"Asshole Killer" and Singapore’s Queen of Soul: Get to Know Stella Donnelly and Vandetta
“Sometimes with female artists, [people assume] every song is like a diary entry. But as for guys, they can get away with saying things and then being like, ‘What a great storyteller!’” said Stella Donnelly to Rolling Stone.
Now the 27-year old Welsh-Australian is gearing up for her set at the Alex Blake Charlie Sessions to be held on Saturday, December 7 at the heritage Pasir Panjang Power Station in Singapore. She joins a brawny cast of acts, which includes “Singapore’s Queen of Soul” Vandetta, Anna of the North, Kero Kero Bonito, SOAK; and a healthy helping more.
In a turn of events beckoning a swollen sense of luck, I got to message two of the acts: Stella Donnelly and Vanessa Fernandez (known so far by her alter ego Vandetta), and quickly got ahold of the common chord running like lightning through the markedly female-fronted event.
Assholes beware, Stella Donnelly’s talking to you
On Donnelly’s latest album Beware of the Dogs, American music journalist Robert Christgau writes, “In plain English and unassuming soprano, a musical encyclopedia of assholes, all male, not just because she's female but because assholes generally are."
With an appearance that resembles cool, quirky, bookish, girl-next-door but a lyrical fancy that’s more likely to draw knives to the necks of horrid bosses, complete jerks, and imprudent politicians, Donnelly blends a gentle, lullaby-like melody and gorgeous vibrato with stanzas advocating women’s choice and a strong sense of sticking it to the man. Nonetheless, the Fremantle, Western Australia native who writes “at home on my bed” lives up to the cool, quirkiness one might be too quick to assume.
“I’m reading lots of bird books at the moment because I’ve recently taken up bird watching!” she tells Esquire Philippines.
Festival-goers may be stunned by the honest conveyance of events this artist delivers. Meandering seemingly easily across topics difficult to stomach—rape, female choice in abortion, and abusive men—Donnelly draws attention to realities that need to be confronted with a shared sense of urgency.
"I think humanity has lost its willingness to relate with those different to us,” she says. “We have become frightened and I think that if we let go of our prejudices, so many issues will find a way to be solved.”
When asked where the bravery to be so candid comes from, she answers with a finger pointed elsewhere. “I gather bravery from other people who speak out, I gather it from women who have lost their lives fighting for equality and freedom.”
But frankly, with lyrics delivered with such a gentle, harmonic, coolness, Donnelly’s entire set at Alex Blake Charlie stands to be irresistible. Her favorite song off her latest record is “Lunch,” a guitar-strummed, bare-voiced peak into the homesickness accompanying life on tour. This artist isn’t afraid to let you into her box of emotions, sharing her most honest self, embracing you and giving you the same advice she’d give her own children: “Show compassion and empathy to all around.”
And don’t be an asshole.
Introducing Singapore's Queen of Soul: Vandetta
Singapore native Vanessa Fernandez remembers the first time she was called Singapore’s Queen of Soul. “I was doing a gig and the host was having a chat with me about how he wanted to introduce me. He asked if it was okay if he called me Singapore’s Queen of Soul because that’s what he thought I was. I felt a mixture of pride and wanting to cry at the same time. Many times when people hear me sing, they’re both confused and amazed that I sound how I do because I don’t look like it. I’m always amused at that reaction.”
Having grown up inspired by Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey and now holding Jacob Collier and Pharrell dear, the singer and radio presenter pulls together inspirations from Motown soul to underground Asian hip-hop/electronic scenes and urban pop. You can’t help a massive smile swinging across your face as you bop your head to her rich, trumpet-packed beat and massive vocal range.
A terrific example of this smile swing is found in Not Your B where Fernandez, channeling her alter ego, exclaims, “I’m not your girlfriend but don’t treat me like your bitch.” On Instagram, she explains, “This song is for anyone who has gone through gaslighting. I feel you and you can get past it.”
The artist brings a keen awareness to such a soulful sound. “I feel so many of us are in a self-esteem crisis and fear rules so much of our thoughts and actions. It affects us on an individual level and we don’t really correct it so we grow collectively or make decisions at a macro level that are fear-based. We need more consciousness, love and hope in the world and artists can definitely channel that in their work.”
When asked what she hopes listeners feel, Vandetta says, “It changes with each song. You might feel super chill and relaxed, or empowered and wanna dance. I hope they feel free.”
With her latest track Give Me Love giving off a house-y beat and wispy vocals, festival attendees might just catch a whiff of this freedom. The artist hopes that that whiff is deep enough to give listeners a breath of the good vibes she hopes to spread, ardent in her belief that culture can be shaped positively through music.
Change through a music festival
“Times they are a-changin’,” or so 24Owls, Alex Blake Charlie sessions organizers reminds us, quoting the legendary Bob Dylan.
We find, though, a common chord in a shared hope in the festival line up: that the attendees find themselves a-changin’ too. Be it becoming more in touch with what their unheeded mental resources have been raring to tell them; more aware of the aspects of the modern consumerist, tech-soaked culture that need to be modified; or a renewed eagerness to change the gross inequalities spread across gender, preference, and race.
The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions looks set to entertain, but hopes to be a positive seed of influence that grows into a refreshed collective willingness to shape up and just be better.
The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions is happening on Saturday, December 7, 2019, at the Pasir Panjang Power Station, 27 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore. Gates open at 10 a.m. For more information, visit their website