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The Grates - Grate Expectations

Author: Daniel Crichton-Rouse
Thursday, 7 August 2008
3D’s Daniel Crichton-Rouse speaks with John Patterson, Patience Hodgson and Alana Skyring of The Grates, whose sophomore album, Teeth Lost, Hearts Won is out now.

We’re in a random hall at Sydney University where the walls are painted like the Sistine Chapel, only the artist has put himself smack bang in the centre of the mural. Weird. It’s a MySpace secret party and, more so than usual, the term ‘secret’ has not been used loosely. Having not studied on campus, wandering through the laneways and the graffiti tunnel, kinda lost, adds to the sense of spontaneity and fun that make The Grates so endearing. It’s like being back in Brisbane all those years ago when, at someone’s house party, this trio of quirkily-dressed misfits would take over the room and belt out 90-second pop songs about fucking and animals.

Two years have passed since the trio – who play live as a quartet – dropped their debut LP, Gravity Won’t Get You High, and became a cultural phenomenon in their hometown – Pae’s blue leggings being the indie girl outfit du an for 2006. Within weeks, they’d taken over the nation, culminating with the inclusion of four tracks from Gravity… charting in triple j’s Hottest 100. (Triple j have practically adopted them as the station’s children.)

Countless tours ensued. In Australia they toured with Arctic Monkeys and headlined two extensive national tours. They toured the US with We Are Scientists, and again supporting Arctic Monkeys. They toured the UK with The Young Knives and The Zutons and received praise from indie bible NME. Then after a year of solid touring they returned home to Brisbane’s east and began writing again. John even grew a mean beard.

After having recorded their EPs – including the breakthrough The Ouch. The Touch – in their garages and Gravity Won’t Get You High in Brisbane, the trio found themselves in Bridgeport, Connecticut – “Connecticut is the place where all the people too rich to live in New York move…except for Bridgeport” offers Patience – spending three months in the studio with Interpol/National producer Peter Katis, who’d previously mixed their debut.

On the other side of the world in a Sydney hotel the morning after the secret show John’s eating cheesecake while Alana sips tea – nothing too interesting there, but it’s far from their poison of choice during recording, which you’d know if you’ve been following their blog.

“I’ve never actually drunk all that much when it comes to beer or anything, but in America I had the time of my life,” Pae beams. “Just because we were working so damn hard it was really nice to kick back at midnight or one o’clock, watch something – Freaks and Geeks we’d watch after a day of recording – and have a few beers that didn’t cost the earth and were super-delicious. I hadn’t been in that situation before because when we go away on tour I don’t do a lot of drinking because I have to, you know, do a lot of singing, and I can’t have tonnes of big nights.”

Which explains Pae’s absence from the after-party the night before. Not that she isn’t a wild child at heart – during the secret show she’d crowd surfed the length of the room and dealt with a rather creepy fan that had gotten a little too close during Rock Boys.

The six new songs they played live, which included current single Burn Bridges, Earthquakes, Aw Yeah and potential next single Carve Your Name, hadn’t been played in Sydney before. In fact, it was officially only the third time they’d been showcased for the Australian public, after two gigs up north. Herein lies a major difference between the release of their two albums: all the songs featured on Gravity Won’t Get High had been played hundreds of times live prior to its release, but with Teeth Lost, Hearts Won, the public – close friends and distant fans alike – are hearing the contents largely for the first time – something the group are aware of.

“I guess most people hadn’t heard the songs on the first album when they bought it, they probably hadn’t come to the shows, but like, having people at your shows that are your fans that don’t know the songs is, kind of… it’s not weird, it’s exciting,” John says.

“We did feel really removed last year when we were writing the album,” Pae says. “We were so used to writing a song and then playing it live, and it was always like we were exposing them to an audience all the time – we’d just write one and as soon as we’d get half good at playing it, we’d just play it.

“Things were so insular writing [Teeth Lost, Hearts Won]; we weren’t on tour, we were all at home writing the album and you’re not really in that place where you can just be like, ‘Cool, let’s go out and play to people’. It wasn’t something we could do this time round because you need to go away, you need to take a step back from the scene and from your fans, so that they can have a break. It’s like having a holiday from your favourite thing: it’s nice when you get back to it.”

Hearing the tracks from Teeth Lost, Hearts Won live you’ll notice how much heavier the new songs are, something that Pae attributes to the, uh, ‘studio’ they recorded in.

“I think they’re just a lot fuller,” she says, with agreement from Alana. “Especially production-wise; they’re organic but big, and sonically just sound better, which is something that came with working with Peter Katis. It was a great combination of living in his house – which is something we’re very accustomed to, living in houses and recording in them at the same time – and having kick-arse equipment. He’s very good at what he does, and having his equipment that he trusts and he’s used time and time again… but then in a really casual situation like a house.

“It’s probably like the same recording pre-amps and mics and shit that, like, Timbaland is using except that he’s in a big fuck-off studio and we’re just in a house. It’s a blending of really quality things in a casual set-up.”

WHO: The Grates
WHAT: Teeth Lost, Hearts Won through Dew Process/Universal / Play Wollongong Uni Bar / The Metro Theatre / Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
WHEN: Out now / Wednesday 15 October / Friday 17 / Saturday 18