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#24 - Izzi Manfredi
(The Preatures)

Fenella Kernebone
Sydney Opera House

Since she was a kid there never any doubt in Izzi Manfredi's mind that she wanted to make music, a dream that was finally realised when she met Jack Moffitt and Thomas Champion at uni. And together they formed The Preatures. Influenced by The Beatles, Divinyls and The Pretenders, the band achieved international success with their 2013 track ‘Is This How You Feel.’ The band just released Girlhood, a distinctly personal album that draws on stories from Izzi's own childhood and adolescence.

So Izzi, take me back to where this all began for you. Is music something that you have always been passionate about?
Yeah, I remember vividly being in primary school and all the other kids, we'd get in a big circle and we'd all talk about “what do you want do when you grow up,” and all the other girls would say, “I to want be a famous singer,” and that used to really shit me as a small child because I realised that if I said in fact that I wanted to be a singer, then I was just like all the other girls. And so I said, “I want to be a marine biologist,” and I took this on as my thing for a couple of years until I realised I hated fish and was freaked out by being in the water … so I abandoned that.

"That is essentially why people make music. To soothe themselves. I mean, some people watch Netflix."

So when you said as a small child that you always wanted to be a musician and yet, you kind of battled against it because that was the predictable thing that young girls did, but you were still obviously were devoted to music. Can you remember what you were listening to when you were really little? What were the things that were influencing you then?
I did. My dad had a Toyota Corolla that he used to drive us around in – it stunk of meat and, you know, eggs and sort of rotting things. He used to have a cassette player and we use to listen to Crowded House and Smashing Pumpkins and I still think to this day that Smashing Pumpkin song was in The Lion King…because we went and saw The Lion King and then listened to Smashing Pumpkins.

So music has always been, you know, in the mesh of my memory. A lot of my early memories of music were actually whatever was on [Triple J’s] Hottest 100 which started, I think, in 1993.

Right. So, this sort of the early experience of listening to music and obviously, you know, even travelling around in cars. I was reading an interview where your dad actually talked about the fact that when you were a baby you used to cry all the time and to put you at ease he used to just pop you in the car—I hope it wasn’t the Toyota Corolla [laughter], or it might have been—and that it just used to really, really calm you down. Do you find that's what you still do today? You make music but, I know this is sort of a bit of a stretch from being a baby to today but, you know, this idea of trying to find a way to calm down by listening to music itself?
What a bastard. I didn't know he said that about me.

Yeah, that's what dads do, dads are like that.
I mean, that is essentially why people make music. To soothe themselves. I mean, some people watch Netflix.

"It's more about people need—we need myth, we need some higher connection, and music is essentially how we would pass down story."

 

To try and chill out?
Mm.

And what, do you listen to music?
Yeah. Sometimes I watch Netflix though.

What do you watch?
Vikings.

[Laughter] What is it about that show in particular that you like?
I like the female protagonist Lagertha and the way that she solves problems through violence.

Which is always a good thing, I think.
Yeah.

It's something to inspire, and something to be inspired by. I'm just kidding.
I did a DNA recently and I had discovered that I had no Italian DNA. It was all Saxon, German and mid-European. So, northern and mid-European: Germanic, Slavic, Scandinavian … so the Manfredi's are essentially, you know, Germanic peoples.

Not Italians?
Not Italians.

That's really interesting. What is it that marks our desire to understand ourselves? I mean, we sit there and we go to self-help exercises and groups et cetera, but there's this new thing where you go investigate yourself and get a DNA test.

What does it say about who we are that we must know our genetic history in order to understand ourselves, do you think?
Well, I think we're living in a very unique situation at the moment where kind of everything that civilisation has been built on, which is the ties to your ancestry—and Fred who begot Fred, who begot Fred, who begot Fredina, or however we use to think about ourselves in terms of where we came from and our place in the universe and our tribe, our clan—was survival. That was how we survived, and we don't have that anymore.

So I think it's really interesting that all of these systems or TV shows or whatever are cropping up, and people are getting really into them because they're about that sense of deep, ancient history and the time before time. I spent a lot of time thinking about all that sort of stuff when I made this record.

To try and understand what it means to belong?
Makes it sound like 2007 HSC all over again. No, I think it's more about people need—we need myth, we need some higher connection, and music is essentially how we would pass down story.

I wonder how that manifests itself because we live in such an oversaturated world, there is so much music out there, there is so much story to punch through or to filter through or to be heard. What is it that you feel you can do or you need to do to make that noise reach our ears, I suppose?
I don't know. Just do it.

[Laughter] It helps doesn't it? When you were a kid Izzi, you talked about you wanted to be a marine biologist and all of these other kinds of things, so it sounds like you had a reasonably complicated relationship to music. How did you find your way back to actually being a musician? Take me back to that story.
Well, started playing piano when I was three and I went to a music and language school so there was a lot of what you'd call ‘oral skills’, a lot of tah-teh-tah-teh-ta-ta, tafa-tefa-tafa-tefa-ta-ta, and I loved all of that stuff. Anything to do with rhythm, anything to do with people and a big group, singing or clapping or playing xylophones, playing instruments...I loved that. I remember really loving being spoken to or being sung to and then having to repeat that back to the teacher. And I had a great freedom when I was as kid ‘cause you don't care as a kid whether or not the chord you're playing on the guitar is the right chord. I had no idea how to play guitar, but I was always picking up my dad's guitar and playing whatever chords.

I got to about six or seven...I used to go and do little recitals and competitions, piano competitions. I don't have a lot...much memory of this other than the blue suit I used to wear. My nonna used to knit me these fabulous outfits when I was a kid and I had this little blue suit that I would go and play all the recitals in, and I'd do this, like, mum tells a story about how I’d do the piece, whatever the piece was—Mozart, Bach, something like that—and then I would improvise. She said without anybody telling you, you just do a piece of your own improvisation. And I have no memory of that.

 

 

 

That's pretty cute.
Yeah. But yeah, I remember being very nervous, but also really enjoying the sense of competition.

How did music become something that you knew you wanted to pursue?
I guess through being...when I was a teenager, I was just a fan. I guess I broke from that feeling that I was a musician myself or that I was a songwriter myself. Even though I was writing songs all..

Throughout high school.
...throughout high school. Something broke in me which meant that there was a separation between the musicians that I saw out in the world that I idolised and the musician that I was, which I didn't—for some reason I didn't correlate that I could actually do that, or that I even just inherently was a musician. Which we all are, we're all musicians. It's very easy for somebody to pick up, you know, a knife and fork at the dinner table and just bash away on the plates as kids do like, they're all, you know, kids are musicians essentially. Then at some point we lose that and I think the music industry has got a lot to answer for in that respect because it's taken away music from its roots as a uniting, sort of tribal force which we need to communicate with each other and made it this...product.

Do you think it's the music industry or a bit of both? In some way I feel it's our education system that kind of stamps out the passion, if that makes sense.
Yeah, well, I grew up in a school that was Montessori so there was a lot of freedom, but then I missed out on the rote learning stuff so I've never been able to read music partly because of my own laziness, but also because I didn't, I wasn't taught the fundamentals. And I actually think that rote learning is really important. When you have any craft, you have to rote learn it, you have to practice, you have to know the essentials. We’re sort of getting into the tangent of education but musical education—you're right, it's so important. But I guess when you focus on the creativity of the child over teaching them the fundamentals so that then when they get older they can create, I think, I just think there needs to be balance.

So not being able to music has never been an issue for you obviously, but yet you believe that rote learning is important. Tell me a bit about that, I'm curious.
Well, not being able to read music has been an issue for me. I wish I could read music. That'd be so cool to just sit down at the piano and play. I learn all my pieces by my piano teacher, Rose, who was a staunch Russian, sitting at the piano and playing me the piece and then I would play it back in sections and we'd go section by section so that I could remember it. And yeah, I've got great ears because of that. I'm very grateful for that, I've got good listening skills. But, I mean reading music—being able to write a chart or understand a chart and particularly now I'm learning guitar—it'd be great to be able to read tablature and to be able to read music, I'd love that.

Yeah, it's a whole other language, isn't it? It can help. Well there's still time, Izzi.
I'm know, I'm not ruling it out, I'm not ruling it out.

Listen to the full interview on It's A Long Story. Explore the rest of the episodes here.

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