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From rousing punk anthems to flower-child territory it’s been a wild ride for Matt Gravolin, who’s made the next moves in his musical odyssey with Agnes Manners.
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Months of grief culminated in Fantasia Famish, an emotive debut with his fingerprints all over it. We caught up with the creative spirit to get the lowdown on the release, and the newly-minted bands plans for the future.
Hysteria: Tell us about the process of putting Fantasia Famish.
Matt: It was a strange but wonderful process, it was mostly informed by grief. My father had passed away and that was the main catalyst for me diving into this record. I spent a lot of time alone and essentially locked myself away for the better part of six months. It was kind of a sad process but it was gratifying and beautiful.
You worked with Shane Edwards (long-time Hellions producer) again. What was the dynamic between the two of you like this time around?
I’m afforded such great comfort working with Shane, it’s such a wonderful thing being by his side. With anyone else, it would’ve been so scary to have done something as new and fresh as this. We have that Hellions dynamic down-pat and have a very strict way of going about things, this time we were free to experiment and try all-new, different things. It was wonderful.
We did a lot of experimentation with old instrumentation, analog stuff instead of digital. He introduced me to a whole world of new things that I had no idea about before. I’ve never been much of an expert on the technical end of things, I just write music but he is wonderful with that stuff. I can’t divulge much into it but it was incredible.
The record places a lot of focus on the expression of male emotion. Tell us about that.
It’s a way that I’ve always felt, I’ve always thought I had a lot of femininity in my personality. I never really had the chance to experiment with it or put it out there with Hellions, but I’ve been able to do it with Agnes Manners. With the passing of my father and moving states from Sydney to Melbourne, it was such a transient time in my life. So much changed at once and that femininity in me rose to the surface. I got to recognise that part in me, and acknowledge it through the songwriting process. I found that to be one of my biggest strengths, rather than seeing it as a weakness it became a big strength in that time of change. It was such a freeing thing for me.
My whole spectrum of emotions is here and that was a really frightening thing to do, but I feel it was the right call. Intuition told me to go down this path and I’m glad that I did.
[ Matt Gravolin ]
Did your partner CJ (Gilpin, Dream State) influence that?
She’s played a big part in bringing that energy out of me, she’s a mystic. She’s so incredible with that, I feel she brings it out in everyone she encounters. Having that intimate relationship with her … it’s more of a powerful effect than she has on anyone else. I’m so lucky to have that every day of my life, she’s always encouraging that part of me to come out.
You collaborated with her and of course, John Floreani from Trophy Eyes on the album. How’d that go?
They were remarkable, John, in particular, worked on three songs with me—Brilliant Blue, Sydney and the last song, Mangosteen Foothills. I’ve known him for a long time now but I’ve never really worked on anything with him before. With Sydney, I went over and it was great so then we did Brilliant Blue and that was even better. It was just a really intimate, friendly experience. He happened to be over in Thailand at the same time as me, so we worked on Mangosteen Foothills then.
You’ve previously said with how personal some of these lyrics are, it just wouldn’t have made sense to have it coming out of Dre’s (Faivre, Hellions) mouth. How important was it for you to express all those lyrics yourself?
It was of the utmost importance, that’s the reason why I started Agnes Manners. More than anything, this project is a vehicle for my emotions. I couldn’t possibly have anyone say the things I needed to say for me. For example, in The Old Man and The Sea, something as personal as that would feel bastardised coming out of someone else’s mouth. I wouldn’t have been able to make that connection, and the songs wouldn’t be the way they are if it was coming from someone else. I’m sure that Dre wouldn’t have liked to sing this stuff either, it was a necessary thing.
Since I was touching on the topic of my father’s passing, I thought I should dive right in. I was at a crossroads and thought, am I going to give whoever my audience is a taste of this or am I going to give them the whole thing? I decided to give myself entirely to the project, My whole spectrum of emotions is here and that was a really frightening thing to do, but I feel it was the right call. Intuition told me to go down this path and I’m glad that I did.
Tell us about the expansion of Agnes Manners into a band.
It was a very slow process. I recorded the album on my own, but I’d been speaking to my friend Lachlan Monty, formerly of Make Them Suffer and currently of Bad/Love. He’s always been a friend of Hellions and an appreciator of our sound. I was nervous to ask him to do the band thing with me, but I was very humbled when he said yes. He introduced me to Alex Trail, the drummer of Bad/Love. He’s got a wonderful soul and I was again really nervous to ask him to come on board, but he was overjoyed to join. Shortly after that CJ (James, Cottonmouth) joined, he’s such a talent and has a wonderful voice, he’s a beautiful man.
We’ve only got to have one rehearsal so far, just given the pandemonium that is Melbourne, but I’m excited to delve into the live aspect of things and get to know these guys as musicians. It sounds crazy to say but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to get to know them musically. We formed this band purely out of intuition, and me trusting in what I know of their musicianship.
The plan is definitely to have Agnes Manners as a fully-fledged unit. I’d love to have the guys contribute in the studio. We’ve started working on new stuff together in a very fluid, easy way. I’ve just been sending them voice notes and we’ve just bounced ideas off each other. The dynamic is working really well.
How have you been coping with lockdown?
Honestly, life hasn’t changed that much for me. I’m a bit of an introvert and spend a lot of time indoors as it is [laughs]. I used to work at a bar on Fridays and Saturdays, but outside of that I spent a lot of time just writing and reading. As horrible of a situation as it’s been for everybody, it hasn’t been too much of a personal change for me. On the music side of things, I’ve written a little bit—maybe an EP’s worth of songs. It’s been wonderful to have the time to do that.
Is there anything else you’re hoping to do with future releases?
I do a lot of waiting for things to come to me, it’s not something you can force. There’s not much I can divulge on that front at the moment, it’s such a spur of the moment thing. Sometimes I’ll be waiting for months before I find inspiration and the right thing comes out. It’s a very fickle thing, patience is very much the name of the game with that.