For a while there we had The Preatures pegged. The Australian band’s crisp, new wave indebted sound resulted in stellar debut LP ‘Blue Planet Eyes’, a record packed with punchy melodies and intelligent songwriting.
But then something happened. New album ‘Girlhood’ is a lot more personal, a little more difficult, reflecting on themes that encompass feminism, politics, and the treatment of aboriginal people in their native Australia.
Remarkably, it’s becoming an international breakout. Speaking to the band backstage at London live music den the Moth Club, we find a group who are clearly in confident mood.
“It’s been interesting that the UK have received it the way they have,” explains singer Izzi Manfredi. “Maybe Australians don’t want to have a mirror up to themselves but I wasn’t really thinking about that consciously when I wrote the record. I just wanted to make the record that I wanted to make.”
“I think on the surface and at heart it’s a sentimental record,” she says. “I think sentimentality in music is seen inherently as a female quality, it’s always been that way. I think it gets a bad rap, sentimentality. But I’m extremely sentimental as a writer. So, I think, some of the more sarcastic elements of the record are probably being missed by some people because it’s delivered in this very sincere way. It’s been good to know that some people are getting it.”
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Sincerity is definitely one of the defining traits of ‘Girlhood’. A record that is unafraid to tackle big themes, it refuses to preach, with the crisp conversational tone of the lyricism rollicking between grand statements and witty in-jokes. The sheer confidence at play is a marked progression from their debut, a broadening of tone and approach that results in something much deeper.
“The last record, we wrote all the songs together as a band, as they were meant to be played,” Izzi reflects. “The stuff was developed because we were playing live and we’d go “oh that’s good, that’s good. Scrap that it’s got to be shorter.” And we were really, kind of like a party band back in Australia really.”
“I’m not saying that dismissively!” she adds with a chuckle. “Y’know, we prided ourselves on a certain kind of songwriting. But my interests have always been a little bit wider than that, and I think after all of that time on the road, I needed to figure out what I wanted to write about. It’s kind of scary.”
Entering the studio, The Preatures focussed once more on the music that first pushed them to form a band. Band mate Jack Moffitt adds: “We were pushed into a space where we got back to something that’s probably older than the band as it is now, with us just playing in a room together. I think we probably drew a lot of things out of that time”.
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The discussion about appropriation is everywhere now...
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Reflecting the shifting attitudes of the country they originate from, The Preatures took the bold step of recording ‘Yanada’ - a powerful song of reconciliation that finds the band collaborating with Aboriginal song woman Jacinta Tobin. The song itself took over a year to perfect, with the band acutely aware of the still raw memories that surround the treatment of Aboriginal communities in Australia.
“The discussion about appropriation is everywhere now,” says the singer. “I mean, we have grown up listening to indigenous music on the radio, we listened to Yothu Yindi when we were kids, Warumpi Band, but there were wasn’t so much a tradition of non-indigenous people singing or even speaking in indigenous language in Australia. Not in the mainstream, not on the radio.”
Jack picks up on this point: “It’s for a lot of reasons, and I think the largest one is that indigenous languages have been buried in the past, and they were persecuted so naturally a lot of indigenous people are not comfortable in sharing that knowledge with non-indigenous people. So there was a sort of sense of trepidation around being a non-indigenous band and finding what the song was looking for.”
Working closely with the Aboriginal communities in Sydney, the band attempted to interact with a fractured collision of cultures that had been denied expression for an extraordinarily long time. “Kids were taken from their families if they were caught not speaking the language,” explains Izzi. “Especially in Sydney, which is the point of first contact... you’ve got so many fragmented ancestral lines, with people still trying to figure out who they are descended from, what their country is, what they’re by-right able to speak and carry on to the next generation. They’re all piecing it together, and we found ourselves right in the middle of that.”
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The results are staggering. ‘Yanada’ retains its personal core, while also tapping into a broader debate about reconciliation within Australian society. “I think it’s a really good indication of how we as Australians can actually move forward together and still show respect,” says Izzi.
“Charlemagne said that “speaking a second language is like possessing a second soul”. You can’t understand a community or a culture unless you know the language. So I think we’re at a really interesting spot in Australia right now where the Prime Minister spoke in the language of the Canberra area.”
Released earlier this year, ‘Girlhood’ is certainly timely. A rich, rewarding listen, it’s slow-build success has seen fans tumble over its charms in the UK and the United States – yet it’s a deeply Australian record, and it’s there that the album has enjoyed its deepest impact.
“It’s interesting yeah,” admits Jack. “We’re a really young country when you get right down to it.”
Izzi adds: “We’re really young and very old.”
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You can’t understand a community or a culture unless you know the language.
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Australia’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality has sparked another national conversation, and it’s something The Preatures are eager to support; very much in favour of gay marriage, the band are set to play a huge homeland date to aid the cause.
“I think it goes hand in hand with our heritage and the indigenous community and what we were taught, or not taught when we were growing up,” Jack explains. “I don’t want to be living in this cut and dry country. It’s got the guts to break through this glass ceiling of all these things that we’ve inherited. To do a thing like play that gig and say that our participation says that we support this step forward, it doesn’t seem like a lot but I think it is. You’ve got to be counted as standing for something and we agree with this.”
There are plenty who agree with them. ‘Girlhood’ was recently nominated for Best Rock Album at the ARIA Awards, a remarkable achievement for a record that delights in working against the grain.
“It was always going to be a risk, this record,” Izzi reflects. “Just by calling the record ‘Girlhood’. I had some people say to me, “are you sure you want to do that?” It’s quite exclusive. I was just like “well that’s the name of the record, that’s where all the songs belong and you know it’s just one record”. I think there’s a lot of pressure on albums these days and bands to deliver this masterpiece.”
“It’s just a moment,” she insists. “Just a moment. If it stands the test of time, it’ll stand the test of time. It’s got nothing to do with me. I just made it.”
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'Girlhood' is out now.
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