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Record review: The Preatures – Is This How You Feel? (2013, EP)

The Preatures’ unique blend of pop, rock, and soul has been making waves nationally for the past couple of years, and the Sydney quintet have been the support band of choice for the likes of San Cisco, Deep Sea Arcade, and Haim, but their third EP should be the one to earn them attention of a more global kind. Unashamedly retro-sounding, the five track Is This How You Feel? plunders the best of ’70s radio rock and ’80s pop rhythms, and when added to the vocals of Isabella Manfredi and Gideon Bensen, makes for one of the most anticipated and stylish releases of recent months. Opener and lead single ‘Is This How You Feel?’ takes the band’s previously diverse musical output and filters it directly through the ’70s rock sound, with an extra dollop of the ‘sex factor’ for good measure. When added to the guitar heroics of Jack Moffitt, Manfredi’s Stevie Nicks-esque vocals on ‘Manic Baby’ seem like they could have been lifted from any of the classic Fleetwood Mac albums, while ‘Revelation (So Young)’ sees her in more of a soulful Chrissie Hynde mood, as on previous EP Shaking Hands. Benson takes the lead vocal on the final two tracks, the melancholy and brooding ‘All My Love’ and the excellent closer ‘Dark Times’; a Bob Seger style rocker and possibly the best track on the EP. The band have apparently signed a five album deal with Mercury, so the only question this EP throws up is when will fans get a full-length release from The Preatures? (Mercury)

Record review: The Preatures – Is This How You Feel? (2013, single)

I’m not going to lie. For the first fifteen seconds of my first listen to the new The Preatures track ‘Is This How You Feel?’ I caught myself thinking oh fuck… what have they done? For those first few anxiety-filled moments, as those retro-fuelled guitar lines crept their way out of my speakers, I foolishly wondered why the Sydney quintet felt the need to change their ‘sound’.

But just as quickly I moved on to wondering what exactly is The Preatures’ sound? The “baby be mine” pop melodies of ‘Take A Card’? The dark country-rock of ‘Pale Rider’? The smooth soul of ‘Young Brave Me’? Thankfully, I quickly came to the conclusion that The Preatures have such a variety of good musical vibes to offer that each of their songs should be judged as entirely separate entities, and not parts of a single greater being. Once Isabella Manfredi’s super-smooth vocals kicked in my doubts were eased, and by forty seconds in I was sold. Thank you, The Preatures, for an initially stressful but ultimately pleasurable half-minute.

‘Is This How You Feel?’ is the first single from The Preatures’ upcoming EP; the band’s third release, which follows on from the breakthrough success they achieved throughout 2012, centred on their excellent single ‘Take A Card’. Bright and funky with their signature girl/boy vocal dynamic and more than a hint of rockabilly guitar, it’s another seemingly effortlessly cool and sleek release from the young Sydneysiders, and bodes well for the band’s future. Mandredi takes the limelight vocally, with Gideon Benson contributing a few lines mid-song, as plenty of ’70s feel comes through from start to finish. In short: it’s a damn fine track.

Being the tour supports of choice for bands like Deep Sea Arcade, San Cisco, and Hungry Kids of Hungary has helped win The Preatures new fans around the country, and ‘Is This How You Feel?’ should continue to do the same. Anticipation builds for the EP…

Interview: The Preatures

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In town to play Valley Fiesta, Sydney goth/rock/soul quintet The Preatures dropped by to discuss their outstanding new EP Shaking Hands, touring, and why airports should stay open all night.

Hi guys, how long are you in town for?

Jack: We’re here for fifteen hours.

Isabella: It’s actually really cruisey this time because usually we’re getting up early as flights are cheaper early in the morning. I think last time we were up here we ended up at the airport at 3am or something, and it wasn’t open.

Luke: And we ran amok.

Jack: It was like that film 28 Days Later, there was nobody there.

Isabella: We went in anyway, and we were really hungry and thirsty so we stole a whole bunch of juices and food, we are so rock and roll.

Jack: Brisbane airport – stay open all night if you want to avoid theft.

You’re in the middle of a tour right now, how has it been going so far?

Gideon: it’s been great. This is our fourth show in, and it’s been a long time coming for the EP to come out, so to finally have it out is probably our main priority, and it’s just been fantastic playing it to people, and having people sing along. Even though it’s been out for such a short amount of time, there are songs on there that people sing along to, and they might have only heard them for the last week. It’s great.

Jack: We were just walking down Brunswick Street and we got down to where the stage is, and there’s someone on the balcony with a poster with our name on it. It’s really cool.

What has the reaction been like to the EP so far?

Isabella: It’s been great, although I make a conscious effort not to read reviews.

I reviewed your EP.

Isabella: You did? Did you like it?

Loved it.

Luke: That review impressed my girlfriend’s parents.

Jack: You’re really elevating Paul’s journalism to a new level now.

I wanted to ask you about ‘Take A Card’; specifically about the lyrics. Can you tell me what it’s about exactly?

Isabella: When we wrote it, we were just rehearsing and it was very quick and easy to write. We were a little frustrated at that time because we had been around for a year and a bit, and we didn’t really know where we fit in to the Sydney scene. We were a bit too indie for the rock ‘n’ rollers, we were a bit too rock ‘n’ roll for the indies, and we didn’t fit in anywhere. We were feeling a bit frustrated and hated all the music that was on the radio.

Jack: I think you constantly need something to be unhappy about.

Isabella: You get in a certain mindset where you feel that all the music on the radio is really bland, and pop music in general is bland. Before we had written ‘Take A Card’ we had always written darker, country rock kinda stuff, so were just taking the piss I guess. I wrote these lyrics about having your song on the radio, and how frustrating it is.

Gideon: Waiting your turn.

Isabella: Yeah, waiting your turn. It’s very tongue-in-cheek, and we already knew we wanted to go over to L.A. and record, and that bit that goes “can you call when you get to L.A.” was just something we threw in that was really off-hand, and when it came to the chorus, we said to ourselves okay, this song is about pop music, so what’s the most poppy thing that we could do in the chorus? So the “baby, be mine” part came really easily, then Luke came up with the “call on the beat” part, and it was all very easy.

So it’s quite ironic then, that triple J grabbed onto it and played it a heap of times.

Isabella: It’s still a bit funny because there are all these people in the audience who sing along, and I always wonder if they could possibly understand what the song is about, you know?

Maybe now they will.

Isabella: But that’s not the point of a good pop song. The point isn’t to understand, it’s just to like it and enjoy it.

So what made you decide to go to L.A.? Why there?

Gideon: Because we were given the option to, basically.

Luke: A couple of really good studios in Sydney were closing down and we were a bit discouraged about what was available to us, and our producer suggested L.A., where the dollar is cheap and we can get good rates on the studio.

Isabella: He said it as a joke, and we were like, that sounds really good!

Gideon: Once we had researched it, it made sense.

How long were you over there for?

Isabella: Just under two weeks, twelve days.

Jack: We were staying right in the middle of Holywood, just off Franklin Avenue.

Was it as hideous as everyone says?

Tom: It was fantastic.

Jack: We absolutely loved being in L.A.

Isabella: Really loved it.

Luke: Although everything shuts at 2am.

Tom: Yeah, it’s a hard town to go out in.

Gideon: Well, there are places to go, you just gotta know where they are.

Isabella: I think people just have house parties there.

Tom: There was one place, it didn’t have a name. It was just a shop on Hollywood Boulevard that is a cooperative clothing shop during the daytime and at the end of the day turns into a nightclub. They have $3 beers and there’s crazy shit all over the walls, it was really weird. The whole place is lit with black lights, it’s very strange.

Isabella: The boys all went out every night but I didn’t. When we were in the studio it was like a vortex, and then we’d finish up at eleven or midnight every night, and have to be back there at 10am, so I normally went home to sleep, and didn’t see much of the night life.

Did you find recording an easy thing to do?

Isabella: No! (laughs)

Jack: That was really a big learning curve for us. I think every band experiences it differently, when they go into a studio for the first time properly, and you’re with a producer whose job is it to make sure you don’t go off the rails and fuck it all up. We had always done everything on our own merit, so having somebody with as much input as a producer, you’re coming up against somebody all the time, which can be really difficult if you’re not willing to have an argument about it, or if you don’t know how to argue your point.

Did you find that having arguments was the best way to work things out?

Isabella: We didn’t really have arguments that much. We just kept our mouth shut.

Jack: We learned afterwards that if you feel strongly about anything you do, then you have to speak up about it, and can’t be afraid to take somebody on, because it’s about what you believe.

Isabella: But we were still figuring out what sort of be band we were, and we’ve definitely got a better idea of it now. Since we recorded the EP, and now that it’s been released it’s amazing because, creatively, we’re very much past it. When you first record something, you just want it so badly to be released, and then you have to completely reject it and move on in order to be able to be creative and write new songs. You have to reject it completely to give yourself a clean slate, so I think we went through that period of being really fed up with the EP in a way, and now that it’s been released we can sit back and enjoy the fact that it’s actually a fine piece of work.

Gideon: For a while we were really frustrated because for a long time, all we were playing was the EP and we couldn’t talk about it because things were still being sorted out in the background around us, so we were playing these songs that we were getting tired of playing, and people didn’t know them. But now our set has been reinvigorated and we’ve been able to introduce new songs for our own sanity.

How many new songs do you have?

Isabella: A good album’s worth. We’re still working away. The new EP is very American. It has a very American sensibility about it, but for us there’s a theme happening on the EP that we won’t want to use as much of in the future. It’ll be more about how we take that sound and make it current and new, and more us.

So, do you have any plans for any future releases? An album perhaps?

Isabella: We’ll be recording in January, so that’s exciting.

In Australia this time?

Gideon: Yes, in Australia. We have a space we work out of in Sydney.

Isabella: It’s going to be almost the flip side of the L.A. EP, as we’ll be doing most of it on our own. We recorded the EP in September of last year.

Gideon: We had every intention for that to be out in March of this year.

Jack: But ‘Take A Card’ completely threw that plan. We put it up on Unearthed, and I think they played it on Valentine’s Day or something. We were just not ready for people to respond to it like they did, because we thought we would have at least another month before the EP would come out, and then at least another twelve months before Triple J would play it, and then Izzy went mental making sure all our social media was current, as nothing had been updated for a while.

Isabella: And they still play it once every three days, which is pretty amazing.

I wanted to ask you about BIGSOUND, as that’s where we first saw you, and you pretty much stole the show. How was your experience of BIGSOUND?

Gideon: It was great, although Izzy was sick.

Isabella: I ended up with laryngitis, and the first show was ok, but the second night wasn’t so good. I spent three weeks recovering after that. I just had to stay at our hotel and not sing or not talk to anyone, and that was really devastating as all I wanted to do was hang out with everyone, and go and see all my friends who were playing. But these guys had a great time.

Which other bands did you see?

Gideon: I went and saw Straight Arrows.

Luke: We saw Straight Arrows, The Cairos, Saskwatch, Elizabeth Rose, Jeremy Neale, King Cannons.

Tom: And we saw Strangers, which was a good experience.

Isabella: We were really nervous that nobody was going to come to our gig. I was really nervous about that gig, and I don’t really get nervous about gigs.

Luke: The Delta Riggs are such a great live band, and I was nervous about going on after them. But they are a totally different band to us.

Isabella: You get a really good vibe in some gigs, and that was one of them. Some gigs you play the sound is bad and people tell you it was the best sounding gig they’ve heard, but that gig had a really good vibe. And we vibed off the crowd and that’s what I loved about that gig.

So at what point did you guys realise you can make a career out of The Preatures?

Isabella: I don’t think we’ve realised that yet.

Gideon: No we haven’t. To be honest, people ask us this all time, they ask us how do we make money from this.

Jack: I think there’s an expectation that if you’re famous, you must be loaded and that’s just not true.

Gideon: I think you just have to keep telling yourself that you can do it, and just get yourself into that mind space. I’ve dropped out of uni, and if we weren’t doing this we’d all have to go work in cafés because I don’t have any qualifications, so you’re putting all your eggs in one basket, and it’s pretty much gotta work.

Luke: And it’s everybody’s eggs in just one basket. It’s quite an omelette.

Gideon: People who work in the industry will tell you there are ways to make money and there other things you can do. I think we’d all love to be able to wake up every morning and be able to feed our families and be able to work at writing songs. We’re not asking to have big houses and cars, just a Corolla and a townhouse would be nice!

Isabella: ‘Take A Card’ was great for us because it gave us confidence and before that we were a bit scattered. If you listen to the EP, it’s cohesive but there’s diversity on there. People comment about us all the time, saying we’re not just one thing or one genre, and that can be seen as a bad thing or a good thing, and we struggle with it and celebrate it equally. The whole band’s story will be about finding about how those different elements come together to find something good.

Tom: Like Captain Planet! (assumes Super Hero pose) Drums! Bass! Guitar!

Are you looking forward to playing tonight?

Isabella: Yes we are. It’s only our second festival after Sheer Madness.

Jack: That doesn’t count.

Gideon: Yeah it does, we played there with bands like Monsieur Camembert, and Husky before they were Husky. Anyway we’re quite new to the whole festival thing, and we’re playing Peats Ridge and Gorgeous Festival at the end of the year. But the rest of the year is about just playing gigs. We’ll be touring with Deep Sea Arcade and trying to get as many new songs into the set as possible, and we’ve got the San Cisco tour as well.

Isabella: And after Peats Ridge it’s writing time. Straight back into the studio.

Have you been chucking any covers into your sets recently?

Gideon: We’ve actually got a gig booked that has the requirement of one song from the sixties and one from the nineties so we’re going to have to do it for sure.

And what have you got on the shortlist for that?

Tom: It’s a really tough thing to pick covers, because you want to do something that you have room to move in, but you don’t want to go too far with it.

Jack: Sometimes you can reach well into the cheesy side of things and do it really well. Like ‘Forever Young’; it’s so uber-cheesy.

Tom: But even still, you don’t want to deviate too far from the original.

And you don’t want to choose something too obscure either.

Isabella: Exactly. The point of a great cover is to pick something everybody knows. It’s a guilty pleasure and it makes people go “oh my god, I love this song!”

Jack: Like The Cairos doing ‘Time After Time’ on the tour we did with them. They did their own thing with it; it was endearingly lame! And they’re the kind of band that can do that, because they’re awesome. It sounded great.

Tom: It was the highlight of every show they did.

Well, thank you, and good luck with the gig tonight.

Gideon: thanks guys, it’s going to be awesome.

Record review: The Preatures – Shaking Hands (2012, EP)

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Formerly known as The Preachers before a potential legal wrangle forced a name change, Sydney Goth/rock/soul quintet The Preatures have made one hell of a second release in Shaking Hands. Having recently toured with the Cairos and Bluejuice, received healthy praise for a breakout performance at the BIGSOUND industry showcase, and inked a deal with a major label, the young band now have a record that goes a long way in justifying the hype. From start to finish it’s an effortlessly cool affair, centred on the distinct vocals of Isabella Manfredi and Gideon Benson. Manfredi’s delivery is at once sultry and seductive in a Chrissie Hynde kind of way, while Benson’s brash vocal power could probably knock out a horse at ten paces. Mixing genres seems to come naturally, as they throw elements of country, soul, and classic rock ‘n’ roll into the mix, with generally good results. Opener and lead single ‘Take A Card’ is an upbeat organ-driven ode to being courted by the wrong type of band manager; “the blander the better, they’ll love you forever” sing both vocalists together before Jack Moffitt’s classy guitar sound and someone screeching like a monkey bring the song to a close. ‘Pale Rider’ is another highlight; the dark country guitar twangs and Manfredi’s smouldering vocals sounding like a female-fronted The Byrds getting introspective. The band’s ambitions are probably revealed by the distinct American flavour throughout, and based on this evidence there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be realised. (Mercury)