What do you do once you've done it all? This was the question that The Preatures faced after the cycle ended for their 2014 debut LP, Blue Planet Eyes. The album saw the Sydney band live the life of a decade's worth of bands in just a couple of years - a high-charting, nationally-recognisable single; a completely sold-out national tour; inroads to an international market and just about all of the acclaim one could ever hope to receive as an artist. Following the departure of guitarist/vocalist Gideon Bensen, the remaining Preatures took it upon themselves to start afresh.
“We started putting ideas together toward the end of 2015,” says Jack Moffitt, the band's lead guitarist. “Both Izzy [Manfredi, lead vocals/guitar] and I had been writing songs over the summer holiday period, with the hope that we'd be able to start recording at the beginning of 2016. We spent a few weeks in the studio with Burke Reid, and the whole thing felt like a demolition derby. It was really full on – a lot of work. We were putting in a lot of effort to try and make these songs stand up on their own. I think, in doing that, we were able to get a clearer idea of what this album was going to be. Through Izzy's writing I really feel like we saw how the record was going to fall into place.”
The result is Girlhood, which officially hit shelves last Friday. Much like its predecessor, it's a clear and refined pop record – catchy, but simultaneously uncompromising in its vision and approach. According to Moffitt, the key to making Girlhood – which he also had a hand in producing – was to work towards the greater good of The Preatures as an entity, rather than personal gain. “I don't think that Girlhood was ever about what I wanted,” he says. “As a band, we wanted to bite into these ideas and see what they could be. It was about saying yes to everything that we were hearing in the writing process. It was about getting to the heart of these songs, and not letting ourselves get in the way of that.”
Girlhood was recorded primarily at Doldrums, the Surry Hills-based studio that is owned and run by the band themselves. The record saw Moffitt taking a larger role in the process than Blue Planet Eyes – not least because a lot of the guitar and production work fell to him. This was not given nor taken lightly by Moffitt himself, who wanted to use his role in the band to serve as a vessel for its ideas. “I was approaching the whole picture with a certain desire for perspective,” he says.
“What I mean by that is that I wanted to acknowledge the album's size, the space of the band the music that we're making. We've changed a lot as a band in the last three years since the last album – not least of all because of the change in line-up – so we wanted to have something symbolic of that. It's a really weird thing to suddenly be a four-piece band after being a five-piece band for basically your entire lifespan. What we lost was not only one of the guitar players, but one of our primary singers as well. With that gone, you're really writing differently with just three elements to consider musically – one guitar, bass, drums. It was a great challenge for us.”
Part of that challenge, says Moffitt, was knowing when to take a proverbial knee and continue working toward the bigger picture.
“I approached the guitar playing on this record less in a guitarist's mindset, and more as a songwriter,” Moffitt explains. "I guess I wanted it to be a bit clearer – a bit stronger as a musical element. With that said, there were songs where we could have easily filled every last bit of space with layers of guitar. Arranging this record, it was important that we knew what space should remain untouched by additional guitar, and if it needed filling then perhaps a keyboard or synthesiser was the instrument for the job. It's all about serving the song. With every track on Girlhood, we were asking ourselves what the song needed in order to be its best.”
Knowing when and when not to go into lavish detail is a trait Moffitt employs as both a musician and a producer. It can even be seen in his guitar collection – both of them. “I only own two guitars,” he says with a sheepish laugh. “I have my [Gibson ES-]335, which is my workhorse guitar; and I also own an old Japanese Les Paul copy. I know them both so well, and I tend not to branch out too much. The only other guitar that you hear on Girlhood is a [Fender] Strat, which actually belongs to Tom [Champion, bass]. I helped him buy it for his 16th birthday. I never though of myself as a Strat player, but one of the songs on the album – ‘Night Vision’ – I really think it called for that sound. Izzy said it looked good on me, so I was a bit chuffed about that.”
Girlhood by The Preatures is out now via Island Records/Universal Music Australia. They are touring nationally in September.