Unpacking Agnes Manners' 'Fantasia Famish' with Matthew Gravolin
Earlier this year, ex-Hellions member Matthew Gravolin debuted his new project Agnes Manners.
The project arrived with a string of stunning singles, including collaborations with Trophy Eyes‘ John Floreani and Dream State‘s Charlotte Gilpin. With each new single, Agnes Manners slowly unveiled a new taste of their devastatingly touching first record – the Fantasia Famish album.
When developing the new project, Gravolin set out to create the type of music that his late father would have liked. In turn, he gave us a strikingly authentic portrait of grief and one of the best records of the year so far. Unapologetically, Fantasia Famish delivers a beautiful example of vulnerability in songwriting.
To unpack the album, we caught up with the prolific songwriter. He spoke to us about how it felt to release an album packed with such vulnerable subject manner and whether he felt any hesitation in doing so.
“A lot of it has to do with the grieving process of losing my father. But I don’t feel too bad about talking about that, because everybody goes through it at some stage and it’s something that we’ve all got in common. So I don’t think that I would ever be critiqued too harshly for talking about that. I guess it’s not every day that people go into such depth about it with their own experiences. But it’s been really cathartic for me to do that,” Gravolin said.
Agnes Manners’ video for ‘Brilliant Blue’ is a fantastic example of the vulnerability showcased by the project. It bares all to bring a refreshingly honest depiction of grief and coping mechanisms to the table .
“Things like that are a little bit more daunting because it’s a bit sort of on the gross side,” he explained. “That can be quite frightening to some people and I know some lyrics can be a little bit like that too, just about what I’ve been through during that process. That is sort of daunting, but after having put out that video, in particular, that sort of got rid of any fear that I was harbouring because people were so lovely and so understanding.”
This video contains depictions of drug and alcohol use. Viewer discretion is advised.
Alongside the already emotional content of Fantasia Famish, Gravolin also felt it was important to address toxic masculinity within the release. He explained how his own experiences influenced that process and the Agnes Manners project as a whole.
“I’ve always known that I’ve been adverse to [toxic masculinity]. But I would also find myself, especially as a younger person, falling into it as a way of finding common ground with my friends. I guess if the people around me were doing it, I would sometimes find myself reluctantly or sort of unknowingly, at times getting into the boys club thing, jokes that don’t need to be made, that macho thing, where you’ve got to be, or appear to be at least self-reliant and really in control of everything…” he said.
But in reality, he learned that approach was ineffective, and even detrimental in some cases. That lesson came alongside knowledge of how to value vulnerability and honesty.
“I’ve learned that from all of the beautiful women in my life. I’ve been blessed, I have so many good friends that are girls, that are so open and vulnerable,” Gravolin said. “I’ve found that I’ve sort of flourished in their company and when I became more of a mirror for them in conversations, I found that I felt more myself than I would when I’m trying to meet these expectations from somebody else.”
“It’s just been such a freeing thing. Now with all of my male friends, I’m sort of that same way. Once I recognised that part of myself, I found that they really appreciated that too and they could be vulnerable and talk about things that they might be feeling, that they don’t agree with or they’re afraid of. You don’t talk about the things that you’re afraid of and they tend to consume you. And that’s a big part of masculinity, I think, is people tend to ignore those things or pretend that they’re not afraid of them or that they’re not affecting them. That’s just so detrimental, it’s a sure fire way of driving yourself a bit mad.”
“I do worry that sometimes – I don’t mean to ever speak ill of masculinity. I don’t want to generalise and say that it’s a bad thing, it’s not. It’s just the dark side of it that tends to make people a bit rigid. I just thought if there’s any foundation or objective with this project, I thought that would be the best thing to build it upon, because it sort of solidifies it among our ranks. We’ll always be able to talk to each other and feel comfortable. If that’s what you’re building upon, then you’ll always go back to it. It just felt like the right thing to do” he said.
One of the most exciting aspects of the new project was a chance for Gravolin to indulge in songwriting without being restricted by any particular genre. While fans may be more adjusted to the hard-hitting intensity of Hellions, Agnes Manners serves as a genre-defying curveball and a testament to Gravolin’s versatility as an artist.
“It was really kind of freeing because I didn’t know really what it was going to be when I was doing it, I knew that I wanted to do it on my own, but nobody was expecting anything from me, I guess. It felt like I was doing it for myself, so I was able to explore different genres and do all that, just follow my intuitions with where I wanted to go and how I wanted things to sound,” he explained.
“Comparatively to Hellions stuff, it was a lot easier, just because there aren’t any preconceived notions, because the project didn’t really have any identity. So I get to create it and do whatever I want because it’s a brand new thing. Comparatively, although it was a lot of hard work in a lot of respects, it was a breeze in that I had the freedom to do what I wanted.”
It’s no secret that artists have been faced with unprecedented hurdles this year, and for an act making their debut, restrictions have been particularly challenging.
Following their first singles, Agnes Manners unveiled the band’s full lineup; Lachlan Monty and Alexander Trail of Bad/Love (formerly of Make Them Suffer and Storm The Sky, respectively) and CJ James of Cottonmouth. “Assembling the band was a ‘super organic’ experience that ‘felt like a sort of pseudo-devine intervention’, with each band member naturally falling in to place,” Gravolin said.
Now, even with their debut album out, Agnes Manners are yet to showcase their tracks live and have had limited opportunities to rehearse together.
“The biggest thing is obviously not being able to play live, or even rehearse for that matter. To be honest, we’ve only ever had one full band practice, which is pretty crazy. I live with the guitarist, Lachlan, so we get to have a bit of a play. The rest of us, we’ve not even been able to rehearse properly yet.”
“That element is certainly the most strange part. It certainly helps an album roll out when you can play it live and give people a more visceral experience with it. Otherwise, it’s funny to think about how the online roll out is affected as well, because a lot of people listen to music when they’re commuting to work and I think that’s a really big part of music consumption, is worked into people’s daily routine and when people’s routines have been so crazily disrupted… you sort of drive yourself mad thinking about that. I try to veer away from that.”
“I like to think there’s a lot of benefits, if there are some to be had. For example, people have more free time on their hands, maybe they’d be more inclined to check it out. I guess there’s something to be said for either side. I guess I just try to focus on the positive bit,” he said.
While the album rollout has taken place with restrictions in place, much of Fantasia Famish was written prior to lockdown, with the album recorded at Thailand’s Karma Sound Studios, a ‘paradisal’ place where Gravolin explains it was ‘hard to be cross’ or ‘take things for granted’.
“Probably about 80/85% of it was written at home, just in my room, with some friends,” Gravolin said. “I spent a bit of time with John from Trophy Eyes and with my girlfriend, Charlotte as well, among other friends, getting some references and stuff. As far as actually recording it, getting in and doing it properly, the environment’s certainly conducive to being more relaxed and at peace with things.”
Alongside the bliss of recording in Thailand, Gravolin was able to enjoy working with long-time collaborator, Shane Edwards, who produced, mixed and mastered the released. The pair have worked together since Gravolin’s late teen years, and have continued to do so across projects for fourteen years.
“This time was lovely for both of us because it was the first time we were able to veer away from heavily distorted guitars or anything that’s expected from a heavier, punk-based genre. So we both really enjoyed that as well, to muck around with the lighter side of things. It was less mathematical I guess. I guess with Hellions, we made a point of making things quite unpredictable, with the structuring and things like that. Some of the parts were a bit more difficult. Whereas, this was a bit more with the grain,” he explained.
Working with that grain certainly paid off. Fantasia Famish stands as an incredible cross-genre release, with something for fans pop, folk, punk and rock alike. Gravolin says he hopes to work on further music in 2021 and bring the Agnes Manners discography to the live stage, and with the recent news of Melbourne’s eased restrictions, Agnes Manners are high on our live music bucket list.
And just in case you weren’t convinced of his artistic versatility already, Gravolin released ‘All’s Well That Ends’ – a book of poetry – alongside Fantasia Famish. Inside, you can find what he describes as his ‘more non-linear’ work. You can find that here.