Isabella Manfredi is at home in Sydney dressed cosily in a cashmere co-ord that falls over her baby bump. She’s all-belly and glowing as she waddles to the kitchen to make a pot of rooibos tea. She’s four weeks out from bringing her baby girl into the world—something she’ll do at home, partly because she herself was a home birth—and she’s ready to talk about the events which led to her leaving the band she fronted for a decade, The Preatures.
“I realised after the meNOmore open letter that in order for me to be of any use to my community, and to this big cultural moment and shift, I had to prioritise myself and care for myself. Because I actually wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t living in my truth enough to be able to be a good elder, spokesperson, and support.”
2018 marked one of Manfredi’s most momentous years thanks to a three-month overseas writing expedition to Los Angeles, Nashville, New York City, London, Paris, and Berlin. Manfredi returned to Sydney with enough demos for two records: one for The Preatures and the most surprising of all, a solo record.
By the time the pandemic rolled in like a black fog in early 2020, Manfredi had already gone through her fair share of trauma and eventual metamorphosis. As double Platinum-certified multi award-winning single “Is This How You Feel” and its ARIA Gold album mothership (Blue Planet Eyes) launched The Preatures into public consciousness, Isabella Manfredi was just beginning the fight for her place in all of it.
“I so wanted to be the frontwoman, and I so wanted to be me,” she said, remembering the lead-up to the release of “Is This How You Feel?”.
You can hear that searching desire all throughout The Preatures’ last studio album Girlhood. The record arrived two months too early in August 2017, less than eight weeks before actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a request to her followers via Twitter and #metoo became a global movement. Through songs like “Cherry Ripe” and “Your Fan” Girlhood was a reflection of Manfredi navigating a culture from the inside of an infrastructure that was not ready for it.
It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since Rolling Stone first sat down with Isabella Manfredi for an interview. Seated out the back of The Cricketer’s Arms Hotel in Sydney’s Surry Hills, Manfredi was smoking a cigarette and wearing a designer suit from Paris Georgia. She revealed the divine moment during her writing trip at Paris’ Sacré-Cœur church, which quelled any self-doubt around taking on this solo vagabond journey.
“I went, ‘What am I doing here, just give me a sign’. And just at that very moment the whole choir came out and sang ‘Ave Maria’. It was mass. There was the bell and then they all came out. I was like, ‘Okay!’”, she nods, “and then left.”
The sentiment of “Ave Maria”, a song about the mother spirit where even Catholicism couldn’t quell the desire for a female God, couldn’t possibly be timelier as Manfredi readies her and her fiancée’s world for the baby’s arrival. The lyrics of the first verse of “Ave Maria”, when translated to English, read:
Hail Mary, full of grace,
Mary, full of grace,
Mary, full of grace,
Hail, Hail, the Lord
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed,
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Thy womb, Jesus.
In Paris on that October day in 2018, Isabella Manfredi took this desire to step to the forefront and embrace her femininity in all her writing sessions that followed. While her first solo album is yet to receive a release date, her debut single “Jealousy”, which premiered overnight, serves as an overt explanation of why she is no longer in a relationship with The Preatures’ member Jack Moffitt.
Who you with, what you did
Where you go, I don’t know
Where you been, what you hid
I keep going over it
(lyrics from “Jealousy”)
The pair split in early 2019, a year before Isabella Manfredi made the decision to leave The Preatures. Back at her home in Sydney this month, she explains that Moffitt’s infidelity throughout their relationship had left her “creatively dry”.
“When you are severed from your instincts, everything around you crumbles,” she says carefully. “Your art crumbles, and your work deteriorates […] I couldn’t write.”
Manfredi described Moffitt’s behaviour as compulsive and deceptive; the gaslighting elements of which stripped her from her sense of reality. In fact, it’s only now, two years later and after working through it on record, that she recognises the very real signs of disempowerment.
“There were so many red flags throughout that relationship,” she says. “He was intensely private. I was never allowed to look at his phone or computer — which I thought was totally normal at the time — but it is not normal. I never knew his password for anything.
“I was deeply scolded and shamed if I wanted to use anything of his or be in his privacy. And he also didn’t want our relationship to be public, from the get-go of the band.”
Manfredi says Moffitt explained that it would be better for the band if she appeared single.
“Later on that became harder and harder for me,” she explains, “because I wanted to get married and have kids, and have a life with him and be living in our truth. My truth was that I was in love with him and I wanted to celebrate our relationship. But his truth was that he was using that ambiguity to pick up other women at shows, pick up other women on Instagram by telling them that we were together, but we were breaking up, or we were in the middle of breaking up… Or that we weren’t really together.
“But at the same time, he could benefit from the fact that he worked with me and that women trusted me, and so he became the guy that was good at working with women.”
Throughout the interview, Manfredi made it very clear that she wasn’t itemising his deceptive behaviour to villainise Moffiitt or have him become the poster boy for rock ‘n’ roll infidelity. The truth, she says, is that he’s a product of a culture where this behaviour is tolerated.
“It’s very hard for me to talk about it and it’s scary. Because I don’t want to throw him under the bus,” she says earnestly. “But I feel that it’s important to talk about this because there are different layers of abuse within our industry. And this is a really common dynamic. It’s a very common power dynamic for women, being in a relationship with another creative man who is threatened, who finds it difficult to be a true support.”
The Preatures officially parted ways in 2020, when they were also celebrating 10 years together as a band. Manfredi was the one who initiated the separation, but as she explains, there were roadblocks outside of her solo record and split with Moffitt that were insurmountable.
“We were in an outdated contract,” she says, picking at a salad her fiancée had brought her. “That meant that we couldn’t support ourselves financially. It was really as simple as that. A lot of those old contracts have NRA, so non-recording activity. That means labels can take a large percentage of all your earnings, and it’s quite common for them to do that since streaming has been a thing. But the industry was in a completely different place [when we first formed].”
Manfredi is proud of the way she left things with both the band and the label. The group had even seriously considered going out with a bang: a final farewell tour for the fans who had been so loyal over the past decade. COVID-19 quashed those tour plans but her relationship with her label, Island Records Australia, has been strengthened thanks to a new solo record deal. Manfredi says she’s happy with the label deal’s terms, and plans to use the lessons learned to help other artists take control of their businesses.
“I feel like especially for women in the music industry, we don’t talk about money and we don’t talk about motherhood. It’s taboo,” she sighs. “It’s not sexy and there’s this insidious messaging that if you talk about money or business as an artist, it diminishes your artistry.
“It goes back to that age-old tension between commerce and art, where if you’re seen as too business you’re seen as anti-art. The reality is that they go hand in hand a lot of the time. The best thing you can do as an artist—and what I advocate particularly for the young artists that I speak to and particularly for women—is that you get across your business. Because knowledge and transparency around where your money is going puts you in the driver’s seat. Otherwise you are a passenger in your own career.”
Despite unconsciously suppressing it for years, this lucidity around her place in the music industry and in her relationships is thickly woven into all her songs, especially this just-released debut solo single, “Jealousy”. Written in London with producers/songwriters Rich Cooper and Johnny Latimer—and eventually laid down in Sydney with award-winning co-producer Chris Collins—“Jealousy” features Jack Moffitt on BVs – “It’s a complex artifact of that time,” says Manfredi, “but ultimately, it felt true to the song to keep them there.” Initially intended to be a Preatures song, it was also the first song she wrote on her global songwriting trip, and her second ever co-write outside of the band (the first was her two songs written with Flume).
Radio-ready, retro-pop, “Jealousy” is steeped in Preatures could-be-a-hit insignia. It’s moody tenderness with a provocative undertone that only reveals itself as confrontational on the second listen.
“A lot of people have said to me, when they listen to my solo work, ‘This sounds a lot like The Preatures’. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s funny isn’t it?’,” she jokes. “Funny that’.”
At the time of writing the song in late 2018, Manfredi and Moffitt were still very much a couple, however she had just learned of another instance of cheating, before she ended the relationship three months later. Manfredi completed the vocals in two takes, front to back. What you hear when you play it is the raw broken heart of a woman piecing together a puzzle of betrayal and deception.
“I couldn’t even revisit the song to redo the demo vocals,” she remembers. “I was just like, ‘I can’t go back into that space again’.”
This isn’t to say Manfredi has been creatively stunted in any way. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, with many tracks all currently vying for positions on the final, still-to-be-announced album.
“It’s amazing to me how much my artistry just came back to me after leaving,” she smiles. “It was like, whoosh, you know. A good break up will do that though, as they say.”
For Manfredi, the acute heaviness of the song’s catalyst meant the video needed to be vastly different. Enlisting Byron Spencer to direct the clip, the grainy, bleached-out visual for “Jealousy” depicts a male fan who is obsessed with Isabella Manfredi’s baby bump to the point of true jealousy.
Isabella Manfredi, “Jealousy” video:
With today set to go down as a signpost moment in Isabella Manfredi’s career, it seems fitting that it’s also release week for a film she wrote the score for. Plan B, a Hulu production about two high school friends from single-parent immigrant families — which Manfredi describes as “like a female Super Bad” — is directed by Natalie Morales, a huge self-professed Preatures fan.
“I said to her, I’ve never produced music on my own before, and I’ve never written for film. So I would love to do it,” she smiles wide and proud.
With Manfredi’s journey just beginning, there’s an air of relief surrounding her first taste of solo music. Finally, Isabella Manfredi is coming into her own, on her terms, and it’s never sounded more satisfying.
“I’m making the kind of music that I want to make, and I’m having fun again,” she says. “I feel vital and alive and powerful.”