SOUNDCHECK TO ENCORE WITH THE GRATES
The Grates are a three-piece indie rock band formed in Brisbane in 2002. The original line-up was Patience Hodgson on lead vocals, John Patterson on guitars and backing vocals and Alana Skyring on drums. They were brought to national attention when a demo of their single, “Trampoline” (2004), received airplay on radio station, Triple J. Their first two albums, Gravity Won’t Get You High (2006) and Teeth Lost, Hearts Won (2008), both reached the ARIA Albums Chart top 10. Skyring left in 2010 to become a chef and was replaced on drums by Ben Marshall for the third album, Secret Rituals (2011), which reached No. 11. The Grates’ fourth album, Dream Team (2014), was recorded with new drummer, Richard Daniell. The band provide energetic and often sold out live shows. Since May 2012 Hodgson and Patterson are also proprietors of Southside Tea Room, a cafe and bar, in Morningside; the couple also married in November that year.
The Grates were formed in 2002 in Brisbane by Patience Hodgson on lead vocals, John Patterson on guitars and backing vocals and Alana Skyring on drums. Patterson and Skyring had attended Alexandra Hills State High School. In 1999, they met Cleveland State High School student, Hodgson, in year 12 at a drama class, which all three attended at the local TAFE to avoid physical education classes.
Hodgson discovered her singing voice at a karaoke bar, where she performed “A Whole New World” (from Aladdin). According to Patterson the rendition “was less than stellar”. The three were watching rage in 2002 when they decided to form a group. After several rehearsals Hodgson, with her then-boyfriend, travelled to Scotland for a year where they planned a two-piece band, Prix Divers. Hodgson, Patterson and Skyring kept in contact and swapped ideas for songs. Patterson and Skyring each played in bands, Zombie Crime Boss and Clifton, as well as forming short-lived groups together or with others.
Once back in Australia Hodgson rejoined Patterson and Skyring to resume rehearsing in the Patterson family garden shed. Patterson described their band roles, “Patience couldn’t play an instrument, so she was the singer. I was bored of playing keyboards so I started playing guitar, and Alana just drums however she wants.” They deliberately chose not to have a regular bass guitarist, according to Craig Mathieson of The Age this indicates “they’ve shown a disdain for convention.” They performed under a different name each night – they might trick regular customers into thinking they were a new band instead of the same “shitty” one. In January 2004 they first performed as the Grates; at Ric’s bar in Brisbane. Subsequent noise restrictions limited live performances at the venue, Patterson recalled “It’s pathetic. Ric’s is our favourite place to play in Brisbane… We played our first couple of shows there about a year ago and miss playing there terribly.” According to Australian music journalist, Ed Nimmervoll, “They name the Pixies and Weezer as influences.” Whereas Tammy la Gorce of AllMusic opined their early material were “Ramones and Yeah Yeah Yeahs-influenced songs.”
Later in 2004 they sent a rough demo, “Trampoline”, to national youth radio station, Triple J, which was accompanied by a hand-written biography and press release. They had recorded it as an 8-track recording using two cheap microphones in Patterson’s shed; it received high rotation on Triple J. Mathieson described the single as “a kinetic pop mantra where Hodgson skewers alternative rock’s predilection for sultry female vocalists.” “Trampoline” was used for a Just Jeans “Shortcuts” TV ad. During 2004 they toured supporting Rocket Science, the Tremors, TISM and then Regurgitator.
The band has a distinctive style. In their early years their live set would be written at rehearsal, “Hodgson often composed the lyrics on the spot, initially more interested in the melody than the words.” All three members have a background in art and they design their own album artwork, posters, T-shirts and even socks. In April 2005 Hodgson explained her song writing style, “My attitude used to be just make up some shit that fits in and we’ll be sweet, but now I want to work on the lyrics… I think when Daniel Johns first got some success, he didn’t really know about music history, so he studied it, but I don’t feel like I need to know. I just pick up stuff as we go along.”
They issued a run of limited edition extended plays: The Grates, (2002), Crocodile (2003), Black Dog Black Dog (2004), Pyrate Kids (2004) and Ssh (2004). They released a four-track EP, The Ouch. The Touch., on Dew Process, on 14 February 2005. Patterson commented on the EP, “They’re getting pressed and printed though, so we won’t have to slice all the covers by hand!” It was issued in the United Kingdom two months later via Captains of Industry. Kathryn Kernohan of FasterLouder felt it was “a perfect taster… you couldn’t ask for a stronger selection of tracks. It gives an indication of how good you’d be live, and it leaves me hanging out for an album.” The Ouch. The Touch peaked in the top 100 on the ARIA Singles Chart. In 2005 appeared at the Big Day Out, Meredith, Splendour In The Grass, Falls Festival and Homebake. They supported the Go! Team on their tour over late 2005 to early 2006.
On 8 April 2006 they released their debut album, Gravity Won’t Get You High, which peaked at No. 9 on the ARIA Albums Chart. It was recorded in Chicago with Brian Deck (Holopaw, Iron and Wine, Josh Ritter) producing. Nimmervoll noticed that “Some songs had been with them for a long time, others were wtitten just days before going into the studio.” It was released in the UK and the United States in June. Nate Dorr of PopMatters opined that it provided “an infectious variety… At times, there’s a sense of catchy frivolity to the proceedings, but it can easily be forgiven… sheer excitement of hearing such unbridled enthusiasm in an emerging talent. And they are talented.” Pitchfork‘s Sean Fennessey felt “electric Hodgson, who sounds like she’s riding a jet-fueled pogo on almost every song, is joined by guitarist John Patterson and drummer Alana Skyring, who make a sweet, playful style of basement band music. Occasionally it steers straight, but it mostly just zooms rudderless.”
The lead single, “19 20 20″, was released in March as a 7” vinyl and a music download. It was followed by “Silence Is Golden” (September 2006), which reached the ARIA Singles Chart top 60. The third single, “Rock Dogs”, was issued later that year. Four of the album’s tracks were listed in the Triple J Hottest 100, 2006: “Lies Are Much More Fun” (No. 71), “Inside Outside” (No. 42), “Science is Golden” (No. 17) and “19 20 20” (No. 10). During 2006 they performed at the Big Day Out (Australian leg), headlined a national tour in the first half of the year, supported Sleater-Kinney on their Australian tour, supported the Zutons on their UK tour, supported the Young Knives, and then Arctic Monkeys in their tours of Australia.
On 13 October 2006 they performed at the Forum Theatre, Melbourne, which was issued as a live DVD, Til Death Do Us Party, on 30 April 2007. Mess+Noise’s Ben described how Hodgson’s “a genuine livewire, swanning across the stage in a flouncy white dress, all red-cordial energy and child-like abandon. But her voice, in a live setting, is a tuneless thing. The harmonies and the melodies of the recording just aren’t there.” He felt that Patterson’s guitar work is “bare too, skipping between clangy clean sounds and high-school-band distortion” while Skyring’s “drums are solid, in the Meg White style, but she still looks like the whole thing – her, being here, behind these drums, and all those people, out there, pogoing – is a surprise.”
The Grates second album, Teeth Lost, Hearts Won, was released on 2 August 2008, which peaked at No. 6. According to the Dwarf.com website’s reviewer it “needs good set of speakers and an appropriate setting to really be appreciated. When you have seen a band like this live, the expectation is that they will try and capture some of that vibe – and for some reason – unless this sucker is played loud, the vibe is totally lost.” Its lead single, “Burn Bridges”, was released in July 2008, which reached the top 100. It was followed by “Aw Yeah” (October 2008). The Grates were listed onto the Triple J Hottest 100, 2008with three tracks: “Burn Bridges” (No. 34), “Aw Yeah” (No. 80) and “Carve Your Name” (No. 83).
In mid-2009 the Grates travelled to New York where they performed and continued song writing for six months. Skyring left the band in 2010 to study a baking course at Institute of Culinary Education, New York; initially the Grates continued as a two piece with Hodgson and Patterson writing tracks together in that city. Skyring later joined Neil and Sharon Finn’s group, Pajama Club.
Local US musician, Ben Marshall, joined the band on drums in New York to finish recording their third album, Secret Rituals (17 June 2011), which peaked at No. 11. Matt Shea of Mess+Noise felt it was “a little like a ledger of artistic assets: for the band to come out on top, the final statement needs to show a positive balance of improved songwriting over receding whacked-out style.” The Alphabet Pony’s reviewer found the work had “benefited from this increased sensibility, and the time taken to marinate in the creative hub of Brooklyn has done wonders for their revitalised sound… It’s classic Grates sound, brought kicking and screaming into 2011 – but it’s in the conflict between the old stuff and the new stuff that’s the killer.” Marshall toured with the band in Australia in June to July on the Secret Rituals tour with auxiliary member, Miranda Freeman on bass guitar and keyboards. Freeman is Hodgson’s former high school mate.
The Grates premiered its lead single, “Turn Me On”, on Triple J in April 2011 and it was streamed on their official Facebook page. Marshall was also on their Summer’s Breath tour later that year in October and November. On the Triple J Hottest 100 of 2011, “Turn Me On” was listed at No. 54. Marshall left the Grates in 2012 due to commitments back in the US. The Grates took a hiatus from live shows soon after, to focus on the opening their cafe, bar Southside Tea Room. Their new drummer, Ritchie Daniell, who also drums for Brisbane indie rock band The Trouble with Templeton, officially joined The Grates in 2013 to play their live shows.
The Grates issued their fourth studio album, Dream Team (December 2014), on their own label, Death Valley. Everett True of The Guardian described how it “sounds more ‘grown up’ – what with the hyper-energetic brat-pop Grates of old switched for something a little more refined, more radio-friendly – there are still enough moments of euphoria to lift it above the mundane.” He was disappointed by its “solid, muscly bloke drumming… Not everything has to be treated like it’s an anthem.” It did not reach the ARIA top 100, although it appeared on the ARIA Digital Albums top 50 and debuted at #48 on the Australian iTunes chart.