Monday, July 21, 2008
"It's whirlwind tour, literally 'play, press, press, play' says Grates' singer Patience Hodgson of their promo tour during which we catch up. "But it keeps us in the good books of the record company, it's cheaper because we can squeeze it all in at once and stop them hating us from spending their money. [leans in whispering] They're very tight with money these days, record companies, it's not like the 80s, when you read biographies about bands having meetings with record labels and everyone doing coke on them - I feel lucky if I get a coffee! But who knows what happens after the new album? Who knows how much coke our record label is going to be giving us? A mountain?"
"Yeah, like in Scarface." interjects guitarist John Patterson.
"A mountain of icing sugar...come on, snort a bit of that," laughs Hodgson at the oddly fitting image.
Known for their ability to craft sub-three minute rollercoaster rides of tummy-turning glee, The Grates have been embraced in the UK, the US and, via their Top 10 album Gravity Won't Get You High, our own shores, a place they were glad to return to after years of non-stop touring. This recent down-time has seen a different approach to their new album Teeth Lost, Hearts Won, a Wonka-esque creation of buzzsaw guitar, colliding vocal lines, pumping drums, and songs that show that once the sugar rush wears off, there is a lot going on.
"We're really excited about the record. We wanted it to be organic but bigger and give it more guts and sincerity," explains Hodgson. "With the last album, we were touring, then we recorded and then we kept touring, so we were always having a connection with the audience. If we wrote a song we'd just start playing it live, there was never any period where anything was just kept to ourselves. This time round it was so much more insular."
Live is where the band has traditionally excelled, and the previous album sought to capture the energy of a Grates show. With the process reversed, Teeth Won… requires the band to flesh out the new songs, but retain the distinctive rawness that has become their trademark. "I'm still using the same guitar," says Patterson. "Last time we recorded the dudes hated that guitar. But this time the guys were like: [adopts disbelieving tone] 'that's your guitar?' and every time I tried playing something else he'd say 'You can't play that!', so it became the guitar on every song and I was so pumped up about that because it's my favourite guitar to play. And everyone else has been like 'you can't play that it sounds like shit'.
"We wouldn't have our sound if it wasn't for your Silvertone," agrees Hodgson, "within five seconds you can tell it's a Grates song. When we were recording I overhead the engineer say to his friends: 'you should see this guy's guitar!' she laughs. "I was so proud."
The band seems justifiably proud of the album too with first single Burn Bridges returning the band to the JJJ high-rotation they enjoyed in 2006. Though the film-clip and artwork keep the animals and handcrafted aesthetic of the first album, the work within has developed with clear intent. The single, The Sum of Every Part and most impressively, Storms And Fevers, are songs that show a vitality and vulnerability even more engaging than the overt excitement of their previous radio hits (more of which are here in spades). The richer and more diverse sounds that come courtesy of Peter Katis (producer for Mates of State, Interpol and The National) and make an unusually widescreen setting for the band's hallmarks.
Any suggestion that The Grates make music for an adolescent audience brings a swift response from the band, and most vocally, the ever-vocal Hodgson: "NO!" she exclaims, "I feel we have a really broad audience. I think it's actually something that is almost unique to our band, the broadness of our audience. It's something I never really noticed until it got brought up in a gig review one day, and I challenged the review: 'we don't really have an audience like that?' and you [John] were like 'yeah, totally'."
Patterson agrees. "I always see a bunch of old dudes and some little kids at the shows, and I think it's because we're a bit niche but not like 'cool' niche, you don't have to be in a certain kind of scene to enjoy it. It's not tailored to a scene which I think makes it more accessible."
If noisy positivity pisses you off you wouldn't bother coming? "Positivity and guts," agrees Hodgson.
"In Brisbane there is a group of four biker guys that will come to all of our shows. I trust them almost like security now, I imagine that if someone was giving us a hard time, I could be: 'Oi guys!' and they'd come in and save me," she laughs. "Another thing is that most people come to enjoy the show, it's never gross or weird. It's funny, when it's an all ages gig and people have to come with a parent or guardian and they end up having a blast. It happens so often."
Recreating the new songs effectively on stage and investing them with a physicality already written into their earlier songs clearly poses a challenge, but its one Patterson is embracing keenly. "Basically you try and take the parts out of the songs that people are going to miss least. We still have Dan Condon [from The Sips, helping them live] and we make him work like a scientist. I was dreading working out how to do everything, but once you start it's so exciting, working out the most efficient way of making as many noises as you can at the same time."
"Sometimes you can hear the parts in your head even if they're not there, if you know the songs well," adds drummer Alana Skyring.
"That doesn't work if you haven't heard the album," counters Patterson.
"It doesn't matter though, because the audience haven't heard the album," finishes Hodgson succinctly. "Live, we'll probably keep it fairly simple. I don't think we'll ever have more than four people on stage."
Building strong relationships seems something the Grates do undeniably well. Fans are on first name terms with the band and they make a point of getting to know them whenever possible. While we can see how teeth might be lost at Grates' shows, what about winning hearts?
"It's hard," says Hodgson. "It's dangerous when you start going out with someone when you're in your semi-off period. You can get really used to that lifestyle of one of us being around all of the time. And then it's like: 'yeah, you knew I had to tour.' Somebody knows that you've got to tour but until they experience what it's actually like to be dating someone who is touring, you never know how that's going to work out. But at the same time my logic is: 'don't put rules on it'."
Rules nil. Hearts won.