The Grates SXSW Success
With their live shows abounding with playground energy and exuberance, it’s no surprise The Grates turned heads at the South By Southwest Music Festival. Several US press reviews cited the Brisbane trio as one of the great surprises at this year’s SXSW and it looks like they might be headed back that way sooner rather than later.
“It was amazing,” guitarist John Patterson says of their trip to Texas. “We didn’t really come over expecting much, except for having fun. We just thought at least we’d get to see a bunch of great bands and play some shows. Everything else is just icing on the cake.”
By ‘everything’, Patterson is referring to the great crowds, and the offers from American record labels. It seems The Grates are on more than a steady rise, so much so they’ve even signed a co-management deal with former Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg (The Hives, Ben Lee) . “Our manager in Australia had some babies and he didn’t want to travel,” Patterson explains, “so we started looking for a manager over here [USA] to help out with everything, to cover insurance and all that. Danny was interested, so we’re really happy and excited.”
The trio also played a few shows in New York and LA, the first of which was on the Monday after South By Southwest. “We weren’t expecting many people to show up, but it was a good crowd and it was a fun show,” recalls Patterson. “Except the really funny thing was Sneaky Sound System played before us at 7.30 at the same venue. There were a lot of wasted Australian dudes that arrived after Sneaky Sound System because they expected Sneaky Sound System to play later that night as the headline act, when they actually played the early show. So they were belligerent and typical rank Aussie tourists in America screaming out; we just told them ‘Sneaky Sound System aren’t playing’,” he chuckles.
Despite their recent success, Patterson remains humble when it comes to setting goals for the band. “We just want to keep touring for a bit more; we’re hoping we can just play enough shows to sustain that it’s worth touring over here,” he says of touring the US. “It’s not really a bold ambition, but it’s kinda a really fun way of life, when you’re in your mid-20s travelling the world and playing music. We just hope to keep that up for a bit longer.”
How does Patterson feel to be compared, at times, to revered New Yorkers, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs? “It kind of bothered me a little bit when we first started out,” Patterson concedes, “because I thought it was just ’cause it was a singer that was a girl. And I really like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but I’ve never really seen the comparison, I guess. I mean it’s a similar line-up and it’s fronted by a girl, but I guess it doesn’t bother me at all any more. It was funny, actually; we got compared to the Ting Tings in a review – just because Patience has blonde hair now.”
Even so, there’s a fiery rebellion and intensity to songs like 'Burn Bridges' that could be compared to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “Oh yeah, I understand that part of it,” Patterson stresses. “I think we’re more…there’s nothing cool about us like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – we’re way dirtier than them.
“After six months of writing we had a talk about how we actually wanted the finished product to sound like and 'Burn Bridges' was the first thing that popped into our heads – after we came back from having a long walk and talk about it. And we wrote half of it and came back to it the next week and finished it off with Alana (Skyring, drummer). It wasn’t very stressful.”
The Grates have referred to their second album, 'Teeth Lost, Hearts Won', as a gutsier and more emotional record than their debut and the trio hopes audiences will see a certain growth and maturity in their sophomore release. “I think ’cause of our show and everything and our songs from the first album as well, people think we’re kind of more immature than what we actually are,” says Patterson. “We take our band quite seriously, but we don’t want to be (seen as) a (overly) serious band, so I think it’s a combination of taking what you do really seriously and making something that’s a little more whimsical.”
New songs 'Two Kinds Of Right' and 'Milk Eyes' became the new yardsticks for their second album and hinted at an evolution in The Grates’ sound. “With 'Two Kinds Of Right', I didn’t really like it to begin with,” admits Patterson. “Even though we write all the songs, I listen to it as if I’m more a fan, so I can criticise it and stuff like that. At first when we were writing it, I wasn’t really impressed. But after a couple of listens, it started to really grow on me and it felt much more exciting than some of the stuff that we were doing. And then when we got into the studio and started building it up, it became really exciting. And 'Milk Eyes', it was just such a different and cute song about wishing you had a baby, like imagining you had a baby, we’ve never done anything like that.”
There’s an incredible exuberance and uplifting quality to the band’s music that’s evidently captivated many listeners; how do they feel when they’re on stage? “It’s kind of nerve-wracking to begin with and then you just hope to God that you snap into the vibe that the audience is in, or that Patience is in, that you snap together and actually get to enjoy it,” Patterson laughs. “It’s so much more fun when it feels like a dream and you know – you’re not really paying attention to what you’re doing. I think it’s probably all the nerves; I think that’s what makes us so energetic. We don’t really prepare ourselves at all – you just want to play your heart out and do your best.”
The Grates have invited Melbourne neo-grunge trio Children Collide to support them on their final tour for 'Teeth Lost, Hearts Won'. The trio will spend the rest of the year writing their next album and, if all goes to plan, touring more of the States. How does it feel to have evolved from a promising Brisbane band into one of the country’s most loved and successful bands?
“I hope we’re loved,” Patterson chuckles, “and successful. I think it’s just really nice to build something. We were lucky to get a couple of opportunities when we first started out and you have to decide whether you’re gonna run with it. You know, we quit our jobs and school, and just worked our guts out trying to run with this opportunity that we’d been given. That’s the exciting part – building something out of nothing.”