Isabella Manfredi is out of breath, puffing on a roadside bench in Sydney, when we get her on the phone. The leader of indie stars The Preatures, and one of the most beguiling and bewitching performers of her generation, she's paused for a chat in the middle of a decidedly un-rock star act -- lugging her own suitcases home along Liverpool Street.
She's stoked, though.
"We just flew back from the Gold Coast, we were up in Brunswick Heads last night," Manfredi tells us from the city bench. The Preatures had been up the coast playing a special, tiny gig to celebrate the launch of their new album 'Girlhood', and the short concert definitely whet the appetite of a band itching to get back on the road.
"We only played for 40 minutes and it felt really quick. I was just getting into it, then we had to go. We've been off the road for too long, I just need to get to get back on stage. It's nice to get a taste, but it's like an appetiser and then not having the main course," she laughed.
Since pricking ears with their debut album 'Blue Planet Eyes' and breakout earworm singles 'Is This How You Feel?' and 'Somebody's Talking', the Sydney band have travelled the globe, played at mega festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, lost a key member, and enthralled countless thousands across the world with their retro rock'n'roll -- at times energetic and danceable and upbeat, others quieter and softer and moodier, always bluesy and groovy as they draw in elements across the 60s, 70s and 80s from The Beatles to Fleetwood Mac.
'Girlhood' pushes more into the quieter, tender side of the band. The title track, which opens the album, is bright and sunny and "about the clusterfucks of modern life, how will I make it as a woman", Manfredi wrote in an Instagram post. 'The First Night' smacks of Fleetwood Mac, 'Mess It Up' is a groovy reminder of the 1970s while the warm synths and funky basslines of 'Nite Machine' takes their cues from the decade later. 'Your Fan' and 'Cherry Ripe' are soft and delicate, slowly unfolding under Manfredi's crooned vocals and fragile instrumentation. 'Girlhood' is not nearly as rock'n'roll as its predecessor, but shows a band coming to terms with their place in the world, settling into their groove and becoming less afraid to be vulnerable.
"The first record was much more about kicking out. It was an external record, with this energy and physicality and dynamism. This record to me feels a lot more introspective and vulnerable," Manfredi explained.
"That has a physicality to it as well, but a different kind. I wanted to find subtlety and delicacy on this record where we hadn't really found that on the first record."
She said she was reading a lot of "feminist canon" while The Preatures created the album, leafing through Germaine Greer and Simone de Beauvoir and 'The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets'. It's not exactly a surprise the album is titled 'Girlhood', with Manfredi saying a lot of the lyrics explore the contradictions of being a woman.
"A lot of people, when they hear the record, will pick straight away that there's quite contrasting musical styles. That's quite intentional. There are so many facets of my identity inside, probably ten different women inside of me, and I was interested in exploring that part of myself which didn't quite make sense, a part which might feel messy or contrary," she said.
"I'm always holding different opposing things in my mind, maybe four or five, juggling them and trying to find which one I'm going to live in the moment. I called the record 'Girlhood' because, in order for these songs to exist together, they needed a home to rest to make sense in altogether. As a story, if you listen to the lines of the record, it makes sense as a story and gave all the songs a context. I imagine it as collage on the walls of a girl's bedroom."
But it is the exploration of a different theme altogether which is the fundamental centrepiece of the album. 'Yanada', the album's third track, is full of fat, warm, shimmering 80s-style synthesisers and acoustic guitars, bright and sunny and happy. But it is the collaboration with Indigenous songwoman Jacinta Tobin which makes this truly special, with Manfredi singing in the Dharug language. She was inspired to meld the song with a local Indigenous language after seeing a Bangarra dance company production, and spent many months searching for the right person to collaborate with.
"The Indigenous members [of the production] all spoke Dharug. I didn't understand the language but it moved me, it hit me. I came away and was very affected by the story. I didn't set out to write the song with Indigenous language in it, I just started writing and halfway through it had an Indigenous story and needed an Indigenous voice," she said.
"We started this process of trying to work out who to talk to, is this appropriate for non-Indigenous people to be singing in language, and what would it mean for the community if we did this? We started chatting to lots of people, meeting lots in the Sydney community of all different clans. Looking at the political side of wanting to write in Indigenous language, Sydney was the place that was first hit by colonisation. The people here, the displacement, the erosion of traditional boundaries, it made it very difficult for the community to start piecing together the language again. How do we define the language, talk about it, present it in a way that speaks to the broader Australian community? Those were the questions we wanted to get right."
Manfredi said she met Jacinta after almost a year of searching for the right collaborator. After taking some language classes, the pair went to Jacinta's home in the Blue Mountains and wrote the chorus "in maybe half an hour." 'Yanada', in Dharug, means 'moon'.
"When you create something, it's an act of faith. I believed that if this song created a conversation about how we used language in this country, how we recognise it, that's a good thing,. For some people in the community, it will be contentious and emotional, and bring up a lot of things for a non-Indigenous person to be singing in language, but we were conscious about this being an exchange. The overwhelming response from the community we spoke to was that it's really positive for a non-Indigenous person to be singing in language. For the languages to live, people have to speak them. They have to be used."
The Preatures are on tour through September with Polish Club. See the band's website for dates and ticketing details.