Isabella Manfredi from The Preatures
There’s something great happening musically in Australia. Acts from Tame Impala and Chet Faker to Jagwar Ma and Courtney Barnett – they've all caught the attention of global audiences. Now there's the Sydney five-piece, The Preatures, who are one of our favourite Aussie exports of late. They drew quite a crowd with their electrifying performances at SXSW, Coachella and Glastonbury since the release of their second EP Is This How You Feel in 2013.
Their music is fresh, straight-forward pop-rock with traces of soul or, as front woman Isabella (Izzi) Manfredi describes it, it's as if the band The Modern Lovers were down at the beach. Izzi herself, is whip smart, kind and outspoken, and embodies that all-too-rare combination of style and substance. She lists Chrissie Hynde, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, fellow Australian Abbey Lee Kershaw and her mum among the women she looks up to in life and style.
During a seven-hour drive from Minneapolis to Kansas City, watching endless farmland roll by from the window of her van, she took the time to talk to Because. Izzi chats clothes, music and boys, which happens to sound a lot like the title of one of her favourite books written by The Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine...
Has music always been a part of your life? How did you get into making music professionally?
I went to a music and language school growing up. We used to do a lot of rhythm exercises in a big circle. I loved it. I never learnt theory formally though, which was a bit annoying once I started playing with other musicians, ‘cause it’s good to know what a chord is and how all the patterns fit together but I had good ears so that helped. There was always lots of music in our house – my mum and dad met playing music – and when they divorced I got most of my collection from them. Dad was into anything and everything (except Supertramp – his kryptonite). He played me all kinds of stuff: Patti Smith, Dylan, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Ron Sexsmith, Ween, Stone Roses, The Kinks, Garbage, The Strokes, Neil Young, a lot of Motown and Atlantic Rhythm and Blues. Mum was into Pretenders, Divinyls, Nirvana and Madonna.
When I was 19 I was working as a waitress in a restaurant in Sydney. After work I used to go out and see bands. There was a bit of a scene back then, mostly divey, shoegaze bands that were taking off The Birthday Party or Television. But it was sexy. I started watching bands like The Scare and The Nevada Strange. I remember both bands had great front men. Around the same time I dropped out of university and started going to a music college, where I met Tom (Champion, bass) and Jack (Moffitt, lead guitar). I didn’t know the first thing about being in a band but I felt like I had something to say, and I figured if I worked at it could be worth something, so I went for it. That was six years ago.
How would you describe your music?
I like The Modern Lovers and Johnathan Richmond. I also like Suicide. Both bands had great love for pop music. So did The Beatles. I used to like to describe us as "The Modern Lovers down at the beach". But I don’t know. It’s hard these days… No one really knows how to talk about music. Some people have described us as indie, which is wrong. We’re signed to a major label. Others have called out the new wave references, which is right. But we’re not a new wave band. That was 40 years ago. Some people call us "jangly pop rock" which is just weird. What purpose does jangly serve as an adjective? Beats me. What’s wrong with just straight up pop rock? Badfinger were a pop rock band, so were Steely Dan. I think they’re pretty good.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of making your album Blue Planet Eyes released in 2014? What did you want this record to be?
We made Blue Planet Eyes in six weeks. It’s a mix of old songs the band had been playing for a while and new ones we hadn’t finished writing even as the beds were being laid down. It was a pretty stressful time but I like the fact that it’s a product of the time and place in which it was made. It’s a short, sharp record with no fat on it.
When you released Is This How You Feel you used to wear all-white outfits on your videos and live shows. What was that all about?
It all started with the video for Is This How You Feel. We shot it in February 2013 before the whole Nile Rogers/Daft Punk disco revival really began and before Miley took the all-white crown in Wrecking Ball. I needed an outfit that would suit the 70s throwback of the song and there was something pure, minimalistic and also pretty funny about the all-white outfit. It was a bit Blondie and a bit Donna Summer. After that I started wearing it for shows and it became a different thing entirely. White has always been identifiably pop, classy but kitsch. Think of Elvis or The Bee Gees, ABBA, Britney Spears, or Michael Jackson in Smooth Criminal. I liked that it had all those associations. Then show by show I began destroying the outfit. I poured buckets of water on my head. I rolled around on the ground. I liked the feeling of destroying something that’s supposed to say “I’m a professional, I’m an entertainer”.
Now you don’t wear them anymore. What do you like to wear now? Any favourite designers?
My style is a mix of classic prep, 90s Riot Grrrl and rock and roll. I love colour and print but mostly I’m in all black. I love uniforms and the freedom they give me. Favourite designers are ACNE, YSL, Prada, Rodarte, Gucci, BLK DNM, Céline, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Reformation.
What is the key to refining one’s style identity?
Any recent shopping indulgences? What did you buy?
Ohhhh yeah. I bought the most beautiful pair of red suede boots by Dorateymur at Opening Ceremony New York.
What are the touring essentials you bring in your bag?
Sometimes I feel like that primary-school kid whose back is caving in under the weight of his massive backpack. I take so much crap with me on tour. Books, clothes, especially in winter, you got to have coats and scarves and gloves. But my prize and especially sentimental essential is my BLK DNM leather jacket. My mom bought it for me before my first overseas tour with the band and it’s been through everything with me, not to mention catching on fire onstage at a show in Melbourne. I had to get the arm patched. Leather jackets are such a rock cliché but they’re the most practical thing to tour with. I can fit my passport and everything I need in its pockets. The inside of mine is lined with gig stickers, the kind they give you in Europe and the UK instead of an AAA pass. I guess that’s kind of lame but it makes me feel cool!
Which book are you reading during this tour?
Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth.
Can you tell me about a book you love?
Clothes, Music, Boys by Viv Albertine. Albertine was the guitarist in seminal all-girl punk band The Slits. She was also Mick Jones girlfriend, Sid Vicious’ confident and generally part of the Sex Pistols original inner circle. "Candid" doesn’t really describe this book. It’s brutal. And very funny. She has an astounding memory for details and dialogue. But what I love most is the courage in her attitude, her dogged approach to making music and commitment to expression. I found so much of Music, Clothes, Boys relatable it almost scared me. I mean this was what it was like to be a girl playing in a band in the late 70s, surely things have changed? Well, they have. And they haven’t.
Blue Planet Eyes is out now.
Text by Luísa Graça