Cover shot – Agnes Manners
Words – Nate Marolli
Hellions founder and ex-guitarist Matthew Gravolin has returned with his new solo project, Agnes Manners. His first single titled ‘As long as you’re with me’ has just been released (20/5). We had the opportunity to chat with Matthew and gained significant insight into who he is and what Agnes Manners is all about.
Where did your passion for music begin?
I think I started to develop that love as a teenager. In my very early teens. It was something I couldn’t deny. It started with punk rock, and with punk rock like Good Charlotte, actually. It was something I was really, really fond of. And, the rest is history.
Has this move into a solo career been something that has been on your mind for a long time?
Yeah, I mean it was something that was definitely in the back of mind for many years. But obviously, Hellions was quite busy for a long time. So, that was very occupying.
It wasn’t until very recently. My father passed away in late 2018. I started to feel a little bit anxious about touring, and I quit the band and that’s when I really started to spread my mind to do something a little bit different. Something a little more palatable for the average person, and something that my father would have liked to listen to.
It was something that was in the back of my mind – doing a solo record. I think that was the real catalyst for me to really pick up and go with it.
Tell us about the name ‘Agnes Manners’
Well the songs to me have an effeminate vibe to them especially when compared to, I feel like I’m not going to be able to avoid the comparison, to Hellions music. There’s definitely a lot of that still in there, that theatricality is always going to be in my musical wiring.
It’s definitely a more eclectic and vulnerable collection of songs than Hellions had ever seen before. So, that prompted me to give it a female name.
And, I’ve just always like the name Agnes phonetically. I just think it’s a cool sounding name, it’s very succinct and it sort of reminds me of an old womans name and also, kind of like the kid from the Despicable me film. It’s almost like this double entendre.
As for ‘manners’, that was just the name of a folder that I had on my desktop on my computer. Anything that wouldn’t fit hellions would go into this folder I called manners, just simply because it felt like the right thing to do by intuition. So, yeah put the two together and it felt right so I ran with it.
This style of music is a dramatic contrast to your Hellions days.
What makes you want to shift gears?
To be honest, I’m getting older, listening to less and less heavy stuff. It’s not often I’m in the mood to listen to heavy stuff, which is not very conducive to creating it either. Personally, I have been more drawn toward like modern folk sort of stuff – story-telling stuff that’s a little slower paced so you can really digest it and really tell a story.
What sort of genre does Agnes Manners fall into?
‘As long as you’re mine’ isn’t really indicative of the record as a whole.
I wanted to put that one out first because it’s palatable for everybody, and the chorus is easy to sink into. As a whole, I don’t know. There are definitely numbers that are distorted and a bit on the heavier side of things and then sort of like some funky stuff. Yeah, if I had to put an umbrella over it, I’d probably call it Indie rock.
In regard to the single ‘As Long as You’re Mine’, is this written for a particular person?
It was indeed. The chorus was written with my partner Charlotte, she sings for Dream State and she also features at the end of this song. The verses fed off the feeling the chorus was giving me. So, sort of wrote that off the cuff. The chorus was written first for her and then sort of went from there.
So, you and Charlotte have known each other for some time then?
We’ve known each other for about a year and a half, and we’ve been dating for about a year.
Do you play any other instruments?
Not really, I sing and play guitar and bass as an extension of the guitar. But it’s not really fair to call myself a bassist because I don’t have the subtleties that can make up for a bass players ability. Not really, just the guitar pretty much.
How do you find the creative process as a solo artist as compared to creating music in a band?
Well I guess, I was the primary writer for hellions but obviously we’d all need to sign off on everything, all four of us and our producer. But with this one, because I wasn’t following up another record, I just had a completely cleared slate. It really felt like a big playground this time with no pressure. I was free to draw from and get inspiration from anything. It was such an enjoyable process. It was just Shane and I, Shane is my producer.
[We were] looking backwards more so than at contemporary artists, like towards the Elvis’ and Elton Johns and just the previous greats for chord progressions and song structures. It was great. It was so good not to have to think about what anybody else thought, outside of us two.
Let’s talk a bit about Agnes Manners and what it represents. Whats the core message you’re trying to get across?
Being an advocate for vulnerability in men, which I think is an important thing in this day and age, it’s a lot better than what it used to be. It shouldn’t take a big night at the bar or going on a bender to talk about your feelings and all that sort of thing. [My] other songs in particular are very open and vulnerable and it’s an important thing to be able to share what you’re going through and rely on your friends. I guess that’s one of the primary things in it.
The press release also mentioned ‘dismantling the archaic blueprint of masculinity’. Why is that such an important concept to you, and why do you think it’s necessary to address that through music?
Hellions is sort of like that as well with our music. We went from being very adhering to the down tuned style and putting in a lot of breakdowns and that sort of thing, we wanted to do something a little bit more theatrical along the lines of Queen or something like that. So musically and artistically not adhering to any sort of genre boundary, and I guess as people as well expressing yourself through clothing and yeah, don’t box yourself in.
Can we expect a full album drop any time soon?
I am not quite at liberty to share just yet, but there will be a collection of songs that will be coming this year at some point. And I can’t wait to get it out. It’s been a long time. I recorded it March last year, so I’ve had it for a while, so it’s great to finally be getting it out.
Any plans for live shows yet?
Not as of yet, especially given the climate in general due to Covid. But as soon as we’re able to get into a room now I’ll start rehearsing with a band and we’ll get into it as soon as everyone else can.
So you’ve written heaps of songs, and a book! Where do you find the time, the inspiration, and are you ever not writing?
Yes, I released a poetry collection last year. I draw inspiration from everything, just with conversations with friends, I’m a big reader as well, from books and from music. I’m always writing, all the time. I’ve got a thousand lyrics on the go at any given time. It’s pretty much what I do with most of my time, I’m a bit of a reclusive.
Special thanks to Habit Music