INTERVIEW: Hayley Manwaring (MOANING LISA)
When four music grads from Canberra combined forces, the end result was always bound to be something extra-special. But few could predict how readily the world would embrace the edgy approachability of indie rockers Moaning Lisa, with the band eventually going on to front festival stages, tour with the likes of DZ Deathrays, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and beyond - and even snag a feature on the cult US TV series Dynasty. Wielding nostalgic tinges of Pixies with a unique and refreshing modern swirl, Moaning Lisa are ultimately the band everyone wants to be friends with; angsty, witty and ever-relatable, they're the best friend you need on the good days and the bad, and their latest track Something is further proof of their affinity for evolution without sacrificing their constantly growing trademark sound.
Starting life as samples made at home and expanding while recording with Ben Moore at Golden Retriever studios on Sydney, Something celebrates the unique anguish of honest-to-god heartbreak, and the people who help pick up the pieces after the fact. And with some live shows freshly under their belts while also armed with this sublime new tune, we grabbed singer-guitarist Hayley Manwaring to chat inspiration, creativity and some of the artists that paved the way for this musical adventure. Interview below!
TIANA SPETER: Hello and thanks for taking the time to chat today! It’s been a slightly shaky start to the year after the bonkers 12 months we’ve all been through, but Moaning Lisa have certainly given 2021 a boost with your latest track ‘Something’. First things first, how is 2021 treating you so far and how does it feel to have this gorgeous track out and about in the world?
HAYLEY MANWARING: Hey thanks for having me! You’re so right about the shakiness, it’s crazy how quickly things are moving now. Or maybe this is how things always were, and our legs just need time to catch up. We have been sitting on this little tune-egg for what feels like an eternity, but now that it’s out there it feels like stepping into a new phase.
TIANA: And while ‘Something’ celebrates those special souls who help put you back together and grow after heartbreak, it really does resonate quite deeply on a broader scale of resilience and hope after the rollercoaster of 2020. What was the inspiration behind the song when it was first coming to life?
HAYLEY: That’s true actually, and a really good point. The lyrics are classic Charlie, I mean they’re so frank and honest, and she really just writes what she knows from experience right? Like “she said she liked my thighs”? So good. The message of resilience is definitely there because it’s written from a place of hindsight and past tense. All I can tell you though, is that it was inspired by a real person and situation, and the song really speaks for itself. Again, classic Charlie.
TIANA: The new track grabbed a cheeky premiere on triple j’s ‘Good Nights’, and also helps celebrate your recent signing to Farmer & The Owl. But! Another cherry on top is also that you’ve been able to take ‘Something’ on the road and tour it live! How does it feel to finally be back onstage performing after all this time? And how did the new song go over with the crowds??
HAYLEY: Oh my god! Being back on stage was a massive relief. It was great to see so many people singing along to the new one too. There is so much sentimentality about all the things we were missing in 2020, like live music, socialising etc etc and after a while it all sounds like a really bad Hallmark card. But allow me to be a greeting card for a moment, because all of our friends from different cities who came to the shows, and all those familiar faces we saw in the crowds made it feel like 2020 never even happened. All the feelings. Wow. Next question.
TIANA: With lockdown a sad reality for many of us last year, I believe you all managed to write in isolation and I’ve read that you all were able to take some time to perfect and elevate your sound. Can you talk me through what changes or evolution came out of the isolation and lockdown times? Did you all have a clear goal to evolve, or did you just kind of all write and explore and let it all conjure naturally?
HAYLEY: I won’t lie to you, it was a struggle. There was no blueprint for what went on with us last year. Fortunately three of us do share a home together, but we were pretty much living day by day. If we felt like playing music, we did. But in reality we probably watched waaaayy more hours of Grey’s Anatomy than we did holding our instruments. Oh and we adopted two cats. Well… they adopted us. They just walked in and laid claim to the house like “Okay, you seem pretty cool. We live here now” (you can follow them and Ellen’s Pumpkin @meowinglisa, just quietly).
TIANA: I have to say “she has cats for eyes” is definitely one of my favourite opening lines I’ve heard in a long time. What does it take for a Moaning Lisa song to usually come to life, is it a well-oiled machine for how you concoct your tunes? Is there a secret recipe for these catchy as heck tunes?
HAYLEY: I’ve gotten a lot of comments about that line! It’s definitely a jarring thing to hear right off the bat. There are a few different ways that our songs come about. With this one it started out with that spooky guitar loop you hear in the beginning and a bassline. Hayden and I built an instrumental track out of that, Charlie takes it away and gives it life with a melody and a story, then Ellen comes in with embellishments to fill all the spaces. We have our own individual strengths and weaknesses when it comes to songwriting but for some reason it just works. A lot of our other songs have an entirely different upbringing, but at the end of the day, the songs that we’re most likely to put our money on are the ones we genuinely enjoy hearing.
TIANA: Now I know you just came off a tour and no doubt are brimming with tales of new music and post-COVID gig times. But looking back at your increasingly extensive live music careers, is there one gig in particular that stands out above the others for being significantly good, bad or perhaps just downright hilarious?
HAYLEY: Ooft this is a hard one. Purely for the fact that the line-up was super weird and that we were really, REALLY well fed and very well looked after: Adelaide Beer and BBQ Festival 2019. In order of appearance, the lineup featured Teenage Jones, Bec Stevens and then us, followed by You Am I performing their tribute to Spinal Tap, followed by DJ Yella of N.W.A. Yes. That N.W.A.
TIANA: And looking ahead, now that live music is back on the menu, is there a bucket list band you’d love to play with, or perhaps even a bucket list event you’d love to tick off?
HAYLEY: Rapid fire! Ummm…. Bucket list event: Meredith music festival; bucket list support slot: Garbage! They’ve got a new album out but no email yet regarding that tour support slot yet. C’mon Shirly WE HERE.
TIANA: You’ve certainly all got a knack for weaving catchy tunes that straddle the grunge, alternative-esque realms. But what bands or artists did you grow up devouring that led to this adventure in the musical world?
HAYLEY: I can’t speak for what the others grew up with, but I can speak a little on what we continue to draw inspiration from today. Look at it this way… if Moaning Lisa was a spooky corridor, then door #1 would lead to Sleater-Kinney, #2 to Madonna’s goth era #3 80s guitar licks you can’t seem to place #4 an emo phase you can’t sweat out and #5 to an acoustic lounge with Liz Phair, Alanis Morrisette and Phoebe Buffet.
THE LATEST TRACK SOMETHING FROM MOANING LISA IS OUT IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW, FOR MORE INFO HEAD TO: www.moaninglisa.band
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BY TIANA SPETER