After a major-label
kick to the teeth, The Grates return from Oz to conquer America.
BY HAL BIENSTOCK
Flash back to 2006 and The Grates seemed to have it made.
They had a gold record in their native Australia, a major label set to
release the album in the States, and an American tour that garnered rave
reviews. But the week the album came out, Interscope went AWOL. “We just never
heard from them,” says singer Patience Hodgson. “I felt a little ripped off,
like the album never got a proper birth.”
Three years later, The Grates are in almost exactly the same
place. Their second album, Teeth Lost,
Hearts Won, already a success in Australia,
will be released in the U.S.
by indie label Thirty Tigers. Teeth Lost has the feel of a breakthrough, mixing the upbeat punk of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs
with mellower moments. Blurt talked
with Hodgson about the challenges of mixing party music with introspection and
the band’s ongoing quest to conquer the States.
BLURT: How do you
think the band has changed from your first album to this one?
PATIENCE HODGSON: For one thing, we toured a whole lot. You
change on the road. You grow and get faced with challenges. You’re in a new
place every night, often sleeping on floors. And even in an English speaking
country, things are completely different. Supermarkets don’t stock the same
things, tipping rules are different. Even though we speak the same language,
things can seem foreign. You can’t help but change.
album was more of a party album. With Teeth
Lost, we wanted to have something closer to our hearts that we could get a
little sentimental over. That came from all of the highs and lows of touring.
complained the last album was too sugary. Did you try to step away from that
I don’t think we were necessarily trying to get away from
anything. We were just trying to be more versatile. There are definitely sugary
moments on this album, but I like that sometimes. It plays well off the other
songs that aren’t as sugary.
It has to be
challenging to try to become more mature without losing the energy that made
people like you in the first place.
It can be. We did mature and the song styles are different,
and it’s more sentimental. But I think Teeth
Lost has spirit of the first album and all the things that make our band
sound like our band. When we were writing, we didn’t talk about what we wanted
it to sound like… I was dead set against [it]. It seems like such a contrived
way to approach songwriting, which should be organic and a little magical.
Is it possible to
capture the energy of your live show on an album?
I’m not sure that it is. Sometimes you can spend hours in a
studio trying to get drums to sound right. It’s hard to be totally energetic
after that. A lot of people record vocals after drinking a bit. I can’t do
that. I try to sing in the morning after going for a long walk and getting
blood pumping. It’s the closest feeling I can get to being onstage, even though
it’s usually 10:30 in the morning.
The album starts with
a bang, then gets progressively quieter.
Everyone wants to start their album in the most ear-catching
way… With our first album, we started it with a very subdued, subtle song. I
think it freaked a lot of people out because they expected it to be spirited
and loud and rambunctious. This time we started it with our biggest and best
Where does the album
title come from?
It came from a song we wrote, but didn’t put on the album.
The song was written on a plane. I wrote it down on a napkin and sang it in the
toilet. There are a lot of songs on the album that talk about overcoming
problems, and we had a lot of struggles writing this album. Teeth Lost is about the fight, the need
to fight for your art. And Hearts Won is when it’s worked out, when you realize the fight was worth it.
You’re pretty big in Australia. Do
you feel like you’re starting over in the U.S.?
Absolutely. We’re back to pulling all-night drives. But I’m
really enjoying it. This is a different country; we haven’t driven ourselves
around it 100 times yet.
You’re also something
of fashion plate at home. Is it weird to see fans dress like you?
It used to happen more than it does now. I don’t really
notice it. But if my dad comes to a show, he’ll always tell me about girls he
saw wearing my outfits. I think it’s funny that anyone associates me with
fashion. I wear the cheapest piece of shit clothes I can get my hands on. It’s
not like I can afford to spend money on clothes. After all, I play in a band
for a living.