Mess+Noise interview: The Grates: ‘It Was Time To Come Clean’, June 2011

I interview Patience Hodgson of The Grates for Australian music website, Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.

I’d heard Patience Hodgson enjoys a chat, and I recently found out for myself the full force of her untethered tongue. The Grates’ vocalist moves her conversations at a million miles per hour, topic after topic being introduced, elaborated upon, and bowled over in record time.

In fairness to Hodgson, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Stuff has been happening for The Grates – serious stuff. First, there was the move to New York to record the new album, Secret Rituals. And then there was the departure of drummer, Alana Skyring. When news of Skyring’s flight to culinary school started seeping into the music press there was a temptation to write the band off: even for a three-piece – that most gang-like of rock groups – The Grates had always seemed particularly inseparable.

But Hodgson and guitarist John Patterson turned what could have been a crippling loss into an opportunity to retool their sound on Secret Rituals. Gone is the angular, somersaulting attitude, replaced by something that’s altogether more considered and fluid. It’s tempting to call it mature – after all, The Grates’ are well into their 20s now – but then Hodgson still loves cheap beer, graphic novels and dancing like a mentalist.

You’re speaking to me from Brisbane, is that right?
Yes! And you’re in Brisbane!

I am. Where are you living at the moment?
Camp Hill [an inner suburb of Brisbane]. It’s a bit of a band house at the moment; it’s lots of fun. Ben [Marshall] just came out from New York – who recorded drums on the album – and he’s coming on tour. I’ve never been on a band camp, but it’s got that feeling. We’re just rehearsing every day, doing six or seven hours of rehearsing. At the moment we’re on our weekend – Wednesday, Thursday – and we go and rehearse, do big long rehearsal days, come home every night, and cook a big communal dinner. My sister’s there as well and it’s just lots of fun. I’m loving it. I never realised Camp Hill had so much to offer! [Laughs]

Is it nice to be back in Brisbane?
I love it.

Are you rediscovering things that you never thought you’d miss in the first place?
Not so much little things that I didn’t know I’d miss. There were things that I certainly missed while I was in New York, like the weather and friends and family and small things like Vegemite. [Laughs] But I really wanted to write the album in New York, so we pretty much spent a year-and-a-half there, and when the album was finished I was just really excited to come home. In the two weeks before we finished recording the album we shoved so much Americana down our throats. We went out and drank so many cheap beers and ate so much Mexican, so many burgers, had so much pizza, and partied so many nights that when we were leaving it was, like, “This is time to go!” Plus, we were mixing the album pretty much as we were exiting, and doing photo shoots, and it just turned into insanity during the last three weeks in New York. It was just time to come home; that was really exciting.

It seems like it takes a couple of weeks to get back into the swing of things, because the pace really is so much slower in Brisbane. Even though we didn’t really have any friends or family and we weren’t interacting with that many people over there: we’d just go into the band room every day and just really work on songwriting. There’s definitely a vibrancy and a pace that I guess seeps into you.

I’ve only ever visited for a week but I get what you mean.
Yeah, it just happened. And I came home and I was like, “Oh my god! This is so slow. Everything is so slow. I can’t understand.” It was a bit of a weird thing. Things I do miss [about the US]: the cheap beer. In Australia I definitely feel like we’ve got this whole weird beer culture that’s just insane and I don’t understand. My mum thinks beer’s really evil. The whole time I was in New York I did not come across one security guard, and then I came back to Australia and I was like, “What are we? A bunch of animals? Do we need to have security guards at every pub?!”

Apparently so.
Apparently we can’t drink beer and not want to kill each other, which just blows my mind. Considering how cheap alcohol is in the States – it’s even cheaper and no one’s killing each other. So that was one of the things I had to get used to coming back to Brisbane: I was just not going to party as much; I can’t afford to party as much.

How did that New York experience feed into Secret Rituals?
I think most of the inspiration from living in New York was really getting out of our comfort zone. Just so many things happened. Alana leaving: that really changed how we wrote songs completely. We didn’t have that security blanket of big masking cymbals over in the corner any more. We started writing songs a lot more quietly, which was a new thing for us, and I don’t think either of us anticipated how intimate it would become, writing the songs. I did have to develop a new kind of confidence in knowing that John could hear everything that I was saying immediately. So I had to get more confident and a lot more direct; no more singing in metaphors. There was no more luxury of time while they [John and Alana] were working out things for me to ponder my lyrics and think about a weird way that I could say something that was really ordinary. Now it’s just about saying really ordinary things but really sincerely and in a way that isn’t too cliched. So that was a big change in how we wrote songs, and I think it was just being out of our comfort zone – in blizzards, just in freezing cold weather. There were two occasions that I remember very clearly, where we were trapped in the band room because it was a complete white out blizzard.

For the full article, visit Mess+Noise.

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