Interview: Isabella Manfredi talks about her debut album izzi and the joy of recording as a solo artist

  • Bruce Baker
  • September 30, 2022
  • Comments Off on Interview: Isabella Manfredi talks about her debut album izzi and the joy of recording as a solo artist

Isabella Manfredi recently released her debut album izzi. Isabella (Izzi), was of course the lead singer of the Australian band The Preatures, before it was disbanded. It’s a beautiful album, ingrained with love, hope and optimism, yet doesn’t shy away from some of her darker moments.

It was a cathartic album for the singer/songwriter, who dealt with the ending of her band, and long-term personal relationship. Emerging from that difficult time was a new relationship and a baby, so it has been a tumultuous period of lows and highs.

Isabelle engaged US producer, songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Angel Olsen)  to help out on production duties, and the end result is very much an album that showcases Izzi’s voice and personal story.

I caught up with Izzi on the day of release.

Hey Izzi! How’s it going? It’s release week, so it must be exhausting…

Yeah – I can’t remember a release that I’ve ever done that hasn’t been exhausting. But when it’s over you kind of miss it. It’s always a double-edged sword. You love it and hate it.

You’ve also got a baby that impacts your sleep pattern I expect…

Yeah – a little – I was up with her during the night a number of times. It’s typical for kids.

You must be excited to have izzi out?

I am excited. It also feels surreal because I’ve been off the road for such a long time. The last time I released an album was five years ago or so yeah, it’s a long time.it feels good to have it out.

Isabella Manfredi
Izzi – Photo: Bruce Baker

There was plenty going on. You’ve had a mine of life experiences since your last record…

Yeah – quite a lot has happened between the two albums. (laughs). I actually put on Girlhood, The Preatures last record, the other day. It’s amazing, I can appreciate it as a record of that time.
But I think the difference with this album I’ve just made, is that it’s rare to be able to still listen to the songs as an artist when you are this far into a project. And I can still listen to the record I’ve just made, even after having lived with the songs now. For at least two years the album has been kind of done. And I’m not sick of it. I still love it. It still feels exciting. It must mean something.

Yes, for sure. You went through a traumatic process with the band disbanding, and your relationship ending. Just one of those was a significant event. The two of them together I expect were especially traumatic. I’ve seen musicians struggle for years after their band has broken up.

Yeah – it was – it almost feels like that period of time paled over time compared to what happened to everyone with the pandemic. In some ways the trauma and the grief and the sadness of that year where I was going through those changes, in late early 2019 into early 2020, it almost feels like time got warped in a strange way.

I don’t know if you went through that, but there was a part of you where you pressed ‘pause’ on, and post-pandemic you tried to press ‘play’ again and it wasn’t the same.

The first lockdown in Sydney that we had, I was living alone in an apartment in Kings Cross. I had taken out a publishing advance and pre-paid my rent for a few months. Holding my breath and hoping that everything was going to be ok. I used those three months to be by myself, to do a lot of grieving, which I had to do. I rested. I remember being in bed and putting all these pillows around me to give myself a feeling of being held and comforted, and to genuinely rest. Having been a touring musician I had been going on adrenalin and professionalism for 6 or 7 years straight. There was a lot of transformation during that period.

Did you have a sonic reference in mind at the start? 

I did – I wanted it to sound like Bruce Springsteen was in an all-girl group in the early 2000s. Think Atomic Kitten if Bruce Springsteen had been the front-woman of the band. Or Prince producing Bonnie Rait. I wanted it be a conversation between the 90s and early 2000s pop, a lot of which was RnB heavy, and classic Americana songwriting and great session bands.

Nice one! This is a breakup album in one sense, but it doesn’t sound like (Bob Dylan’s) Blood on the Tracks. It doesn’t have that visceral anger to it.

If I made something that sounded like Blood on the Tracks, I don’t know what I’d do with myself (laughs). It’s not a visceral melancholic album. There is melancholy in it. And there’s a breath of emotion within the record. But I think that’s why I didn’t call it a breakup record. It didn’t really feel like it to me.

I think the positivity to it, is what steers it away.

It’s who I am. It’s something essential about me when I commit myself in song. There’s always a very hopeful joyful quality to it. I’d love to be Nick Cave but I’m not.

What was it like recording these songs on your own? No doubt it was different to working within the structure of The Preatures.

Yeah, but working with other people gave me a sense of clarity. When working with others, when it works well, then it’s fruitful and the exchange of energy is helpful and productive. I think it amplifies who you are as an artist, rather than feeling diminished or a sense of ambiguity about where you begin and another person ends. In that sense I loved it. It cleared up what I brought to the picture. It also meant more for the songs which I brought to the record that I wrote on my own, which were “Birthday Wish”, “Portrait”, “Nights Flight” and “Playing True”. So those four songs felt even more special in a way.

This album took you everywhere. LA, Paris, New York, Nashville,

Yeah – I packed in a few years of travel into a couple of months, which was good timing as then none of us could travel for a couple of years. It was my own personal and creative odyssey that I embarked on.

All these places I’d been to with the band I went to on my own. I don’t think there’s any substitute to being on your own, as a writer. There’s no distraction. I could take myself out to a café and read a book. All these indulgences where I don’t know the next time I’m going to be able to do.

At the time – it was kind of shit, because I was lonely and I had lots of stuff coming out, feelings I didn’t want to face, but in retrospect, it was a really special time.

 

How did you end up working with your producer Jonathon Wilson?

I had always been a big fan of his. The Preatures guys were too. Because he is a real guitarists guitarist and musicians musician. We had been a fan of his solo work for a few years. And then he came out to Australia, I got a call maybe in 2018, that he was coming out with the Roger Waters tour. And that he was up for co-writing. I thought that would be cool, but it didn’t come off.

The next time I was in LA I hit him up and had some songs I’d been working on with Emma Louise. I think we played him “Sleepwalking” and “Seasons Change”. We went into his studio in downtown LA, the three of us. He was great. A lot of producers want to put their stamp on it, songwriting-wise. He didn’t do that – he was really respectful and loved the songs. He started to do his thing – playing the drums, putting the bass down, suggesting this and that. I got so excited because I had been working with a lot of pop guys, who were working on the computer in their little rooms. But to work in a studio with him got me really excited. It took nearly 2 years for things to work out with the label, signing a new contract, the pandemic got in the way etc. By the time we got to working together, I was quite heavily pregnant, so I couldn’t travel

We ended up doing a lot of the album remotely, which was confronting and challenging. After so much lead up I really wanted to be there, but it was kind of great and cool. They did the classic thing where they just had the songs, and the songs were done, and everything had a scratch vocal or a demo. The producer went in with the musicians and the band and did his thing, and I got it back. It felt like an old-school almost classic way of working which appealed to me.

You’ve got a few live shows coming up – looking forward to them?

Yeah – I am – there is some trepidation. But as soon as I get on stage, there is supreme happiness. I’ll be fine. I’ve been very conscious about how I want to do this entrance back into live music. Because I’m still a new mother. I don’t have the capacity that I did, and with all the conditions in the industry at the moment. I need to start doing just a few things and make them really good, rather than bash whole tours. Hopefully next year. I’m trying to make things more sustainable for myself and my family at the moment.

The Preatures
Izzi – Photo: Bruce Baker

I get that. Tell me, the song “Only Child”, was that written before or after you fell pregnant?

I wrote that before I got pregnant. I don’t think I could ever have written a song like that in The Preatures. I can see the band performing it now. But I needed to go through the exit of the band to bring songs like that out.

Did you see the Music NSW Raising Their Voices report about sexism and sexual harassment that was released today?

I did.  I haven’t had a chance to look over it. I was involved in that. The people behind it were very thorough. We’ll see…

I do think that a report like that is meaningful and influential, just because it exists, and has been done. What will come of it? I don’t know.

The issue is we don’t have a union. The closest we have is APRA, which doesn’t serve as an artist or industry body union. There is such a sense of instability and vulnerability that it becomes difficult for people to seek reparation and justice, and their case heard in a structured way.

Unfortunately, I missed you on Rage last weekend. 

I did – Rage was an institution. When my parents worked in a restaurant as a kid they would get home really late. I used to be in bed when they got home. They tell a story that I used to get up and sit on the couch with them, and we would sit there and watch Rage while they would unwind from service.

Thanks for your time. Enjoy the rest of the lift-off for your album.

Justin Stewart Cotta

Isabella Manfredi will be appearing at the Queenscliff Music Festival – Fri Nov 25 – Queenscliff, VIC tickets HERE

izzi is out now. You can buy limited edition vinyl and other merch at her website HERE.
You can keep up to date with Isabella Manfredi on FacebookInstagramApple MusicYouTubeTwitter and Spotify,

Bruce Baker

Probably riding my bike, taking photos and/or at a gig. Insta: @bruce_a_baker

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