Interview – The Grates

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, April 1, 2009.

Since dropping last year’s Teeth Lost, Hearts Won, Triple J favourites and proud Brisbanites The Grates have been keeping busy to say the least. In fact, since an initial block of domestic tours and the summer festival circuit, they’ve hardly even set foot on Australian soil such have been their overseas commitments.

Having just finished a round of showcases in New York and at SXSW in Texas, not to mention signing a management deal with rock luminary and former Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg, the trio are about to launch into their Biggest, Longest Adventure Tour throughout Australia in May.

We caught up with voraciously enthusiastic front-woman Patience Hodgson on the line from New York City to chat about playing to American audiences, their management deal and writing their next album.  Suffice to say, Hodgson’s chilly surrounds hadn’t dulled her almost frighteningly affable sheen.

Hey Patience, how are you doing?

Good! How are you?

Not too bad. You are in New York, yeah?

Yes I am, in the freezing but sunny New York City.

So what’s been happening over there?

Lots is what’s been happening! We’ve just been playing shows and we’ve recently just got new overseas management, which is great. I mean, we love our Australian manager and he’s always done a really kick-arse job of managing us overseas, but he has just had his second baby. He’s a family man now (laughs). No, he’s been working in the music industry for a really long time and it came to a point where he was just like, ‘Guys, I need to be with my family now’. He’s still doing Australia and he’s actually out here at the moment, so we’ve got double management…

It’s management central.

It’s just crazy amounts of management, which is just great. And you know, we’re just hanging out with our new management and getting to know them a bit better, which is just great because it’s really important to have a good relationship with your management team and to understand each other. So yeah, we’ve just been doing that and just playing gigs; we did SXSW, which was excellent. We got a really good response out of that and hopefully we’re going to work out some sort of way to put out the record due to SXSW and then come back and do touring after May, which will be our final tour for this album in Australia.

Crazy. How did the relationship with your new manager Danny Goldberg develop?

It actually happened through Ben Lee, because Ben Lee’s always been a big champion of our band and occasionally people email me things like some link to a website where there’s an interview with Ben Lee and he’ll say something really nice about us. He’s always been really, really supportive and it’s his management actually. I mentioned to him once that – it was when he played with the Brisbane Orchestra – and yeah, I mentioned that our manager’s about to have his second child and we’re looking for overseas management, and he was like ‘I’ll tell my manager! I’ve got this great manager in New York, he’s amazing. He used to manage Nirvana, he’s worked with Led Zeppelin’. We were just like ‘Dude, that would be amazing’, and he kind of made it happen.

In the beginning Danny Goldberg wasn’t very interested at all, because you know, he’s a really established guy and why does he need a new band? But I think it was just through Ben going ‘No, seriously dude, you’ve got to check them out’, and eventually he paid a bit more attention to us and spoke to our Australian manager and they got along really well. So I don’t know exactly what changed his mind in the end, but I know that he’s onboard now and we’re really pumped to be working with someone of his credibility and experience.

So Danny’s really tall and very handsome and quiet, and then his 2IC is this guy called Brady who’s short, really talkative and really cute.

Batman and Robin.

Yeah! It is absolutely Batman and Robin (laughs).

How have your shows been going down in New York? It’s always interested me how the more theatrical elements of your show wash when you’re playing in countries where you’re not so well known.

You know, it’s funny, because I think we get bigger crowds in England but they just don’t react immediately in the same way that American audiences do. This is a massive generalisation, but I think American audiences are comfortable with being loud, you know? American’s will ask you questions in the middle of a show and that doesn’t happen other places. When you play in front of a British or Australian audience they’re not really going to ask you questions. Australian audiences yell ridiculous things out more (laughs).

But there is a really big difference now between gigs we play in Australia and gigs that we play in America, in that gigs we play in Australia are bigger and it’s just so different playing to a bigger crowd. When you’re playing to smaller crowds in the States it’s just so much more intimate and I feel like you get a really instant rapport with your audience. It’s just so much more conversational…it’s blowing my mind actually, just how conversational these gigs have been. It’s definitely not the same in Australia – in Australia we have really kick-arse audiences who know our music and get really pumped and they sing and they dance, but you lose that whole element of conversation. When people come to see us out here, they usually haven’t seen us before and they might not have our album, so they’re just not familiar with the songs. So it’s far quieter and if you say something in between songs, it just turns into a conversation.

I guess it’s kind of like going back to when you first started, but with the benefit of experience.

Yeah, I mean, our first show at SXSW was really weird because John and Alana and our manager all had that little element of ‘I wonder how she’s going to go?’, referring to me of course. It was like, ‘What is she going to say onstage? How is she going to treat them?’. Because we’d just finished playing a round of big audiences with the Big Day Out and things like that, they were really afraid that I would get out onstage and by like ‘HELLO BROOKLYN! ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?’ to this tiny audience (laughs). Like ‘EVERYBODY PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!’ (more laughter). They really had this fear that I was going to go out and…

Crucify yourself.

Totally! But after the first few shows it was really relieving because everyone opened up and were like ‘Oh man, just thought I’d let you know, good work on the banter between songs. Dude, we were really worried’. And you know, it does happen. Plenty of bands who are used to playing big audiences do that.

I remember seeing this gangster rapper called Yukmouth going crazy to literally nine people at The Corner in Melbourne, which has a capacity of 800 or something.

Man, that was like the first time we went on tour and there were a few places, like Newcastle, where we had like two payers and what was great about that was that they were like a 50-year-old couple who were down at the pub and thought they might pay $15 to go and see the band (laughs). But I mean, after all these years, it is kind of scary stepping back into that intimate setting because you get used to that distance.

But luckily, it came really easily. Maybe just because SXSW was so cruisey and every single PA is a piece of shit, so you’re just like ‘Who cares’. It was a probably a really good way for us to get back into it in because when you go to those venues and you’re playing out the back of a pizza parlour and you’ve got one monitor and that’s it, you just kind of deal with it. When you’re going to sound like shit, you may as well have as much fun as you can.

Did anyone catch your ear at SXSW?

I saw a bunch of great stuff, but just kind of stumbling over it. I didn’t really have a plan. The only band I really regret not seeing is Gallows – this really, really violent English punk band – just because I don’t know if they’ll ever come to Australia. Our American manager went there and he said it was the first show he’s been to in his life where he actually got really scared. The lead singer is this really small, angry guy and if somebody took the microphone out of his hand and put a knife in it, he’d probably kill seven people. Our manager made sure that he stood next to the exit.

Do you have any ideas about the new record? Do you think you’ll work with Peter Katis (noted producer of Interpol, The National, Spoon et al) again?

I think there’s a really good chance we will. We had the best time recording with him. He’s got a really, really good set-up and the way he records just works with our band; the way he goes about it really makes sense for us.

But I’ve been a real pain in the arse about song writing for the last few months. I’ve been so artsy-fartsy. Two days before we left I gave myself a pep-talk because I’ve just been wasting my own time, just being like ‘Let it come to you Patience’ and being really hippie about the whole thing. ‘This doesn’t feel right so I’m not going to chase it any longer’, you know, just sort of being a bit up my own arse. So coming over here and doing all that SXSW stuff has really helped switch on that part of my brain andI feel like I’ve been re-energised. I’m really looking forward to going home and setting challenges. Like, I really want to mix some shit up and try writing some songs in totally different ways. It would be great if we could just challenge ourselves with the actual formula for writing, which we never did on Teeth Lost, Hearts Won, which was all about letting it come to us organically.

So yeah, I’m really motivated. I gave my creative side a Red Bull.

I don’t allow product placement in my interviews.

Oh, of course! I gave myself a generic, no-name vitamin B12 shot to the creative membrane.

Ah, better.

Awesome.

Dan Rule

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