FeaturesWritten by Sally McMullen on August 11, 2017
For a frontwoman who’s sitting in the calm of the storm upon the release of her band’s highly-anticipated second album, The Preatures’ Izzi Manfredi is surprisingly calm. And even though their sophomore record Girlhood only just dropped today, the raven-haired singer is already thinking about what’s next.
“I was speaking to someone about it yesterday and they were like, ‘How do you feel about the new record?’ And I was like, ‘I’m not really thinking about it. I’m kind of thinking about the next thing,’ which I know is cliché but it’s true,” she said over the phone just days before the album’s release.
“Whenever we finish an album and we’re doing all of the admin stuff, because there’s no pressure to write, I start writing a lot,” she said.
“I get distracted by writing whatever the new stuff is and I’m not really thinking about the new record. But of course that’s a complete lie because because of course I’m thinking about the new record right now.”
It’s been three years since the Sydney rockers dropped their debut album Blue Planet Eyes, which contained infectious hits such as ‘Is This How You Feel?’ and ‘Somebody’s Talking’. Since then, the quartet have released a bunch of singles and toured up a storm, leaving their fans pining for more.
And even if Izzi is keeping her cool, the pressure is on. Not only is Girlhood following up their incredibly successful debut, but it’s also the band’s first since the departure of former guitarist and vocalist Gideon Bensen.
While upset to see him go, the band bounded together, and led by the creative vision of their front lady, producer and guitarist Jack Moffit, bassist Thomas Champion and drummer Luke Davison worked tirelessly over the last 12 months to create the new record.
Their first album was a mixed bags of tracks, but Girlhood follows a clear and new narrative. Each of the 11 soul-searching tracks explores a different stage in Izzi and the band’s life. And like any coming-of-age epic, it’s full of poetic contradictions. It’s vulnerable yet strong, personal yet universal, and contemplative yet forward thinking. And although the record follows a consistent storyline, it wasn’t planned in advance.
“I don’t think you ever really think about what a record is about while you’re making it. You’re just doing it. Music is a very physical thing… It’s just about what feels good and what sounds good and just trying to be present in the catharsis or whatever you want to call it,” Izzi said.
Instead, it was when Jack first reviewed the lyrics that the story started to present itself. He looked at them as if they were film negatives, blowing them up to see the details and finding the key characters within the songs.
“In hindsight, looking back on this record, it’s definitely about our relationships with each other, and the songs are about different aspects of my life,” Izzi said.
“I went back and looked at my childhood and my adolescence for a lot of the stories in the songs. It’s a very personal record.”
This is especially obvious on tracks such as ‘Your Fan’ and ‘Cherry Ripe’. They both peer into memories from Izzi’s tumultuous teenage years, which were preceded by a happy childhood but shaped by her parents’ divorce, high school bullying and the usual pangs that come with entering womanhood. But rather than relying on the songs to resolve her problems, Izzi uses music as an oasis where she can embrace those emotions and memories.
“I don’t use music to work through things. It’s more of a refuge. I take refuge in music,” she said. “I even remember when I was first trying to sing ‘Cherry Ripe’ and I was choking up just trying to get the words out.
“I’d written the story out for the song all in one go in my head while riding my bike from Dulwich Hill to my studio in Surry Hills. By the time I got to the studio, I put the demo down and it wasn’t even cathartic, it was painful to get that story out. I believe that your body holds energy and certain emotions and the act of music can help release those things.”
Girlhood is also as varied sonically as it is lyrically. While the debut single and title track is a retro rock banger, ‘Mess It Up’ is rife with R&B rhythms. The quartet slow things down briefly with gentle ballad ‘Your Fan’ and the slinky synth anthem ‘Magick’, but crank it up again on tracks like the sassy ‘Lip Balm’ and ’80s-sounding pop gem ‘Nite Machine’.
“That was part of the whole concept of the record. I wanted it to feel like a collage on the wall of my bedroom, of my young girl bedroom when I was listening to a lot of different stuff,” Izzie said. “The different styles on the record are really just meant to reflect the different incongruous, contradictory parts of my personality.”
Although there are many sonic gems on the album, ‘Yanada’ is the undeniable standout on Girlhood. Meaning ‘moon’ in the Indigenous Darug language, ‘Yanada’ speaks of the band’s history while also paying respect and taking inspiration from the indigenous heritage of the Sydney region in which the band lives and creates.
As non-Indigenous people, The Preatures were very conscious about singing in another language and sought a lot assistance from members of the local Indigenous community. Izzi co-wrote the song with Jacinta Tobin and received guidance from local Indigenous people, including the Mudgin-Gal Woman’s Group in Redfern.
“Most of the process involved reading, a lot of Indigenous exhibitions and I just tried to be more proactive in the community in a wider sense… By the time I met Jacinta, I’d already gone through a level of consultation locally that she knew I really had my heart in the right place and that I was serious about wanting to do this right,” she said.
The band also worked with Terri Janke, a highly-respected specialist in Indigenous cultural and intellectual property, to understand and ensure the songwriting process followed the proper protocol for using Indigenous cultural expression.
“The way that we understand intellectual property is that it’s owned by an individual and an individual gives rights to that property whether it’s language or art or knowledge or a song line or anything,” Izzi explained.
“But in contemporary Indigenous protocol and working with Indigenous people in the arts and in business, the intellectual property is owned in a sense by a community. So, consulting actually becomes about consulting a lot of different people and honouring the community’s ownership and the individual’s ownership.”
As well as the time it took to consult with the right people and follow the correct processes, The Preatures also took their time with recording Yanada because Izzi was initially determined to find someone else to sing the track with her.
“I actually spent a lot of that year-and-a-half looking for someone to sing with me. So, Jacinta helped me write but because she was out in the mountains and then we started the consultation process, I was trying to find someone who would be able to come on and sing with me,” she said.
“The overwhelming response from everyone we spoke to in the Indigenous community was saying, ‘No, we need non-Indigenous people singing a language. We want non-Indigenous people singing and speaking in language because that’ll help the language survive.’
“So, in the end, we decided to just have me on my own on the record which is quite a big statement and I hope it will be received with generosity because we don’t want this to about taking the language. We want it to be about shining a light on the language and giving back to community.”
A lover of linguistics and the daughter of an Italian migrant, Izzi also sings in Italian (which you’ll hear on ‘Something New’) on the album.
“I love the feeling of singing in a different language. Especially Darug and Italian, they’re such phonetic, lyrical languages and they’re inherently musical in a way that I don’t think English is,” she said.
“It’s just an opportunity for me to explore a different part of myself and a different way of seeing the world which is also part of my identity.”
When asked which part of Girlhood bests reflects her current identity, Izzi took a long pause before breaking into laughter.
“I actually have no idea! None of them do,” she laughed. “My current state is constantly in flux. It’s day-to-day. I write for the moment and those moments on Girlhood are now a year old. Any record is just a moment in time and I just try to catch that feeling in the moment.
“When you’re a musician, you write this song which might be born of a very distinct moment in time and then you go out into the world and you relive it over and over and over again. I actually love that. I love performing. And I love being able to go back and revisit the song in my current moment.”
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