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Glamour, Girlhood and a changing of the guard: reflecting on a very grilling 2016 with The Preatures

the preatures thomas champion tom champion interview isabella manfredi

The Preatures are one of my favourite bands. Since Planet Blue Eyes, I have fallen in love over and over again with Isabella Manfredi’s warm charisma, albeit hidden under the disguise of her rock chick aesthetic.

And after a year of losing a band member, touring the world and calculated inspirational research they have given us Girlhood. As the band themselves have described, this is a record of interwoven coming of age stories, moments of triumph and of soul aching vulnerability.

I caught bass player Tom Champion on a Thursday morning and we talked at length about the record’s lyrical perspective, of the loss of former guitar player Gideon Bensen and the emptiness of touring despite the glamorous veneer.

the preatures thomas champion tom champion interview isabella manfredi

The Preatures are humans, just like the rest of us. After one of their toughest years together, we sit down with bassist Tom Champion for the latest.

While one might see the record’s title and jump to the conclusion that Girlhood is simply Manfredi’s personal journal, I had a suspicion that, as with any band, this album speaks to universality of the member’s experiences. Girlhood is indicative of innocence, of growth and acceptance and that is exactly what the album traverses. When I offered this interpretation to Champion, he agreed.

“Because of the name Girlhood it’s framed as Izzi’s girlhood, and I know that there are autobiographical elements to the lyrics and songs there, especially in a few songs that didn’t make the final cut. It’s not like as a young man I can’t relate, because there are all memories of me as a young boy growing up that are very similar… It’s just the story of someone growing up in Sydney”. 

As a Sydney band with a huge following in their home city, the stories of Sydney youth and adolescence could not ring through more clearly. When taking in the album, I was blown away by just how diverse the sound was. The First Night is soaked with alt country tones, with a low hum of pop, it’s Cyndi Lauper through and through.

While Yanada is a clear nod to bright ’80s pop, it seamlessly integrates Indigenous language with uplifting style and confidence. But, it is Your Fan that makes me weak at the knees for its haunting melancholy and brilliantly articulated honesty. If not just for myself, I was aching to ask Champion where this story fits for him and his experience of fame.

He paused briefly before explaining “With Your Fan there’s part of it which are from a fan’s perspective and parts of it which are from the musician’s perspective… It’s this feeling like all is not what it seems to be in a band. You think it’s constant gratification and non stop amazingness on tour.”

“But there is also deep loneliness and a lot of soul searching happens on tour. [There’s] the ‘post gig depression’ that some musicians suffer, where there’s this massive rush of endorphins you get from the stage. Usually when it’s a hometown gig you’ve got all your friends and family there and there’s a joviality after the show. Whereas when you’re on tour in the middle of nowhere and you get off stage and you don’t know anyone.”

“You just sit quietly and think ‘I’m a shell of a human’. It’s not this deep seeded depression, it’s just this really off feeling like ‘I want to be home’. That song particularly Izzi just wrote it on the spot and the microphones were up, and Jack had quietly pressed record in the studio. Luke the drummer was actually playing along on bass and I think I was asleep on the couch. It was in one take and it was like ‘oh there’s a new song’.”

Since Planet Blue Eyes, The Preatures have become synonymous with Australian summers, of big guitar riffs and bouncing pop anthems. All delivered with an intelligent and charismatic allure, which you can’t take as anything other than sheer cool factor.

To watch the clip for Somebody’s Talking is to see a Sydney band transform pub rock into glamorous rock and roll worthy of any stage. Manfredi is Blondie, Chrissie Amphlett and Joan Jett all in one breath, but still very much her own entity with a captivating personality and direct gaze.

It’s not hard to to imagine The Preatures dominating the world stage and leaving Sydney behind in the dust. However, Champion was adamant that their hearts are here and the bright lights of the US and UK have not made their mark on them just yet.

“We have always seen ourselves as an Australian band. There aren’t many blatant Australian themes, I think maybe Somebody’s Talking, that was just a summer, big blue sky, Australian song. And that was what we were aiming for.”

“We’ve had so many questions about whether we are going to move to America and we have just been like ‘we are an Australian band’. We’re more than happy to go there and play gigs, but this is our home and we feel really good about being here.”

The conversation steered towards their music, and the attitude they have encompassed when it comes to their band as an extension of Sydney’s music scene. While many bands will speak at length of their sonic influences, it was refreshing to hear Champion speak to the notion of ethos when it came to conducting their careers in the music industry, that as a band they have inspirational figures beyond the music.

“That probably comes from the band’s we’ve been inspired by. Which are now the great Aussie rock bands, but then they were just the bands Australia produced. We haven’t really used them as an inspiration musically but as an inspiration as a band. INXS and The Angels and to a lesser extent AC/DC and The Saints, and bands like that when rock music was an Australian export rather than coal or iron ore.”

But Girlhood hasn’t come without some tough times. Even now while travelling overseas with a new record out in the world, the space that former guitar player Gideon Bensen has left cannot be ignored, least of all by the band themselves.

The Preatures announced last year that Bensen was leaving to pursue his solo career, and while clearly a loss, it seems that the decision was met with kind acceptance, by both the band members and their fans. In light of this, I was curious to see whether Champion felt that the sound of the record had changed in any way since Bensen’s departure.

He was quiet for some time before hesitantly responding, and while opening with trepidation he slipped into a quiet sadness.

“I can’t say it hasn’t affected the record. I wouldn’t be able to put my finger on the exact point where it’s influenced us. But personally between the members of the band I feel like if there was five of us in the circle and one of us bows out, the edges of the circle get closer. With all respect to Gideon, I love Gideon he’s still my best mate. But we had to sew that up pretty quickly.”

“We were all shocked, but I think he had been planning to make a move for a long time and he saw that as his opportunity, to make it clean. Which, thank you Gideon for making it so easy. It’s kind of a funny one, if you asked me in a year I’d probably be able to tell you in much more detail, because it’s an everyday thing… I don’t want to say I don’t notice it.”

“Sometimes we’re on tour and we get down to get in the van and we look around and feel like we’re missing one, where is the other guy? It’s weird, I was almost going to turn around and ask Gideon a question. He’s a big player in the beginning of what this band was, we wouldn’t be here without him”

As this interview was taking place it was being publicly announced that The Preatures’ upcoming show at the marriage equality benefit YesFest had been cancelled. In light of a number of factors, including production costs and ticket sales, it was with a mournful tone that Champion and I lamented the decision for the show to be axed.

He passionately gave over his support for marriage equality and the unjust struggles of the Australian LGBTIQ+ community, concluding “We were really excited, we had lined up some special guests. It was going to be one of those great gigs, that all your friends are at, but unfortunately no bueno.”

The Preatures have matured from their big blue skies and summer anthems into a new territory of articulate and intelligent rock ‘n’ roll. Not losing their daring and sometimes intimidating cool kid stare, this is a band revealing the stories of Sydney, of youth and Australian culture.

Champion’s humble reflection upon the research that went into just one track Yanada which includes significant verses in Indigenous language speaks volumes to the precision and consideration that has gone into Girlhood.

“I learnt so much about the community and the people and the history across that year. Speaking with the community, it was an amazing experience and I think more people need to know the things we learnt in the process”.

This is a band with gaze beyond the fame, beyond the tours and beyond the tight pants and glitter, The Preatures are the real deal, with stories to tell and the gritty determination and style to tell them right.

 

Catch The Preatures live in 2017:

Sat Nov 4 – This That – Wickham Park, Newcastle
Sat Dec 9 – Festival of the Sun – Breakwall Tourist Park, Port Macquarie
Fri Dec 29 – Beyond the Valley – Lardner Park, Victoria – Tickets

October 24, 2017

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