Premiere: Matt Donnelly explores tethers to his past on new ‘Then & Now’ solo EP
Busy Bodies’ drummer Matt Donnelly brings forth something heavier with his new solo EP, “Then & Now.”
After the light and breezy indie vibes of the recent Busy Bodies EP, the band’s drummer Matt Donnelly brings forth something heavier, something darker with his new solo EP, “Then & Now.”
In three catchy songs awash in a newfound sense of vulnerability, Donnelly, who hails from Geneva, wrote this EP more from the heart.
“For me, this was a much more personal side of creating music,” he said.
A number of previous projects Donnelly has streaming under different names have leaned into the instrumental and experimental — chiptune music, lo-fi, hip-hop beats. “I guess a lot of the music that I’m into is definitely more heavily produced. … So I try to keep a wide array of tools in my belt, all different genres and stuff.”
“Making instrumental music, it’s entirely shrouded in these metaphors and vague ideas and storylines so that only I could get what I’m getting at,” he explained. “So I figured let’s just go the complete opposite way. Just make it crystal clear. That’s … that’s pretty intense.”
“Then & Now” kicks off with the kinetically charged lead single “Come Home,” a slow-burn of a rock song loaded with barely hidden intensity. As it unrolls, it feels like Donnelly could unearth the shallowly buried rock edge at any moment. And he does.
Listeners then spring through “Psych,” a light-on-the-surface bop that shares DNA with such pop masterpieces as Belle and Sebastian’s “Sleep the Clock Around.”
The EP closes with “Lies,” a deep but mellow treatment drawn directly from the last conversation between Donnelly and a recent ex.
“Some of it’s just like a way to try to dissect some of my emotions involved,” he said. “And some of it is me trying to kind of come to terms with my own flaws in the relationship, not really shrouded in metaphor or anything. I just wanted it to be as straight up as I could make it. … It’s scary to do that. And I don’t want to do it. But that’s what makes me think it’s the right thing to do.”
Donnelly explained the three songs on this EP are more or less about various relationships that have fallen apart, one an especially fresh breakup that happened earlier this year. With time on his hands during the coronavirus lockdowns, he sat down to try to refine (and in one case rewrite) some old demos as a way to test out how his skills have grown.
But in them he found something more. Catharsis.
“All the songs kind of have this double meaning for me, because although the lyrics fit for this relationship that ended this year, that’s not what they were originally written about,” Donnelly said, pointing out “Psych,” the EP’s second song, was written about his high school girlfriend back in 2015 or 2016. “That’s where the title of the EP comes from. ‘Then & Now,’ because for me it’s like I’m looking back at a different period of my life where I was feeling kind of the same things but in different situations.”
“It felt like everything connected in a way for me that was beautiful. You can go back to a different time in your life and still kind of relate to what you’re feeling,” he said. “And my hope is that it’s relatable enough that when people listen to it, either they’re going through something or they have been there or they will in the future, they’ll be able to perhaps find some sort of solace in that.”
Reconnecting with old music in a new way was a chance for Donnelly to examine current events while reinterpreting his past through the newer lens of life experience. And to find closure on things he didn’t have the understanding for in the moment.
“I feel like as a musician I have this duty to try to get these ideas out of my head, because if I don’t, nobody else will,” he said. “What if I were to die tomorrow and I didn’t release ‘Psych” or something, that would be such a shame. What if some kid years from now finds it on Bandcamp or something and thinks ‘Wow, it sounds awesome’? For me, it’s worth it just to have the potential of one person just liking it and then getting something out of it. Connecting with it and maybe, you know, maybe it helps them through something.”