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Agnes Manners on reframing masculinity and finding a new creative identity on Fantasia Famish

We take you inside our favourite new albums with the artists who made them. We're sitting down with Matt Gravolin of Agnes Manners to chat about their debut album 'Fantasia Famish'.

Starting something new is always a scary task, especially when it is so different from everything you’ve become used to. But for Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Matt Gravolin, finding his creative identity through his new project Agnes Manners was something he’d always needed to do.

From cutting his teeth in hardcore band The Bride to touring the world with Sydney experimental-punk outfit Hellions, being in a band has always been a part of Gravolin’s identity. But some life-changing events saw him head in an entirely new direction.

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Image credit: Lachlan Monty

“As far as the lyrical side of things, I wanted it to be more personal than it has ever been. This is a really big reason why I started off a whole new vehicle – finding that voice, finding that correct conduit to direct that voice through. [The new music] deals with my perspective in general, of the world and some things that I have gone through over the past couple of years, like having met my partner and having lost my father, two really big things,” Gravolin says of the reasons behind starting his new project Agnes Manners.

“I wanted this to be like a performative exorcism. I really wanted to push everything out that I was feeling. As cliche as it is to say, it is like a therapy.”

Despite the moniker, Agnes Manners is Matt Garvolin front and centre, open and vulnerable, and even in just a short conversation with him, it is clear that he isn’t hiding anything away.

“It was always something that was in the back of my mind. I always had a little idea of doing something separate called Manners. The idea became serious again after we did the Hellions’ record Rue and I had a few life-changing occurrences. It pushed me towards doing my own thing,” he says. 

“It is the first time where every step has been on my own. With Hellions, we had a really big team, there were so many heads in it and we always had each other to lean on. Facing the fears of doing everything on my own, from booking all the flights and getting to the studio in Thailand on my own, to having written every beat of every instrument – that was super validating.”

Through Agnes Manners we are taking a deep dive into Gravolin’s life and mind, and the journey he takes us on is one few might have expected. 

On their debut record, Fantasia Famish – just as with Hellions most recent albums Rue and Opera Oblivia – there’s a theatrical element to the music Gravolin creates, but with Agnes Manners the set is painted with a new, more personal and emotional brush.

Fantasia Famish, as a whole, is equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking, and it is through this embracing of feelings and the breaking down of traditional gender constraints that Agnes Manners truly comes to life.

Inspired by the sounds of Bob Dylan, Elton John, and Simon and Garfunkel alongside more modern artists like Father John Misty and Bon Iver, while refusing to be limited by genre, what Agnes Manners delivers on Fantasia Famish is a collection of honest, intimate and vulnerable admissions of love and loss, of grief and of healing.

“I always knew that I wanted it to be more of a delicate thing than what Hellions was. Hellions were very effeminate because we are all sort of quiet, we are all open with our vulnerability and that effeminate nature. I really wanted to drive that home this time because it is such a big part of me,” Gravolin says.

“There is that part of you that fears being too vulnerable or too effeminate because there is that societal expectation of meeting masculinity. But I think that as the years go on, it has been more and more accepted. That is where the first part of the name came into it, the Agnes bit. I wanted to give it a female moniker so that it could really accentuate that part of the music.”

First announced back in May as a solo project alongside single ‘As Long As You’re Mine’, in the months since, Agnes Manners has grown into a visual and musical delight.

Alongside musicians Lachlan Monty, Alexander Trail, and CJ James, Agnes Manners has continued to unfurl, bringing fans and listeners further into their musical world.

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“I had written the album on my own, pretty well entirely, so I wanted to start it that way by letting it be known that I had done it myself,” Gravolin says of Agnes Manners’ initial introduction.

“Then thinking about the future, there are so many layers on the album and I couldn’t do it justice live if I were to do it on my own, so it made sense to introduce a band of new friends I have made in my time in Melbourne. 

“I moved to Melbourne just over two years ago now and the idea became more and more appealing as I realized that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice on my own.”

While taking the lead on songwriting is something Gravolin is more than used to, Agnes Manners is the first time he has ever had to stand front and centre with the work he’s created. 

“It has been frightening. Dre [Faivre] of Hellions is the best frontman there is. I was always in awe of him, no matter how close I was with him. Even being next to him on stage, I was always awed about how cool he was and how he could guide an audience.

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Image credit: Lachlan Monty

“It has been my point of reference, but I would never be the way that Dre is. I am a little more introverted than he is and a little bit less inclined to dance and be so out there. So it has been quite a journey, trying to find my own feet, letting who I am encourage the band, letting my natural ambivert way be the guiding force,” he says.

While Agnes Manners is deeply embedded in everything that has happened in Gravolin’s life over the last few years, he hopes that listeners can find something within Fantasia Famish for themselves.

“I hope that it is understood that it is unabashedly honest and I hope that [listeners] can spend personal time with it and be honest with themselves in turn about the things they are feeling.

“I want to help them through whatever they are going through, be it similar to what I was going through when I wrote the album or not, I hope that it can resonate with them and make them happier in some way.”

No matter where he is in the world, or what form his creative output takes, for Gravolin, music is the only way he can truly process life’s biggest moments. Finally, Agnes Manners is the vessel he gets to do it for himself.

“It is just that desire to express myself in the most specific way I can, there is no more specific outlet than music. I’m right into poetry and writing stories as well, but there is nothing that can really hit the specific spots of feeling that music can, that you can do with a passage of notes or chords. 

“You can hit multiple emotions at once and really instill this inexplicable connection within the listener and that is what I love so much about it, that is why I will always be doing it because I don’t know what else I would do with myself.”

Agnes Manners’ debut album Fantasia Famish is out now. Listen to it below.

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