Isabella Manfredi is having a moment of respite when she appears on the Zoom screen. Fresh-faced and dressed down in a simple white shirt, with her hair pulled back, she takes a drag on a cigarette.
The 34-year-old is in Los Angeles at the home of her friend and collaborator Emma Louise, where they’re spending their days cooking, painting, writing and playing with their toddlers. Caring for one-year-old Mina has taken up so much of Manfredi’s energy that press duties are a welcome break. “I’ve been just being a full-time mum for the last year – this is the first time I’ve really had space to myself to even hear the sound of my own voice,” she says.
It’s a new chapter in the musician’s life, not only personally but also professionally – last year she left The Preatures, the band she spent more than a decade fronting. The group was Australian indie royalty – a firm favourite on radio and the touring circuit, with Manfredi their electrifying leader on stage – but not all was well behind the scenes.
Manfredi later revealed the reasons behind her departure in a tell-all interview with Rolling Stone Australia: her 10-year romantic relationship with bandmate Jack Moffitt had ended due to his continuing infidelity, she said, and The Preatures were experiencing financial troubles. Her debut solo single, ‘Jealousy’ – ironically enough, featuring Moffitt on background vocals – dropped that same week. It was the culmination of years of quiet soul-searching.
“I had just never fucking done anything for myself in that group – I had been available for everything that the band needed any time, anywhere,” Manfredi says now. “At the beginning of 2018, we did the Harry Styles show support and did a bunch of festivals, and I had pretty much a full nervous breakdown at one point because I was like, ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ I was giving too much of myself. I was not doing what felt right to me.”
So Manfredi packed her bags and headed overseas without the band that had defined her identity for most of her adult life. After a month in Italy on a food tour with her father (the celebrated Italian-Australian chef Stefano Manfredi), she travelled to Paris, Berlin, London, New York, Nashville and Los Angeles. Co-writing and collaborating with old and new friends along the way, Manfredi found herself in an exciting new element – up until this point, her only major collaboration had been with Flume on 2013’s ‘The Greatest View’.
“The first song that I wrote properly was ‘Jealousy’ in London with these two guys, Rich Cooper and Jonny Latimer,” she says. “It was an incredible session because they had this very English approach to writing a pop song, so everything was meticulously sculpted and edited and rewritten. Everything was muscular, and it just felt like it was a great match… the definition between where I began and they ended was non-existent, so it really felt like a true collaboration.”
Manfredi brought the song, along with a few others, back to The Preatures in Australia and was met with resistance, which was when she realised it might be time to leave.
Emboldened by the creative rush of working with new people and bringing in feature artists – something the band had never done – she took the songs and started thinking about how she might forge a whole new world.
The result is ‘Izzi’, an energetic and defiant statement of survival that takes the signature Preatures groove and adds new ingredients to make it Manfredi’s own. Doing away with the band’s instantly recognisable drum sound was one key to this, as well as welcoming different voices into the fold, such as Nigerian-Australian rapper PRICIE, who brings a fresh twist to ‘Naive’. The session band included Kirin J Callinan, Michael di Francesco (Touch Sensitive, Van She), Chris Collins (Tigertown) and Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint).
“I had just never fucking done anything for myself in [The Preatures] – I had been available for everything that the band needed any time, anywhere”
“Musically, I think it’s a lot more kaleidoscopic than The Preatures was – it’s a lot more textural,” Manfredi says. “I was able to bring in things like sax and fretless bass and experiment with different drum sounds… But I think the biggest difference is really the clarity of the storytelling and melodies that were able to come through because I wasn’t being buried in tons of reverb, and I wasn’t hiding myself within the group.”
These 10 songs circle themes of freedom and independence, and illustrate the joys and frustrations of life on the road. The Fleetwood Mac-esque ‘Living in the Wind’ maps out the experiences and challenges of being in a touring band at different stages of life through a number of character perspectives; other songs, like ‘Birthday Wish’ and ‘Only Child’, reach back into childhood to harness raw emotions, and then heal them.
Manfredi wrote many of these songs before she knew she was going to leave The Preatures, manifesting some kind of subconscious yearning for escape. While ‘Izzi’ traverses difficult feelings, it does so in a way that feels optimistic, exploding open a view of possible futures. “I love that it is essentially a break-up record, but it does feel so alive and full of energy,” Manfredi says. “I love the songs – I don’t associate them with heartbreak anymore. The whole record just feels hopeful to me.”
Central is the idea of emancipation, which doesn’t necessarily mean being alone – rather, it’s about a more equal relationship with others, without tying self-worth or validation to anybody else. “I’m not deferring the power anymore,” the musician says. “I’m not allowing any one person or entity to define who I am.”
“I’ve grounded myself in everyday life and in my worth as just me, just the enoughness of me”
Looking back on her time with The Preatures, Manfredi speaks of the band with fondness, despite its acrimonious ending – and hopes fans feel the same way. “The Preatures is always going to be part of who I am as an artist. I love the work I did with the band… It’s part of my legacy,” she says. “I really hope that people can hold the two truths simultaneously… Those songs were coming from me and my essence.”
In March 2021, Manfredi performed her first show as a solo artist at Restaurant Hubert in Sydney while 25 weeks pregnant, backed by many of the musicians who appear on the record. Taking her new musical persona to even bigger stages will be “the next spicy memory”, she laughs, but one she’s looking forward to: “I love performing – the stage is my original home.”
Manfredi’s journey towards ‘Izzi’ has involved a kind of grieving for who she used to be, and an anticipation of who she might become. “The most significant before and after for me with this transition from Preatures frontwoman to solo artist to mother has been that I really shed a lot of layers of the ego over the last couple of years,” she says.
“I’ve grounded myself in everyday life and in my worth as just me, just the enoughness of me. It’s fun and scary in some ways, because it feels ordinary, but there’s a lot of richness and beauty that goes with that as well. The Izzi character is the person that can be that face to the public, but I’m much more than that.”
Isabella Manfredi’s ‘Izzi’ is out now via Island Records Australia/UMA