Tanya Donelly sealed her reputation as an alt-pop goddess by the mid-’90s. She’d co-founded Throwing Muses with Kristin Hersh and the Breeders with the Pixies’ Kim Deal. Then she launched Belly, a dreamy rock group that scored the MTV hit “Feed the Tree,” headlined a tour with a nascent Radiohead and landed on the cover of Rolling Stone. “That whole experience,” she says, “was sort of surreal.”
Belly disbanded in 1996 after releasing two albums, and while Donelly released charming solo albums into the new millennium, she’s spent much of the last decade off the radar. The Rhode Island native raised two daughters in Arlington with bassist husband Dean Fisher (Juliana Hatfield Three), performing rarely and usually locally. And in addition to singing songs with evocative imagery of birds, bees and babies, Donelly assisted new families as postpartum doula.
“It was still something that I tailored around my parenting, which is the number-one most important thing in my life,” Donelly says, acknowledging some similarity between her songwriting and doula counseling. “There’s still a lot of creativity in the making of a new nest and helping to bring people through that.”
She’s shaking up her own nest this summer, however, and busier with music projects than she’s been in years. “I don’t have a touring life right now—it doesn’t fit for me, and I don’t miss it,” says Donelly, who just turned 50. Nonetheless, she’s re-formed Belly for dates in the U.K. and U.S., hitting Royale on Aug. 9 and 12.
She’ll also play a Concert Across America to End Gun Violence benefit at Brighton Music Hall on Sept. 25 with Bill Janovitz and Mike Gent, plus Vapors of Morphine, Hallelujah the Hills and others to be announced. “A sea change needs to happen,” she says of gun control. “It seems, at this point, like common sense.”
Donelly is also planning another Boston show this fall to celebrate Swan Song Series, a 31-track collection recorded over the last few years and initially released as EPs on her website and Bandcamp. She added bonus songs and issued it on CD in May on Connecticut label American Laundromat, which will release a vinyl version come September.
“I kind of wanted something I could hold in my hands,” Donelly says. “At first—and this is so dorky—I was like ‘Maybe I’ll just make a couple of copies for my kids.’ And then I decided if I want to hold it, maybe other people do too.”
There’s good reason for the album’s sprawling size. “It’s got my name on it, but it’s like a big cooperative,” she says of Swan Song Series, its music and lyrics co-written with the likes of Janovitz, Fisher, Robyn Hitchcock, Will Dailey, Damon & Naomi, Magnetic Fields’ Claudia Gonson, Belly’s Tom Gorman and author Rick Moody. Most of them also perform on the project, as do Throwing Muses’ David Narcizo and Belly’s Gail Greenwood. Musically, styles range from the country lope of “Mass. Ave.” and the piano cabaret of “Let Fall the Sky” to the submerged electronic drift of “Flying at Night” and the hard-rocking “Tu Y Yo.”
“The exercise for me was writing with all these extremely different writers and sort of challenging myself to see how I could fit into that,” Donelly says. As for the Swan Song moniker, she adds, “It’s 99 percent likely that it’s the last thing I release in my name… I’m more interested in collaborating from this point on.”
Her work with Gorman (whose brother Chris rounds out Belly) and Greenwood “sort of tilled the soil” for reuniting their former band, as did Donelly’s positive experience lending cameos to a 2014 Throwing Muses reunion tour.
“A lot of muscle memory kicked in,’” Donelly says of the Belly reunion, which includes new material to tuck alongside old songs live. “We went from ‘never’ to ‘possibly’ to ‘OK, let’s do it’ pretty quickly,” she says. “We’re in a space where we can put our businesses on hold temporarily. Our kids are old enough for us to leave for a short stint. And Chris Gorman actually said, ‘It’s now or never.’ There’s going to be a point where no one’s going to care.”
Belly plays Royale on Aug. 9 and 12.