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The Preatures' Jack Moffitt on community, relationships and delving into someone else's world

9 September 2017 | 7:38 pm | Camilla Patini

Five years ago, Sydney band The Preatures moved into a dingy rehearsal space in Sydney’s Surry Hills and set about transforming it into a recording studio they named Doldrums. It was here where they developed their sound, recorded 2013’s Is This How You Feel? EP, and for the past 18 months, recorded and produced their second album, Girlhood. Sounding something like the sing-along radio hits of 1970s pop and Fleetwood Mac combined, the band's music has received critical acclaim across the globe. Their first album Blue Planet Eyes, released in 2014, debuted at #4 on the ARIA Album Chart and the band were nominated for 3 ARIA Awards in 2015 for Best Live Act, Best Group and Best Rock Album and won GQ’s Band of The Year Award.

Their initial plan to write and record their second album in just a couple of months off the back of the success of the first turned into a year and a half of creativity and refinement. Led by guitarist and producer Jack Moffitt and driven by Thomas Champion on bass and Luke Davison on drums, the band surrendered to the longer process.

Jack recorded and produced the sessions, getting some initial help from Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, Olympia, DMA’s) and ARIA Award-winning engineer Eric J. Dubowsky (Flume, Nick Murphy). Girlhood was given a final polish in Los Angeles by mixing engineer Bob Clearmountain, an industry legend, known for his work with David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen as well as Aussie icons INXS, Divinyls and The Church.

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The album delves deep into singer Isabella Manfredi's personal experiences and memories of growing up as a girl in Sydney, as well as her own life and times as a woman in the male-dominated music world. The album is an intimate and honest account of her experiences, and one which will no doubt resonate with listeners.

We sat down with Jack Moffitt ahead of their Brisbane show this week to hear about what it was like delving into Izzi's world for this record, as well as what it meant for him taking on a greater role in the production and recording of this album.

Izzi has talked about how the songs on this album are about tackling the extreme confusion faced by modern women; she’s drawing on some very personal experiences and there’s a lot of really strong and vulnerable writing here. How has it been delving into someone else’s world for this record?

That’s what we do, we’re a band, and the way that we’ve always worked has been to find the best way to interpret or honour the song. I feel as though we’re better at that now that we’ve got a little older and been playing together. I think it was important for Izzi to be able to express herself as an artist and as a writer the way she did on this album. Our job as a group, not only as a group of guys and a woman, but also just as a unit, as a collective, is to do everything that we can to help give the songs their best life – that’s what we’ve got to do.

Izzi has spoken in the past about having to put some of her more feminine qualities aside to fit in a with an all-male band. How has it been for the rest of you, have you seen her being treated differently because she’s a woman? 

This kind of part of the conversation is interesting because, obviously, my perspective is as a man. But, I think as a group, we’ve only ever tried to be good at what we’re doing, and in doing that, we’ve come up against a lot of context and particularly a lot of discussion around feminism and sexism and around the place of gender equality in groups and society at large. I’ve always found those things to be not difficult for me to participate in the conversation, but I tend to not be so conscious of it, which might sound flippant, but when Izzi is trying to communicate something I’m just trying to listen to what it is that she’s saying. In that sense, the way that we communicate is the most important thing that we share in the group. Obviously, the way I talk to Tom or the way I talk to Luke is not the same way that I talk with Izzi. I realise that that is for separate directions, three of which are male, one of which is female, and that we all have very different, innate ways of communicating with one another, gender completely aside from that.

I do sometimes see that stacking up against Izzi, being the only woman, with a very innate way of communicating and expressing herself as a woman. Once all the conversations have been had, Izzi recognises that there’s a place for masculine energy, there’s a place of feminine energy and sometimes between just the two of us, those energies are in exchange. She can be extremely masculine, especially in her behaviour on stage, and I can be sort of feminine. Transplanting a lot of some of those kinds of behavioural things away from what their norm is, I think, part of being an artist; questioning things and going up against hard truths and going up against things that are out there and at large. All of those things boil down to the fact that we’re communicating and really listening to one another.

I think it’s fair to say that there are probably going to be some difficult days for Izzi but she’s a very articulate communicator. And I think she’s had to become that because of just how much the whole world is focused around the way men live their lives or the way that men communicate. I know my answer is very convoluted. I guess I haven’t had to think too much about it until we’ve started talking about this record. I always find myself letting Izzi lead that conversation because I’m still learning things from her that are helping me understand things a lot better.

Girlhood is more broadly about childhood and growing up and becoming your own person. Does the album make you nostalgic for your own childhood? What kind of memories does it bring up for you? 

A lot of things. ‘Yanada’ reminds me very much of being a young boy in the Eastern suburbs in Sydney where my family moved to when I was young. Just being in the sun all the time near the water.

‘Magick’ reminds me of being a teenager and having just left school and roaming around watching bands and taking in this whole new world that was completely new to me and excited me in a totally different way. There’s lots of things like that on this record.

Could you tell me a little more about ‘Yanada’? I’ve heard a bit about how the song was a collaboration with Jacinta Tobin and how you did a lot of consulting with the Darug community. What was it like visiting all the different groups of people and opening up that conversation? 

It was really eye-opening. It changed my perspective on a great deal of things, not the least of which was my understanding of just how important community is, at any level, whether it’s an Indigenous community, or a neighbourhood community. Communities are a really important thing.

In our experiences, particularly I think for Izzi’s experiences, of meeting with Jacinta Tobin and getting to know the Darug community a lot better and being given this great gift in the language that we were fortunate enough to use for that track, it definitely changed our perspective on lots of things. It’s really grassroots stuff.

Do you think that gives your music a distinctly Australian feel?

I never stopped to consider making an Australian album. I am Australian, I live in Sydney, I was born here. But you make art for the whole world. You can make art for your community or you can write songs for your girlfriend or your cat and it never leaves your house. We’re fortunate that people do listen to our music from different parts of the world and I hope that that association is strong because we’re proud of that heritage – the Indigenous heritage, and the other aspects of our cultural heritage right through to the present day. All we ever try to do is get the song to stand up in the world because we are aware of where we come from but we are also aware that we’ve been to a lot of these places and they’re all part of the experience and what it’s made for us.

I read that you took on more of a commanding role in the production of this album, working with Burke Reid, among others, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that?

Right at the beginning of making the record we got Burke to come along with us for a couple of weeks to just help produce what we thought was going to be an album that was going to be made in a couple of months. He was fantastic, he’s got such an insane energy. He really helped us push a lot of shape into the arrangements and I think dig deeper into really trying to explore the song writing that we’d already done. He left us with this principle of really just trying to simplify, and I think that was probably his greatest gift, and when he left and I took on producing the rest of the album, I definitely kept that in mind.

But also, for me it was important to acknowledge what I bring to that equation in that role as a producer and as somebody in the band and as a cowriter and somebody who has an equal sense of vision for what we wanted to sound like.

Why did the record take as long as it did?

One of the reasons that the record took as long as it did was because of the journey that we went on to try and understand more about what we were doing with ‘Yanada’. But also because we had to let the songs grow and some of the songs went through a comfortable number of iterations before we were happy with what it sounded like.

We really did try to pull this into some kind of room, like they could all be pieces of one idea hung up on the wall that you could experience in pieces or as a whole and it would still feel good and make sense. And that was definitely my vision for it.

Izzi said that the band was a sum of all your relationships with each other and that this album is kind of about the last eight years of you growing up together. Does that resonate with you, as a member of the band but also as a partner, I guess?

Being in the group is always about the relationships. We are really close, all of us. I think that’s probably the reason why the music is the way that it is. We couldn’t do this if we weren’t sharing those kinds of relationships. If we weren’t, the music would be very different; maybe not as good or maybe not as emotionally invested. But that’s the way that we’ve always been. Now we’re growing up into different parts of our lives and we’re still sharing it. I think, so long as that happens, that’s going to be at the core of what this whole band is about.

THE PREATURES | GIRLHOOD TOUR 2017 DATES With Special Guests Polish Club and Hair Die

Thursday 14th September | Brisbane Festival (All Ages) (QLD)

Friday 22nd September | HQ (All Ages) Adelaide (SA)

Saturday 23rd September | HQ (All Ages) The Capitol Perth (WA)

Photographs by FBI Radio, Campbell Brown, and Louie Douvis