Introduction | Tanya Donelly | Tom Gorman



Her voice clear and hesitant, Tanya Donelly scatters surrealistic snapshots over jangly and jagged guitars. Folk-rock anxiety, '60's pop sparkle, and garage band raucousness reign supreme on King, her sophomore effort with Belly. Co-guitarist Tom Gorman conjures the Beatles, early Pretenders, and Ennio Marricone in his swirling, savvy approach, while brother Chris Gorman pounds drums and Gail Greenwood pumps bass.

Donelly first came to fame via Throwing Muses, formed with her stepsister Kristin Hersh. After five Muses albums and side projects with

the Breeders and This Mortal Coil, Tanya declared her independence in 1991, later confessing, "I have become a change addict." The Gormans, her childhood pals from Newport, Rhode Island, contacted her about forming a new band, which was named after Tanya's favorite word.

Among a galaxy of early-'90s alternative releases, few shone brighter than Star [Sire/Reprise]. Haunting avant folk-rock, Belly's debut set longetivity records on college charts and established Donelly as a briliant, albeit quirky, songwriter. Her new album is likewise awash with topsy-turvy lullabies, midnight confessions, strange, sweet harmonies, and exhilerating guitar tones.

Top of Article | Tanya Donelly | Tom Gorman


Tanya Donelly & Tom Gorman



Who's had the most impact on your guitar playing?
Probably Marc Ribot. He's my favorite guitar player. And my sister Kristin and the Beatles. I admire Marc because he's so weird and because he uses the entire guitar. The entire neck is open in terms of what note follows the last.

How has Kristin influenced you?
Kristin and I started playing together, and we did it from a real personal perspective We didn't know how to play, because we didn't listen to anybody else. So we kind of learned together, and we thought the point was to be as interesting as possible and not to follow strict rules.

What's your favorite environment for songwriting?
At home. I never write music on the road. I don't even take my guitar to my hotel room. Sometimes I write lyrics, though. Mostly I write on a Martin or an electric with the volume turned down. I still live in an apartment, and I don't want to bother the neighbors. Usually when I write on acoustic, it's very simple, almost folky. And when I write on an electric, it's less structured and more tonal. On Star, "Angel" was completely electric, and "Untogether" was completely acoustic.

Do you practice outside of songwriting?

How do you come up with different chord progressions?
Um, they just kind of come to me. Usually I have an idea for a melody line, and then I have to make the guitar do what's in my head. So actually the sound of the song comes first, and then I have to make the guitar do that thing.

Are you aware of the names of the chords you're playing?
Not always, no. I know they're really simple ones, but there are a lot of chords that I invent, and I don't know what they're called. Usually some engineer has to tell me! [Laughs.]

Do sounds inspire songs?
Actually, on King that happened a lot, because most of the songs were set up and structured before I wrote the lyrics.

Do you use different tunings for composing?
Not yet. We've been thinking that maybe for the next one we will.

What do you look for when you're deciding on which acoustic guitar to buy?
Fluidity, mainly. How easy it is to play and how quickly I can move my hands.

Are you an advocate of light strings?
NO. It's weird. On electrics I play .011s, but on acoustic I like it light, like .010s.

What's the appeal of the Gibson SG?
I play it because it's the perfect combination of the earthiness of a Les Paul and the ability to cut through like a Fender. I have two SGs and a Les Paul. I did the entire last tour with an SG, and I woke up with my right arm pretty much dead every morning.

Is the Les Paul heavy?
Incredibly! It makes my arm go numb. But nothing really sounds like a Les Paul. I do wonder why it has to be like a tree hanging on your neck. But on the other hand, it sounds really rich.

What's your philosophy of solos?
We don't like 'em that much. I think that they should be short and sweet.

What would you most like to change about your playing?
I'd like to become a more solid rhythm player. More chunky!

Do you work with a metronome?
No. I keep time with my right knee [giggles]. It bangs into my left knee. Really! I come out of tours with big bruises on my knees.

What's your favorite amplification?
Well, on the record I played a whole bunch of different ones. I played a matchless and a Vox, and I think probably the Vox is what I'm going to end up settling on, because I really liked it a lot. It's an old AC30.

When you go onstage, what's between your guitar and amp?
I have four pedals in front of me at a time. I have a tuner, a distortion pedal, delay, and chorus. These are Boss pedals.

Are you looking for other effects?
I'm pretty much happy with what I have right now.

Which current songwriters do you admire?
I don't listen to a lot of modern music, unfortunately, because it's too reminiscent of my job. I like Madder Rose. That's probably my favorite band right now, because of the guitar playing. I think Billy Coté plays the perfect note at the perfect time, and Mary Lorson's voice is just stunning.

What are Tom's strengths in the studio?
He's a perfectionist, but not as far as meticulousness goes. He's definitely a fan of the happy accident, and he has good ears. I get dead ears really quickly - if I hear something more than four times, it's dead to me; I can't understand what's going on. And Tom is really objective in the studio.

What would you have musicians learn from your playing?
Not to rigidly folow the notes that are supposed to go with certain chords. That dissonance can be really important.

Top of Article | Introduction | Tanya Donelly | Tom Gorman



Before Belly, Tom Gorman had made the transition from bicycling fanatic to East Coast surfer to punk guitarist with Verbal Assault. He co-wrote King's "Judas My Heart," "Red," "Now They'll Sleep," and "Silverfish."

Your King playing reminds me of James Honeyman-Scott with the early Pretenders.
Oh! I take that as a compliment. I was a fan.

How did the King sessions compare with Star?
We were a lot more comfortable in the studio and had a clear idea of how we wanted things to sound. We started writing the King material as soon as we finished touring, so we weren't thinking in terms of overdubs, but getting it all to work live. And then we recorded everything basically live, with very little overdubbing. Very little King stuff will have to be adapted for the stage. I love writing music for Tanya to write lyrics and vocal melodies for, and I love writing guitar parts for her songs, so it's great.

What are Tanya's strengths as a guitarist?
It's hard for me to separate it. To me it's how she sings and plays guitar and how I play guitar and how Gail plays the bass and how Chris plays the drums. We all fill in the holes of the others. Tanya's guitar playing is really vocal, particularly her lead stuff. She tends to come up with a line in her head, hums it, and then figures out where it is on the guitar. I'm more likely to start with the chords.

The beginning riff of "Silverfish" has a kind of Beatles "Octopus' Garden" sound.
Oh, yeah. Our engineer had a bunch of old stomp boxes there, and there was a real big one that plugged into the wall. I can't remember the brand, but it was kind of rickety. It said "chorus" on it, but it doesn't sound like a chorus. It sounded cool, so we used it.

What's that pulsating distortion in "Now They'll Sleep" and "Seal My Fate"?
A Boss tremolo pedal run into a distorted amp.

What's your best source for distortion?
I like to get a cool little amp and just crank the thing. When they needed a little bit of help, I'll use the Rat not maxed out, but just enough to break up the sound. On the record I used a Fender Twin, some Mesa Boogies, and a little plywood thing called an Alamo.

Are you a gear junkie?
Not a lot. I am to the extent that I'll really pursue a sound in my head. A lot of times I wind up coming up with new sounds just out of necessity from having limited stuff available. It's like, "I kind of hear sound like a Hiwatt, but we don't have a Hiwatt, so what can we do to make these amps sound like it?" And that ends up creating a different sound.

What's your favorite guitar?
An Epiphone Howard Roberts single-cutaway. It has a cheesy humbucker and two real garbagey single-coil pickups, but it does the job.

What's your stage setup?
I haven't really worked it out yet for the upcoming tour. On the last one I used a tuner, a flanger, a delay, and a tremolo - these are Boss stomp boxes - and a wah pedal and a Rat. My amp was a Mesa Boogie, so I had a couple of channel switching things things for that. Pretty much what I do is use an effect cranked all the way, for just a bar or one section of a song. Sometimes I leave the delay on for a really clean song, but most of the time it's a lot of dancing around the pedals within a song.

What's been the most challenging aspect of the gig?
Actually, it was doing the cover of Jimi Hendrix' "Are you Experienced." The original version is radically different from the way we as a band naturally play or write. It was a matter of making it into a Belly song, in a way. I had to play things that were faster and more difficult than I'm used to, so I had to practice a lot. I definitely learned a lot figuring that song out. Playing the parts expanded the way I play guitar.

Do players get lost in technique?
I don't know whether players get lost in technique, but I think listeners definitely can get lost in it! I get bored when somebody goes off on a long lead, maybe because my ear is tuned more towards melody. I'm more interested in the sound and melody. Our idea of a perfect lead is about two measures long. Get in there, do it, and get the hell out! That way they're more melody-based and become more of a hook.

Top of Article | Introduction | Tanya Donelly | Tom Gorman

The preceding article was originally published in the March 1995 issue of Guitar Player magazine. Reprinted here at Seal my Fate (currently) without permission.
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