New Years usually mean New Beginnings and Matt Gravolin (ex-Hellions) had quite the year in 2020 with the announcement of his new band Agnes Manners and his first debut album Fantasia Famish as part of this new project (our review here).
But amidst the pandemic panic and ruthlessly needed lockdowns, he still managed to powered through with his bandmates to release one of the most impressive debuts we’ve come across in a while. So we HAD to grab the man behind the mic for a chat about COVID life, new ventures and more…
So! How’s lockdown been treating you?
It’s not been so bad really! My life hasn’t really differed too much, to be honest with you yet. I usually keep to myself quite a bit and do a lot of reading and writing. So, I don’t know that sort of thing takes place in the bedroom usually. So it hasn’t changed too much for me personally. I do miss the bars and pubs. I’m very excited for that to come back whenever, that happens, in the non-foreseeable future.
Okay so you’ve not obtained any new wacky hobbies? I know a lot of people are starting to make bread, for example.
There’s a lot of banana bread and things like that. But no nothing really. I’ve been taking long walks which has been lovely, just within my five kilometer radius and sort of just discovering new things as I go in a new neighbourhood just moved so just exploring that and that’s, um, I guess that’s the only sort of neat hobby that I’ve been doing other than that. I’m lucky to live with a close friend. So I’m pretty well entertained. Everything’s good for me.
Well, now I can’t not ask for a book recommendation.
I do like to read at the moment I’m reading a book called Norwegian Woods, by a Japanese author called Murakami, which is lovely. It’s a bit of a mental health cautionary tale in itself, and I do recommend that one.
‘Brilliant Blue’ has to be a personal highlight for me. What made you choose that track as a single?
I always liked the vulnerability of that one. I guess it kind of scared me putting it out and in a certain way that was sort of what inspired me to do it. Just because in the past having Enzo with any music that I’ve been involved with, that sort of vulnerability is really appreciated by the listenership. You’ll always find that people can relate to it, even though Brilliant Blue is very specific and very sort of personal, but it’s always the way. People tend to relate to specifics. People always sort of make it about themselves in their own way. And I mean that in like the best way. It’s a very human thing to do so you can transform it to your story. And that’s what I sort of hoped for with that one; to be as much of an exorcism for the listener as it was for me to create it.
Would you say that is a sort of a trend with the whole album or is just that specific song like ultra vulnerable for you?
It is a bit of a trend for the whole album. I guess that Brilliant Blue is a little bit more digestible, in terms of style. I guess just like the sort of the folky element to it is analogous to a lot of the Australian stuff that’s doing quite well at the moment, like the Stella Donnelly’s and Angie McMahon’s and that sort of thing, I guess. Yeah. I just sort of followed my intuition with that one and that felt like the right one to put out.
Well of the album though. What are you particularly excited to showcase to the world?
Yeah. Well, I mean, I’m really excited to show off the expansive side of it because the longer ones aren’t really conjusive for… When you put out a single obviously and want it to be taken up for radio play and playlisting and all that sort of thing, you want it to be as digestible as it can be. You want to grab the listener sort of immediately and cater to a diminishing attention span that we’ve all got. So I’m excited for when the album comes out, people get to then I guess, taking those more expansive, longer, deeper songs in there. They’re my favourite. I prefer those to the singles, but unfortunately with the way everything works, you can’t really be putting out a single that’s super long. There’s a third track in particular called Sincerity and Retrograde is my favourite so long one. And it’s probably my favourite thing I’ve done to date.
Was there anyone that you said that you’d say influenced you musically for this record? Like any new influences that you brought in?
I sort of looked backwards for this one in terms of influence like back to the more classic sounding things like I would go to old songs for new chords and things like that, new structures, or rather traditional structures that we needed to make. They were more of a focus point for influence than anything that’s coming out at the moment. There was like I suppose like Father John Misty and stuff in that ilk was really influential for this stuff. Cause I didn’t really get a chance with Hellions to explore that real storytelling at that pace.
Well with that opportunity how has your recording and writing process sort of changed from Hellions to Agnes Manner?
To be honest the writing process isn’t very different, although the circumstances were quite different in that it was the first one that I’d done entirely alone. I primarily would write the skeletons for everything with Hellions musically and lyrically and bring it back to the band and we would critique it with molded together. Whereas with this one, I did it alone and brought it to Shane, my producer in Thailand when I recorded the album. I guess that was the difference with this one is just not having that soundboard. Obviously when you’re in a spot where you’re not sure of what to do structurally or if there’s a lyric that you’re not sure about or whatever. So you just have the people that you sort of refer to and to tune it up. But other than I have my process down. I’ve been doing it the same way that for a decade or so now. I’m sort of set in my ways with that. So not much else really changed.
Well despite being set in your ways were any songs from this album that sounded drastically different from their inception to on the record now?
Um, that’s a good question. I tend to plan things out pretty meticulously. So a lot of it did end up sounding pretty well as I planned to amount to. Obviously sonically, they were all different. I would write into a midi program. So when you’re doing that it sounds like a video game, almost like a Super Nintendo sort of a sounding thing, but all the instrumentation, and orchestration are there. So I guess it’s just like sonically, everything changed in that way, but all of the notation, or more like 80% of it was sort of already there. Although the final track on the record changed a bit. There was a little bit more sort of an on the fly approach with that one in the studio.
That’s really interesting to hear because it seems like you have a lot of control over it the whole way through. It sounds like your authentic voice.
Yeah. Shane and I have worked together for, I think it’s 14 years now, which is so crazy. It makes you feel quite old, But there’s a real big comfort in that. So we have a good working relationship and I know that he trusts me to do the majority of the work before getting in there, then he’ll sort of put these flair on things and it’s a very sort of organic, but um, at the same time, well honed process.
Oh, okay. Well now, although we won’t be seeing shows for a while, are you hoping to tour the album eventually? And what do you reckon that will look like in a live setting?
Absolutely! We’ve got a band together too. We just got one damn practice in before COVID really started to take off. We’ve got a lot of work to do on the live fronts. It’s sort of hard to say what it will look like at this stage. It’s certainly a whole new endeavour for us because everyone’s come from a heavier or a punkish sort of background. So it’s certainly an adjustment to sort of have it be a little bit more musical. Sort of relying less on aggression and energy and more focused on nuance. So that’s going to be a whole new learning curve.
Interview by Bree Vane @Briebrebree
Photos by Lachlan Monty @badlovemonty
Fantasia Famish is out now, stream it here
Agnes Manners – Fantasia Famish tracklisting
2. As Long As You’re Mine feat. CJ Gilpin
3. Sincerity In Retrograde
4. Brilliant Blue
5. Lime Light
6. Spiced Plum And Cherry
7. Sydney feat. John Floreani
8. The Young Man And The Seed
9. Forest Swing
11. The Old Man And The Sea
12. Mangosteen Foothills