnelly Talks About Leaving Seattle, Loving Madonna, and Writing Her Own Lyrics for the First Time Ever

  • ">

    Thumbnail image for ryann donnelly.jpg
    Kyle Johnson
    Weekend plays at 8 p.m tonight at the High Dive, Ryann Donnelly's last Seattle show before moving to New York.
    This year has been a whirlwind for Ryann Donnelly. In November, Schoolyard Heroes--the band she'd been fronting for 10 years--broke up. Weeks later, she and two of her bandmates, including longtime collaborator and SYH bassist Jonah Bergman, reformed as Blood Cells. They played a handful of shows in Seattle, following SYH's style: heavy guitars and drums, metaphorical and dark lyrics, Donnelly front-and-center as a woman possessed. But by February, the 24-year-old wanted something different: she missed performing with Weekend, the dance-pop side project she started in 2008 with Mark Gajadhar but hadn't worked on in months.

    So, in April--"it was the most painful thing I ever had to do," Donnelly says--she quit Blood Cells. A week later, she booked a plane to New York and played four solo shows, accompanied only by a laptop, as Weekend. Through her former manager, she met a handful of other musicians and flew to Los Angeles last week to record four songs for a solo album. And during all this, she enrolled in a graduate program at Christie's Education, the educational wing of the famous auction house. In less than one week, she'll be gone from Seattle, attending school in New York, and starting a solo musical career.

    The dust is slowly settling after Donnelly's personal windstorm, but her career plans are far from finalized. Since she doubts Gajadhar will be involved in her new musical project (he's busy with Past Lives and Champagne Champagne), Weekend's official status is unclear. There's a new a album on the horizon, but Donnelly doesn't know when or under what name it would be released.

    One thing's for sure: her solo show tonight at the High Dive will be her last Seattle performance for a long time.

    Are fans of SYH going to hear your new music and be surprised?

    Kids that were into SYH--people that were into SYH--probably aren't going to like this. They might... But I never wondered if people who listened to SYH are going to like this. I had a lot of pride about that band. I did that for 10 years. Or, maybe it's more accurate to say, "We did that for 10 years." But I feel like this is something new.

    What does your new music sound like?

    I was very clear from the beginning that I wanted to make a Madonna record. Like ultra-pop. I always say, "Don't write a chorus until a million people are going to remember it, like, forever." The idea for me is to give people something that is beyond expect-able: the easiest thing to remember and then disguise it in a beautiful and strange aesthetic. And everything I am talking about [in the lyrics] is true.

    Did something happen that changed your approach to music?

    All I can tell you is a trajectory. I started working on a record with Mark. It was just nothing but fun. Then it was like, I can do what I've done for 10 years already: it will look a little different and sound a little bit different--Blood Cells--or I can go back to that thing I was working on--Weekend--that I was having a lot of fun with.

    Was Weekend more comfortable for you musically?

    Here's what: I never wrote much of the SYH stuff. And I was always much more attached to performance than content. Which isn't to say that I didn't like the content or I didn't believe in it or see how it affected people, because people really attached themselves to it, and it was a cool vehicle for exploring more complicated themes.

    Where you interested in the music SYH was making? Did you listen to other bands with similar sounds and styles?

    I don't know how to answer that. I can say this: when I was 13, I was obsessed with Hole. And all I wanted to be was a fearless, ferocious, wretched frontwoman. I died my hair blond. I started hanging out with Jonah when I was in high school, and we were dying to be in a rock and roll band.

    So, who is your Courtney Love now?

    I'd have to say Madonna. I'm trying to think of anyone else. For me, I'm really into performance and really into visual communication... and that's why I never really cared if I was listening to stuff that sounded like SYH, because I got to do my thing [on stage] every night. That sounds horrible. But it was always my vehicle, you know?

    Was the Weekend the first time you wrote your own lyrics?

    Absolutely. I'll just say that once you write everything, it's hard to go back to writing half of everything... [Weekend] was gratifying, because I had never written about myself. I missed that, and I found writing for Blood Cells really challenging, because we were writing with specific content in mind.

    Will your solo performances still mimic your performances with SYH or Blood Cells? You know, possessed and electric?

    SYH's songs were full of energy, and I realize now that my performance was directly connected to that. It was always an reaction to the music. When you watched it, it looked like a girl possessed and scared. Then, with Weekend, because [the songs] are about relationships, it really looked like there was supposed to be someone else to be there but there wasn't. Weekend was very sexual, I guess. I don't know what the new ones will be like, because I haven't performed them yet. I will figure that out later.

    Do you know what you'll do when grad school is over?

    I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow, let alone 22 months from now.There's two trajectories: music or art and school. For art, I've got that all planned. Then there's this music stuff that I never know. The music thing, that can totally derail the art thing at any point.

    Would there be a reason for you to quit music?

    No, I just think the music will sound different. That's not something I worry about.

     
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