Features, Music

Agnes Manners: A vehicle for vulnerability

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Calling all the vulnerable, the over-thinkers, the feelers. We have a new rallying point, nestled within the soundscapes of Agnes Manners.

This week, the enigmatic persona for former Hellions guitarist Matthew Gravolin takes its first steps, uttering its first words in the form of maiden single ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ featuring the ethereal vocals of Dream State’s Charlotte Gilpin.

‘As Long As You’re Mine’ is a ballad steeped in life lessons and in that sense, runs the gamut of what’s to come from Agnes Manners. As the man behind the moniker tells it, much like most life lessons, the ones at the core of the project were initiated from a place of pain.

“My father passed away in late 2018 and that was the catalyst that galvanised me into creating a different conduit for the way that I was feeling,” Manners explains to Blunt Magazine.

“A lot of these songs deal with grief and the way that I feel personally about things. I couldn’t have put those words in [Hellions vocalist] Dre’s mouth. I had a lot to say. I just wanted to find a new format that would allow me to do that and to express all the things that I was feeling.”

The origin story of Agnes Manners can be traced back to the writing sessions of Hellions latest record, Rue. Manners recalls an urge to find new soundscapes to explore for the band led him down a rabbit hole of iconic pop sensibilities – Bob Dylan, Elton John, et al. It was here he found his footing, sonically speaking.

But the project was yet to be complete: “It needed a female moniker…” he realised, “Just because the songs are particularly vulnerable; a little bit more feminine, more so than anything else I’ve ever done. I wanted something just a little bit more phonetically exciting than my actual name anyway.”

Though Manners admits, “It certainly does serve as a little bit of armour” when addressing vulnerable topics in such close quarters.

As well as the weighty notion of grief, another motif throughout Manners’ forthcoming work is the idea of shaking off the shackles of traditional masculinity, and the regressive traits inherently sown throughout; being tough, intimidating and stoic in the face of struggle just to name a few.

“I’ve always had that part in me,” Manners says of his drive to challenge the prevailing wisdom of what makes a man a man.

“I’ve always thought that I’ve been sort of androgynous in that way. If you see it in the way that I talk… It’s just generally vulnerable. It’s just a matter of coming to terms with that and viewing that as a strength. That was a big sort of epiphany for me and definitely wanted to address that more and more. I’ve got all the room to do that with this project.”

“I definitely don’t want it to be forced upon anybody, to change anyone’s thinking. But certainly offer the alternative to anybody that does feel as though they can’t talk about things. With a lot of guys, it takes these big nights of drinking, or whatever else, and the morning after they’ll crack and then the flood gates will open. And its like, ‘Man. You could tell me that on a Tuesday morning. We didn’t have to be fucked up on a Sunday. It’s like, I love you and I care about you and you can tell me whatever you like.'”

An unfortunate trope of toxic masculinity is the inability to accept external input. This was yet another way in which Manners challenged prevailing norms. Though venturing on his solo project, Manners never intended to do it alone.

“I made a point of letting other people in because I’ve had such fruitful collaborations in the past. It’s always helped.”

“Usually many hands make a dope song. Collaboration is key, and it allows for so many different colours and flavours that would have been inaccessible to you before that. It’s become second nature now to collaborate. I think it’s a very important thing.”

In the coming weeks and months we can expect more opportunities to go on a rollercoaster ride through the imagination of Gravolin/Manners, who assures that when it’s permitted, the show will go on the road.

“I admit it’s going to be nerve wracking because I’ve had pleasure of hiding behind Dre who is just one of the greatest hype men, in my opinion, in this country. And I’ve always been fortunate enough to hide behind him and yes it’s going to be nerve wracking to be upfront and centre.”

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