Isabella ‘Izzi’ Manfredi is reluctant to call herself a musician. “I’m a songwriter,” she says, “and the stage is where I feel most at home.” Certainly, The Preatures’ frontwoman is known for giving a stellar performance. Inherently captivating in her artistic approach, there’s a fearlessness about this Chanel ambassador that’s reminiscent of her female icons like Frida Kahlo and Chrissy Amphlett. Spending as many as nine months on one track, The Preatures joined a growing roll call of artists like Frank Ocean and Sky Ferreira, who are unwilling to compromise on quality for the sake of a release date. “I guess I’m the sort of person who’s drawn to things that are challenging and aren’t immediately accessible to me,” Isabella tells me over lunch.
Naturally it is not just any lunch. As the daughter of distinguished Italian chef Stefano Manfredi, she has managed to whip up a feast as easily as I would toast a slice of bread. But then simplicity is a virtue this artist holds dear – “I find that simplicity in music is so difficult, but the simplest solution is often the one you come to after you’ve exhausted all other options,” Isabella explains. “That’s why this record took a little longer than the last.” She is talking about Girlhood of course, The Preatures’ much anticipated second album, which hit shelves this year.
Risk-taking is a notoriously fraught area for women in particular and in many ways, Girlhood is an exploration of this. Speaking about what the concept means to her personally in 2017, Isabella says it’s actually quite antithetical to the way many people use the word ‘girly’. Instead, it’s about rejecting the underlying binaries still forced upon us as women. “People are always saying I’m so fierce and strong, without any acknowledgement of the other aspects of my personality,” she explains. “It’s almost as if my toughness discounts my fragility and my murkiness. So, I just wanted to make a record that was complex, contrary and messy – just like my experience of being a girl.”
Girlhood reads less like an album and more like a diary. Every track is an honest and intimate telling of Izzi’s experiences, almost as if you’re hearing something that wasn’t meant for you. Maintaining the catchy ’80s synth-pop sound that shot The Preatures to fame with 2014 hit Is This How You Feel?, Girlhood proves the band has more to offer than a memorable hook. “There’s an art to creating, which isn’t just about first impressions. It’s not just about giving people what they want straight away,” Izzi says of her approach to songwriting this time around. It is perhaps for this reason that Girlhood catches you by surprise, unfolding as you listen and continuing to develop each time you hear it after that.
An intensely personal record, it’s clear that Isabella’s fearless spirit was a valuable asset in bringing Girlhood to life. Yanada, for instance, is one of the album’s most hypnotic singles, and one that’s very close to her heart. Written in collaboration with Indigenous Darug song woman Jacinta Tobin, this is a song that Isabella says took her by surprise. “I didn’t set out to write in [Indigenous] language,” she explains. “And there was a lot of doubt during the whole process about whether I was doing the right thing; whether it was appropriate for me to sing in the [Dharug] language. But all I had was this intuition that, if I let it grow in the time it needed, the song wanted to live.”
Izzi isn’t shy about her thoughts on a music industry that’s increasingly geared towards instant gratification. “When you listen to a song for ten seconds on Spotify, you can’t always appreciate all its complexities,” she says. To illustrate her point, the songwriter reveals that she tends to have a passionate first reaction to most of her favourite songs – but not necessarily a positive one. “I guess what I like about a great song is that, when you take everything out of the track, it still stands up,” she says. “Making music doesn’t necessarily have to be that. You can write a cool track and that’s not a song, but writing songs, that’s my benchmark. I want to know what it sounds like when you strip everything away and it’s just the vocals.”
With Girlhood, the band has certainly hit her benchmark, proving that sometimes the best work takes time. “Even in the design world, fashion is going bonkers trying to keep up with everything and music is much the same,” Isabella points out. “They’re facing similar challenges in the sense that everything is so instantaneous and it’s all about keeping up momentum rather than producing quality work. For that to happen, ideas need time to seed and germinate.”
For Isabella, this is just as true in fashion as it is in music. Speaking of style influences, she references the craftsmanship of iconic houses like Chanel, for which the theatre of couture is a constant influence. “Chanel goes beyond trends. It’s not about what’s now; it’s about what’s forever, and I love that,” she explains. “Attending the Brasserie show in Paris [for FW15], I was worried I would feel totally out of my depth. Instead, I felt so at home among all those people who live for the highest level of artistic expression. I just loved the sense of drama and performance. No one else really has that eye for creating an entire world within a fashion show.”
With Girlhood, The Preatures have managed to create an entire world of their very own – and it is one that’s both relatable and deeply personal. Above all, this record is an exploration of relationships: those that Isabella has with different sides of herself, with the world, her family and, especially, with Jack Moffitt, Tom Champion and Luke Davison – the three men that complete the band. More than this though, the album represents a coming of age in the truest sense of the word, not just for Isabella but for the band as a whole. With this album, they have really come into their own, just as Isabella has resolutely found her voice. And you can rest assured, it’s a voice she’s not afraid to use.