Iconic ’90s alt-rock band Belly reunites for all the right reasons
For any band, even one whose members separated on the best of terms, a reunion can be a tricky thing. So when Tanya Donelly, for decades one of Boston’s most beloved singers, asks for a bit more time to deal with a pressing issue before getting on the phone to talk about the return of Belly, her circa-’90s alt-rock quartet, the request prompts a ripple of anxiety for the would-be interviewer.
Turns out there was nothing big to worry about. “You know who Belly the rapper is?” Donelly asks, chuckling, around 15 minutes later. “Apparently he’s touring this summer as well. And there are ticket sites today, several of them, that are putting our picture on his shows. You know how you get an alert: ‘Guess who’s coming to your town?’ ”
For the record, Donelly and her bandmates — guitarist Tom Gorman, drummer Chris Gorman, and bassist Gail Greenwood — are putting on two shows at Royale Boston in August, one of which sold out instantly. (The other Belly, a Palestinian-Canadian comrade of the Weeknd and Snoop Dogg, plays Brighton Music Hall July 13.)
Still, the idea that the tuneful purveyors of “Feed the Tree” and “Gepetto” might be mistaken for the MC, whose moniker is short for Rebellyus, was daunting. “When Boston and New York sold out so quickly, I immediately went, they think we’re the rapper,” Donelly confesses, laughing uproariously.
The good news: It seems entirely likely that this could be the biggest problem faced by Belly, in a rare instance of a popular band reuniting at exactly the right time — amid a flurry of activity among period peers like Blake Babies, Letters to Cleo, and L7, as well as a passing-the-torch farewell tour by the Go-Go’s — and for all the right reasons.
“Every several years it would come up: Somebody would reach out to somebody else, and there would be a little conversation about the possibility of it that just sort of went nowhere,” Donelly says. “And this time I think it just felt like, it’s almost like now or never. There’s going to come a time when no one’s going to be concerned anymore whether we ever play again. And at this point, too, we’re all at a place in life where it’s possible to do it now, logistically — our kids are old enough, everyone runs a business that can conceivably be put on hold for a finite amount of time, which wasn’t the case before. Everything kind of lined up.”
Close watchers of Donelly’s career might have guessed that something was up: Her “Swan Song Series,” a brilliantly rangey five-volume run of EPs posted on Bandcamp (and due out on CD May 20), included new collaborations with Greenwood and Tom Gorman. “At that point we had sort of been easing toward this reunion possibility,” Donelly confirms, “and just writing those songs with those people really energized me. I just thought, Oh my God, I really miss writing with them.”
That sensation contributed one more salient feature to the Belly revival: The shows will include not just old material — though there will be a lot of that, since the band hopes to play its two LPs, “Star” and “King,” in their entirety or close to it — but also newly written songs.
That the band’s 1996 split, while not entirely frictionless, never amounted to warfare made it easier for the members to move forward. “We are very Yankee,” Donelly says, laughing again. “We’re pretty pragmatic people, so absolutely we just drew a line under it and said, we’re moving on from that. It’s been so lovely, just really fun and harmonious.”
Once the musicians were playing together, she reports, it didn’t take much effort to knock the rust off. “It’s song by song. Some of them it was just kind of the miracle of muscle memory, everything just came back immediately. And then some of them, we just ended up just sort of laughing our way through the first attempts. At this point, I have to say, after only three practices, everything is coming together. I’m feeling pretty good about it all.”