Isabella Manfredi had barely stepped off a flight from Los Angeles when she spoke with me via a Zoom call, just days before the release of her debut album Izzi. The Australian singer has been travelling back-and-fourth between her home in Sydney and the United States where she is currently writing and producing her next “thing”.
After nearly a decade as the lead vocalist for The Preatures the artist decided to step away from the band to realise her “true adult self”. What the split allowed, according to Manfredi, was a more personal body of work and the freedom to experiment. Here, she discusses travelling the world, her transition to motherhood and how her music has changed as a solo artist.
GRAZIA: Speaking about the album you’ve referred to your “true adult self”. Who is that to you and what does she bring to your music?
Isabella Manfredi: “I think there’s an arc most artists go through in their careers where you peel away the layers of ego and the more you do that, the more you find a true quality or spirit behind what makes you, you, and what makes you enough. During the pandemic I healed the child in me to the extent that she wasn’t running the show anymore and I realised I actually really want to grow up. That liberated myself from the tyrannical inner-child or emotional child. It was freeing because as an adult you have agency. As a child you don’t and so if you’re still a child in an adult body you don’t have that sense of true freedom.”
How has your approach to song writing changed as a solo artist?
IM: “It’s a lot more personal. I don’t get blocked writing lyrics the way I did sometimes in The Preatures and I’m more free to experiment more than I was. I love this quote from Jerry Saltz, he said, ‘Artists, don’t try and be better, just try and go deeper’. And I think that’s what I can do now as an artist of my own.”
To write this album you travelled to LA, Nashville, New York, London, Paris and Berlin. What did you learn through those travels?
IM: “That trip was really important for me because I had been quite co-dependent in the band. I knew that and there were parts of me that were bristling against a sense of duty and loyalty and that didn’t suit my true personality, my true self. Just getting out and travelling and being on my own was quite vital. It was reinvigorating. I just needed to be alone with my thoughts, alone as a woman in the world. I think it’s such an important thing for anyone to be on their own and just to do your own thing. I love travelling alone. One of my favourite things to do before I had a baby was to just sit at a cafe on my own and watch people, or read a book. Just to take myself out for dinner. It’s a real luxury, you have to have time and the means to do it.”
Izzi certainly has a unique sound. What artists or genres are you inspired by?
IM: “I essentially love rock ‘n’ roll and I love pop rock, all the iterations. It’s a simplistic term but I love it because it encompasses all soul gospel influences, country music, folk music. I grew up listening to a lot of classic singer-songwriter music and the great song writing partnerships that definitely influenced me as a writer, in that I like things to be concise, I get deep into song structure, I have an editor’s mind. You’ll recognise that the record is only 35 minutes long, it’s 10 songs. Everything is in its right place. There’s no sense of jamming, long-winded ballads or epics. Which I also really love but it’s not my style.
“In terms of artists probably the top would be Prince, Nina Simone, Jodi Mitchell, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, John Lennon. For this record I remember I was listening to a lot of seventies singer-songwriters with great session bands like Jackson Brown… I listen to a lot of soul music too like Gladys Knight – she’s one of my favourite singers. And I listen to a lot of Italians singers too so there is quite a bit. I find it hard to choose.”
Throughout this period of song writing, you’ve also be raising your one-year-old daughter, Mina. How has motherhood inspired your new album?
IM: “Well aside from ‘Naïve’ which was written about wanting to become a mother and have a family, all of the songs on the record were written before Mina was conceived. This album for me was about reclaiming a sense of maidenhood which I felt had been robbed from me (laughs). My twenties for me, I didn’t get to experience that sense of true maidenhood, so the album is less about the transition to motherhood and more about that. What was the final say of that journey? I also think that motherhood influenced the record because there was so much delay and so much uncertainty around whether I would be able to make this record, or release the record, or tour the record, or even have a career beyond the band. Motherhood helped me relax my expectations and surrender to whatever was going to happen.”
This album is full of female credits. Why is it important to you to collaborate with other women?
IM: “Honestly, I hadn’t worked with other women for my entire career up until this record so it wasn’t something that I sat down and said, ‘I need to start working with women for the optics’. I just needed my friends and I needed the warmth and reassurance that comes with the safety and trust of female friendship. Healthy female friendship. The more I branched out into a community beyond the band, I found there was just really great women around. It was a conscious and also a natural evolution.”
Did you feel any pressure with releasing this debut album?
IM: “I’ve had so much time to reflect on it for myself. To say I’m not aware of what people would think about the record is a bit disingenuous. The point of making the record was to please myself so in that sense I’ve done that. I really love the record; I still listen to and I still like it which is rare. But pressure? Maybe there will be a rebound thing after it’s released. Sometimes feelings will come up after the fact for me. I’m sure there will be mixed emotions about it. It’s always strange and surreal putting out music but I do feel relaxed. I’ve just been in LA working on the next thing, whatever that’s going to be.”
How have you seen the Australian music industry evolve since the early days of The Preatures?
IM: “When [The Preatures] signed with Universal in 2012 it was such a strange time because streaming had just come along and there was this sense of panic about what this new digitisation would do to music. It was also this interesting time of pop having this revival in an ironic sense. There was funk and disco, and overtly schmaltzy pop was back and it wasn’t such a badge of honour to be alternative. Now there really is this homogenisation happening because of Spotify. There is this monopoly on distribution channels worldwide.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just is the evolution. Streaming has lots of positives and the industry has evolved to an extent where we’re starting to see this great build of catalogue and heritage acts. It’s great because it means a record you released 10 years ago, who could say if it has a commercial revival or a life beyond its immediate release. There has been a shift from immediate short-term gains to long-term career strategy for artists. The effects of #MeToo and BlackLivesMatter in the industry can’t be understated. Triple J weren’t playing indigenous artists singing in their own language when The Preatures came out with ‘Yanada’ six years ago… we’re hearing more diverse voices which is essential because that’s what music’s purpose is, it’s storytelling.”
Isabella Manfredi’s debut album Izzi is out now. Learn more, here.