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The Grates – Chronic Tonic

Written by Michael Carr on June 14, 2011

Recently returning from their adopted home of New York City where they recorded their third album Secret Rituals, as well as replacing longtime drummer and founding member Alanna Skyring with Ben Marshall, The Grates are a band in the grip of flux. While some bands might find such a circumstance daunting, The Grates, consisting of guitarist John Patterson and singer Patience Hodgson, are reveling in it, finding in their new sound an inspiration that has seen them pursue the project with renewed vigour.

Adding Patience’s high school friend Miranda Freeman as bassist to round out the line up, after John laid down bass parts in the studio, the band have been fiercely rehearsing their new live show ahead of their upcoming tour in support of the album’s release, as well as their upcoming set as part of Splendour In The Grass. Amidst a day rife with interviews, I caught up with Patience for a quick chat over the phone to discuss the new sound and album as well as a few unexpected facts about shirtlessness and the band’s creative process as well as Patience’s tendency to talk bollocks when it comes to the technical side of things.

Music Feeds: Hi, how are you? What have you been up to since you got back to Australia after recording the album?

Patience Hodgson: Just interviews, it’s a nice big day of interviews. Everything is getting crammed into today and tomorrow, which is fine by me. They’re a big day, but the label buys me lunch, so that’s great. Otherwise rehearsing a lot for the tour all the other days with the new band.

MF: Cool, how is it shaping compared to what we’re used to?

PH: It’s completely different, Ben’s come out from New York, being a Brooklyn native, but he did the drums on the album and he’s got a very different style, he’s a very clean, tight, heavy-hitting drummer and his personality is just so different to the way that Alanna drummed. Then we’ve got bass on the record and bass live, which we’ve never had before, and then we’ve taken some of the old songs and put bass on them live. Mind you, I think even before we added bass to the old songs they still had a different energy just from Ben’s drumming style, but now that they have bass on them they’ve got a whole new feel, it’s just meaty, I feel like I can bite into them and I’m just loving how they’re sounding in the rehearsal room.

MF: It sounds more like the album is more live based then?

PH:Yeah, and I also think the songs sound more confident now and I think they speak for themselves, which has really changed how I feel about going on stage. The songs on the previous album have been really hyperactive and have had lots of different drum beats throughout them. With the new album we really wanted to reduce the amount of different rhythms on each song so that you can just focus in on a steady groove and really get into it and that’s really had an effect on my dance moves on stage. I think the songs speak for themselves a lot more now, they don’t want me to run around stage as much, and I’m just really loving the energy they’ve got.

MF: Sounds great; sounds like you’re really excited about it?

PH: I am really excited by it. Miranda and Ben are fantastic people and their rookie nature to this whole game of touring is making me excited about it again, because it’s all so new to them. Ben’s toured America, and he’s played a lot of shows, but I don’t think he’s ever been in a band like ours, he comes from a really professional sort of jazz background, you know, non-cavemen style stuff, and now we’re getting him to play like a caveman. We were saying to him, ‘look mate, you’re coming to Australia, you’re going to have to get a little bit more caveman.’

MF: Are you making him grow a beard?

PH: I didn’t ask him to, but I can see him growing a bit of hair. But the thing is he’s blonde and he doesn’t really have any hair on his body. He’s actually hairless, which I know because he’s taken his shirt off a couple of times in the band room. It’s funny actually, the first time he did it I didn’t know what to do, I was like ‘John! Ben’s taking his shirt off,” and John was like ‘yeah he’s probably really hot,’ I forgot guys could do that, having had a girl drummer for so long. I was shocked, I didn’t know where to look, I was like ‘oh, he’s half nude, how do I look at him now.” But I don’t know if the shirt will be staying on or off for the tour, I don’t even want to know. Anyway, I don’t really know where I was going with that.

MF: Me neither. Anyway, it sounds to me like you guys have really found a new spark in the music, to use a tired cliche.

PH: I think it’s just that the new songs are new and it always feels great playing new material. Then on top of that we’ve gone through and made the old songs exciting for us again, so there is just this great energy. Just hearing these songs played on bass rather than keyboards and having Miranda do cool bass stuff, makes them sound rockier; it’s definitely exciting. Hopefully it will work out like I have it in my head, but I think Australian audiences are going to have their mind blown by the new show.

MF: So would you say the live show does a good job of recreating what you’ve put down on the album?

PH: I think that they’re two different things. It’s really hard to take an album you’ve recorded in the studio and make it live. There have been a lot of challenges because even though we have bass, John has put a lot of lead guitar lines on there, which are almost impossible to do live because musically we’re still a three piece: guitar, bass and drums. So there are parts where John will have two guitars doing different things at the same time, and so we’ve had to sort of pick and choose which parts are the most essential and try and get down to the bones of the song. And then there will be times where we’ll think we’ve figured it out and someone will say, ‘oh I really miss that guitar part in the pre-chorus’ and we’re like ‘OK, let’s try it with that part instead.’ So it’s very much a case of working out what really is the bones of the songs, and then finding the things that you still can’t live without and figure out who’s going to trigger it (laughs).

So Miranda is doing some bass stuff and then quickly doing stuff on the keyboard in between. Ben has his own little triggering station up the back where he can trigger sounds, like there is this one guitar sound that is really reverbed and spaced out in the verses of Like You Could. It’s almost like a submarine, like a melodic submarine, like miiieeewwww (laughs). So it’s been a bit of a puzzle putting it all together, but we’ll never be able to do everything live that we did on the album.

MF: So you’re obviously trying to avoid playing to a backing track?

PH: We’re trying to not play to a backing track. There are definitely loops Ben is triggering… mind you, I don’t even know if they’re loops. Every time I try and say something about the technical side of the band I always end up getting corrected by John. I just pick up on buzz words, I’ll hear John and Ben say ‘loops’ and I’ll just pick up on it and start saying it without knowing what I’m talking about. Like they kept talking about tonic, which I wasn’t aware is a musical term, I just thought they were speaking about a remedy, you know. So I’d be saying stuff like ‘that part of the song is a real tonic,’ and then the other day we were being interviewed and I said something along the lines of getting to a section that is a real tonic and John was like ‘what are you talking about, that was a musical term we were using to describe something else,’ and I was like “ I thought you meant it was a tonic because it was different from the verse and the verse is so dark the chorus is like a tonic.’ to which he replied ‘no Patience, not at all.’

MF: So it’s a case of wanting to keep it as live as possible, even if you have to use triggers and loops?

PH: Yeah, but trying not to play to a backing track. You know when you start doing that drummers have to wear headphones and it really get’s in the way of your dynamic on stage and with the audience because it’s as if you’re not connected to the situation in that point in time. Especially with a band like ours, I think it’s really important to keep a sense of back and forth with the audience, for them to be able to see that we’re putting as much energy as possible into the music, which makes them give us energy back, which we can then work off again. I’m sure there are some bands who can make great use of it, you know like some epic avant garde synth band or something, but we’re more about having fun.

Stream the Grates new album Secret Rituals (out June 17th) and find out tour details here

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