Izzi Manfredi, frontwoman of Australian band The Preatures was understandably crestfallen last year when guitarist and co-vocalist, Gideon Benson, left on the heels of their successful Blue Planet Eyes debut. The quartet chose not to replace him and pushed to write and record their sophomore effort. As it turns out they gained an unexpected fifth member anyway - in Sydney, their hometown.
Released last month, Girlhood owes much to the city, sonically, thematically and spiritually. It acknowledges indigenous culture with one of its strongest single’s “Yanada.” It makes mention of “dreamtime” – the aboriginal concept of creation – and more importantly is sung in Dharug, the ancestral language of the aboriginal tribe of the area. “Bondi” the city’s most iconic beach is derived from Dharug; while “boomerang” and “wallaby” are other ancestral words that have entered the modern lexicon.
“Yanada” was written with the help of Jacinta Tobin, a Darug member from the local community. As Manfredi sang parts of the song to Tobin and tried to make sense of it, Tobin said the word she was mouthing sounded like "yanada," which means "moon" in Darug. The track is rich with dreamtime imagery and Manfredi is 'the modern girl' that speaks up for what's right. There's no whiff of tokenism but a welcomed pop sensibility to it. Its melody is synth-washed with bubbly effects; a blissful ode to sunshine with a uniquely Antipodean edge.
The Preatures embrace the poppy, synth and guitar-led melodies of the Eighties more than any era; where Aussie bands like the Divinyls, Triffids and Icehouse were on heavy rotation over radio airwaves, alongside international acts. Songs that take you back to summers in balmy cars headed for the beaches, where underfoot, sand was already between your toes from yesterday’s jaunt. The smell of sunscreen and the sea, still lingering in your hair.
It is little wonder then, that they enlisted the help of legendary producer Bob Clearmountain who mixed several classic Eighties albums including David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Roxy Music’s Avalon, The Pretenders’ Get Close and several of Bruce Springsteen’s oeuvre. Clearmountain created quiet spaces for tender songs like "First Night and "The Fan" but allowed the band to flex in their own inimitable way with the spunky "Lip Balm," Haim-like "Nite Machine" and the David Byrne-jagged edge of title track "Girlhood."
The Preatures are currently on tour in Australia and have plans to hit North America next. After three years of intense touring, including a memorable main stage set at Coachella, as well as stints at Bonnaroo and SXSW, Manfredi thought they would come off-tour and take no time to write a new album. Blue Planet Eyes took seven weeks to make, after all. Girlhood, however, took three years since their debut. We spoke to Manfredi, about why it took so long and what led them to seek Clearmountain out.
AXS: It must have been hard losing Gideon but I feel like you lost one member and unwittingly found another - Sydney. Apart from Gideon's departure, what else conspired to stretch the process of making Girlhood longer than expected?
Izzi Manfredi: I like that idea of Sydney as our fifth member. I might have to steal that from you. That's a good way of describing it. It was a shock when Gideon left but in a funny way, it had also been coming for ages. It was his decision, we didn't want him to leave. But it was really amicable. I think I grieved for a couple of months but at the same time we were doggedly pursuing what we wanted to do next. Nothing was going to stop us, though we didn't know what we were going to do; the plan had changed. But that's the beauty of making a record; it's a postcard from a time of your life.Then Luke, our drummer hurt his back so that delayed the album further. And from the moment that I had the idea to sing in Dharug, we had to just commit to it.
AXS: Did it take a year to write the song?
IM: No, the the actual writing was super quick. But the idea to do the song, and then going 'hmmm...is this appropriate?' What would it mean for the indigenous community to write a song and sing it in language? Who do we talk to? That process of asking questions and getting the right answers, that took 9 to 12 months before I found Jacinta. And then when I met her, we clicked instantly. Writing the B-chorus with her and Jack, that took half-an-hour.
AXS: What brought you to write “Yanada”? There are real complex questions of identity and history that Australia, and greater parts of the world - America too - are coming to terms with. Questions like how do you honor history but move out of the quagmire of past sins, and forward?
IM: For people in positions like I am, a position of privilege, it’s important to be really loud about issues that are a no-brainer: like we should be speaking about indigenous languages. We should be learning them. Revitalizing them and out of that, comes a respect for the culture, and a mutual understanding of our collective Australian identity. For me, it’s important to use our position to allow other people in the community, especially the local community who don’t have a too much of a platform to speak, to talk about things that are important to them. There were a lot of things that played into my decision to do this but the biggest thing was, I feel language connects you to the place that you were born and being a Sydney girl, and proud to be Australian, it became unacceptable to me that I couldn’t speak the indigenous language.
AXS: How did Sleator Kinney’s memoir “Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl” impact on "Girlhood" – there are some obvious references but why did it strike such a chord with you?
IM: It’s a funny story actually. I read the book and obviously loved it. I was reading a lot of memoirs at the time. My favorite was Viv Albertine’s Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. Anyway, you don’t know where a song is going to come from; it crawls into you, and then you have to get it out. That song I started writing because I was struck by the physicality of that imagery - she's written a really visceral book - and I liked that line "hunger makes me a modern girl." We had an early version with that line in it, and so we wrote to Carrie Brownstein's publisher asking for permission to use it. They wrote back and said: 'absolutely not.' (laughs) So we had a couple more months of figuring out what next. Then I rewrote it. I think the line we have in it now, serves the song better.
AXS: How did you pick Bob Clearmountain to mix your album? And how collaborative is that process, do you all have to be in the studio? And do you get to say ‘I don’t like how this track sounds – do-over please?’
IM: (Laughs) To tell Bob Clearmountain ‘hey, we don’t like this, do-over!’ No, I don’t think any of us would ever do that. We had been looking for someone to mix the record for a couple of months. We weren’t getting any clear answers. Not ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’ Then just radio silence. We were a bit confused. Then in December, we were in Perth doing a show and Bowie's “Let’s Dance” came on. And I thought ‘who mixed this?’ Jack said: "Bob Clearmountain. It’s (Let’s Dance) a classic and he’s a legend.” Then, we both had the same thought at the same time, “can we get him?” We asked him and in less than 24 hours, he said he was a big fan and would love to do it. Jack and I went over; and Bob was great. His style is, he likes the artist to be involved anyway so that worked well for us.
AXS: Do you have a personal favorite of the songs?
IM: Hmm…I veer between “Cherry Ripe” and “Your Fan,” I’m a sucker for the ballads. It’s kind of hard to judge your own work. It’s not like I put our record on and listen to it for pleasure. (laughs)