Donnelly co-produced ‘Flood’ herself, working alongside Methyl Ethel (aka Jake Webb) and Anna Laverty (best known for her work with the likes of Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett). Webb’s input was notedly crucial to the album’s genesis, Donnelly told journalist Al Newstead, as he was directly responsible for ‘Lungs’ – a song she joked “was the bane of [her] existence” – becoming what it is.
“It was such an uphill battle,” Donnelly said of her journey writing ‘Lungs’, admitting that she “kept listening back going, ‘This is shit’.” Once Webb came into the picture, though, the song took on a different form. She continued: “He did some of the production on it and came up with a different drum beat we could use and it opened the whole thing up. It was a journey for sure, some songs happen in two minutes but this was more like weeks.”
Musically, Donnelly explained that ‘Lungs’ was born of a desire to eschew the indie-rock sound of her earlier work, most prevalent on her debut album ‘Beware Of The Dogs’. “I’d never gone into this kind of genre before,” she told triple j, laughing that she “[doesn’t] even know what genre is!”
“But I’d never written something that was a forward-leaning attempt at a banger. I’ve tried to create something I can really dance to on-stage. It’s different from the rest of the album really, it’s more upbeat.”
For the video that accompanies ‘Lungs’, Donnelly plays a character inspired by the Banded Stilt, a nomadic shorebird most commonly found in South and Western Australia (and plastered all over the cover art for ‘Flood’). She described her key influence as “a wobbly adult, doing their best with their new set of legs and responsibilities, trying to make it look easy but very much on unsteady ground”, adjacent to the themes she explores on the track itself.
Birds would become an inspiration for the new album as a whole, Donnelly explained, as she moved to the lush, tropical landscapes of Bellingen, NSW during the album’s creative process. In her spare time, she took up birdwatching, became an ambassador for the 2021 Backyard Bird Count, and wrapped her recent Australian tour with an “hilarious Q&A session on birdwatching”.
“My favourite bird at the moment is the Gang Gang Cockatoo,” she revealed. “You get it over east, you don’t get it over here in WA. They have the most haunting sound, like a creaking washing line – it’s amazing! They’re under threat at the moment so I’m donating money from every tote bag sold to Bird Life Australia so they can help conserve their population.”
Donnelly moved a lot during the years that spanned the writing of ‘Flood’. Before settling in Bellingen, she lived in Fremantle, Margaret River, Melbourne and elsewhere, all amid the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I often had no choice about where I was,” she told triple j, noting that her locale and circumstances often inspired the creative direction of the material she was writing. “There’s no denying that not being able to access your family with border closures, it zooms in on those parts of your life you care about.”
It’s said that Donnelly wrote a total of 43 songs for the album, with members of her touring band credited as co-writers. In announcing ‘Flood’ yesterday (May 10), the WA artist called it her “record of rediscovery: the product of months of risky experimentation, hard moments of introspection, and a lot of transition”.
During the album’s writing process, Donnelly reconnected with her “small self”, explaining: “[I] was able to lose that feeling of anyone’s reaction to me. I forgot who I was as a musician, which was a humbling experience of just being.”
‘Flood’ looks at “relationships, be them familial, romantic or platonic”, with Donnelly explaining that she “love[s] observing human dynamics” and “getting into the mind of someone who we’ve all been at some point”.
The album is due out independently (and via Secretly Canadian outside Australia) on August 26. It’s the follow-up to 2019’s ‘Beware Of The Dogs’, which in a four-star review, NME’s Hannah Mylrea praised as “enthralling and hugely relevant”.