Maybe one day scientists will discover the bright black atom that makes Isabella ‘Izzi’ Manfredi who she is. As the singer for The Preatures she’s already on her way to becoming a star, with their second album Girlhood invoking a half-dreamed, half-confessed autobiography and proto-feminist heroine ideal bound to inspire her fans. All the while it can also sound like a set of secret songs to her alone.
Musically it moves her band deeper into a pop rock, disco-tinged 1970s world where The Divinyls and Blondie are still seeking out a path to the 21st century – if you close your eyes and listen back real close like Izzi Manfredi does.
Fine-boned, fine-featured, dressed in black and red, with what look like upturned diamond crosses for earrings, she rolls her own cigarettes in front of an ashtray that is much fuller than it should be. Manfredi proudly gestures to a paved backyard she has transformed into her garden: potted ferns and stoic flowers reside around a meditating statue of the Buddha. “It’s winter now, dormant,” she says, though the Italian girl in her speaks with pride of how “in summer I grow tomatoes and parsley and all sorts of herbs.”
Now a denizen of Kings Cross, the 29-year-old grew up around Queens Park and Bondi Junction. “This is first time I’ve lived out of home,” she says derisively, “it’s pathetic.” Manfredi can barely muster the energy to come up with the excuse that her last five years have been spent playing and touring on the road.
Her own mother and father share-housed with The Reels before venturing very successfully into the restaurant business, making Manfredi an iconic name in Sydney cuisine. When they divorced in 1996, she was eight years old. Manfredi says it was “traumatic. Divorces are terrible things. But Mum and Dad maintained their working relationship, so it became like a friendship. But it’s really, really hard on an only child. There are no brothers or sisters to share the memory of the family.”
“Talking about family is painful [even now],” she says. “It accumulated into something … something a bit more … I don’t know what the word is … like ‘forever’,” she says, washing her hand over the word as it leaves her. “It just got branded into me.”
A childhood memory of a Garry Shead painting that hung in her house springs to mind. “Part of his The Phantom series. It shows The Phantom carrying Diana up the stairs, and a detective looking from around the corner. Dad would read me a lot of Phantom comics at night. Sinbad, Arabian Nights…”
Art and artists have always been a part of her life, thanks in many ways to her mother’s encouragement of her creativity. Garry Shead was a family friend. Manfredi grew up with Gria Shead, now a well-regarded painter herself, and she has a picture, a charcoal drawing she loves, of Gria Shead’s daughter Stella on her wall. You see the same female connections reverberating throughout most of The Preatures’s videos.
It’s hard to decide if Manfredi is tough or fragile, old world or new – but the truth may be some mysterious mix of both, marked by a curious hunger that is hard to feed. Last year, Manfredi tells me, “I read 126 books.”
Her room is a cornucopia of vinyl albums and well-thumbed books from Charles Bukowski to Ursula Le Guin, a personal favourite. Fantasy is one area that especially appeals to her, and in keeping with her paradoxical energy I can’t help but picture a cruel princess capable of great kindness, or a kind princess capable of great cruelty.
The new Preatures album Girlhood summons up a potent female joy in their latest single ‘Yanada’ – “I open my eyes underwater” – an ecstatic Reconciliation pop song witnessed through ideals of girlhood friendship and elemental connections. Yet it slants, finally, into a damaged reverie about a Las Vegas lost weekend splurging $7,000 on clothes in ‘Something New’.
Manfredi favours classic r’n’b singers like Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight and Martha Reeves, “For the great pain that is there between the song and the storyteller and the way the singer is reaching for something higher, singing for a beauty in the world.” Almost scoffing at herself, she speaks of her youthful fandom for Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Patti Smith. “I always thought I was gonna write these mournful, brooding ballads. But what came out was this energetic, spritely voice instead.”
These things can be a mystery, even to yourself. She prefers “the kaleidoscopic, the contrary, the messy. I hate binaries,” she says. The books she has been reading this last year have pushed her towards what she calls “a preference for natural feminism or mystic feminism. A poetic realisation of qualities. I don’t really like the sloganistic part of feminism, all that ‘future is female’ stuff. I think the journey is all about relationships, and to have a relationship with someone else you have to have a knowledge of your own failings.”
Manfredi puts another cigarette in her overflowing ashtray. Supposedly her eyes are brown but the morning light make them look darker: “I like what Joni Mitchell says. I never really wanted people to see me. I wanted them to see themselves.”
Girlhood is out this Friday August 11. The Preatures are touring nationally:
Friday 1st September – The Forum – MELBOURNE
Saturday 2nd September – Enmore Theatre (All Ages) – SYDNEY
Thursday 14th September – Brisbane Festival (All Ages) – BRISBANE
Friday 22nd September – HQ (All Ages) – ADELAIDE
Saturday 23rd September – The Capitol – PERTH
The playist below was curated for NEIGHBOURHOOD by Jack Moffitt, the guitarist for The Preatures.