The oft-romanticized idea of the singer-songwriter slaving away in solitude was never one that Stephanie Donaghey bought into. Despite her late hours writing poetry and listening to Leonard Cohen albums alone, the frontwoman for post-punk rockers Toy Gun sees writing music as a great reason to collaborate with friends.
“I always thought it’d be fun to be a working musician, but I never considered it to be in my cards,” Donaghey said after a recent rehearsal at the Near Southside home of Toy Gun bassist Matthew Gibbons.
That opportunity came unexpectedly late in 2012 when the DIY Fort Worth collective/label Lo-Life Recordings began putting together its first compilation cassette, Group Therapy, Vol. 1. Donaghey was working tables at Spiral Diner with Gibbons when Lo-Life founder Cameron Smith asked her to contribute a song to the project. One minor problem: Donaghey had zero band experience. Fortunately, she had plenty of experience with the creative process.
“I’d been writing poetry forever,” she said. “One day it just kinda felt like I was tired of writing poetry. … Now I’m an adult, and I can do whatever the hell I want, so why not?”
Her first move was snagging Gibbons, who hadn’t performed in three years. Even now, he jokes that his early exit from retirement at the ripe old age of 24 was partly motivated by boredom. Donaghey is more pragmatic about the decision.
“Here I am close to somebody [like Smith] who knows how to play and can teach me how to play, so let’s do this,” she recalled thinking at the time.
While working on the compilation, Smith was impressed by the “raw emotion” that Donaghey displayed both instrumentally and vocally.
“It seemed obvious to me that she possessed so many of those elusive, un-teachable qualities that separate the good from the great,” Smith said. “Many work very hard to find their voice. Others stumble into it, and others seem to be born with it.”
Donaghey’s voice may have come naturally, but her years writing poetry come shining through on Toy Gun’s songs, said LaVern Merigold, the group’s guitarist.
“She writes loud folk, especially when you see the lyrics,” Merigold said.
The band’s forthcoming debut EP, Please, Please You, set to come out next month on the Dreamy Life Records label (a joint venture by Lo-Life and another Fort Worth label/studio, Dreamy Soundz), is loaded with her gritty imagery. “Use your mouth as a weapon,” she sings on “Liberez-Vous.” “You’re sharpening your wit / You lay your high achievements on the pillow / Next to my bloody lip.”
Donaghey’s rich, heavy voice and evocative lyrics are signature features of Toy Gun’s sound, but with the addition of Alex Poulon, stickman for Dallas punks Sealion, the band has a new weapon.
“We wanted the bigger, more complex sound” that Poulon brings, Donaghey said.
Looking back on the whirlwind journey that has been the last two years, Donaghey said she feels that everything is settling into place in a natural, organic way.
“I feel it takes a year of playing together to get to where you can read each other,” she said. “The second year is getting tighter. Now we’ve done that. We’re a unit.”
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