The Grates have seen a whole lotta change in the past couple of years. They’d temporarily moved to Brooklyn to work on their third album when their drummer, Alana Skyring, left to pursue a career in the culinary arts, and then, oddly, they decided to fill out their rhythm section, which had previously only comprised a drum kit, in her absence. Dunja Nedic caught up with them to find out how they’re moving forward as a band on their new album.
With Skyring’s blessing to continue The Grates without her, Patience Hodgson and John Patterson are now writing as a duo and performing with a rotation of bassists and drummers. They are back in Australia to release their latest LP, Secret Rituals, and show off their steady yet striking, NY-driven evolution since 2008’s Teeth Lost, Heart Won.
‘We’ve always really loved touring America and we wanted to go over there and have a base to tour out of for a little bit,’ explains Patterson. ‘It seemed like Brooklyn was cheaper than Manhattan and we’d have a great time there so that’s why we chose it. But then we ended up falling in love with it.
‘A cool thing about America is that there’s always a great show on every night if you want to go out. I think it’s just big…New York state’s almost the size of the whole of Australia in population so there’s always a lot going on.
‘Where we used to rehearse, we shared it probably with 40 different bands and about 50 different visual artists all in the same building. When you arrive to rehearse, there’s all these other people arriving to work on their art and I think that’s kind of inspiring. Also that the city’s so big and keeps going on whether you’re there or not, so I think there’s this drive to contribute to the culture a little bit. I think subconsciously, you feel that.
‘There’s so many options available over there and you see there’s so many things you can do with your life, I think it helped me and Patience really focus on the band and then Alana wanted to do something else. It kind of made sense. We took a big chance going to New York anyway, just changing our lives up so much, so something was bound to happen.
Having often been termed a “cute” band, due to the colourful outfits they often donned for photo shoots and their kitschy clips, Secret Rituals shows a distinct departure from this identity. The video clip to lead single, ‘Turn Me On’, is more film noir and dismemberment than dainty frolics and farm animals, and the result is a piece of art in itself, both eerie and rather beautiful. It’s more, well, grown up.
‘I think we wanted to do something that felt a bit more like an evolution on what we were doing,’ says Patterson of the clip. ‘[You] get bored of trying to make something really really crazy…even though it ended up being kind of crazy, we were trying to hone it in. Make it more focused.’
Following Skyring’s departure, the remaining two members recruited Brooklyn-based Ben Marshall to drum over their demos and also decided to include the ol’ bass in their songs for the first time.
‘It feels so different having that extra element driving the songs along. I don’t think many people have heard the album yet but I think, just from the first song, it seems really positive,’ Patterson states enthusiastically, referring to the positive reception and copious airplay they’ve already received for ‘Turn Me On’ ahead of the album release. But that’s not to say that he never had any doubts about moving forward with Hodgson.
‘I wondered whether we should’ve been The Grates or start something new…but I still wanted to make music and we just decided that we were still The Grates. We still felt like The Grates.’
And if you’re looking for insider tips as to the album’s best tracks, you can take cue from Patterson himself:
‘‘Change’ and ‘Like you could have it all’…I just like how it’s slow and sludgy and how fuzzy they are, and getting to do lots of weird guitar layered distortion and stuff like that. And ‘Turn Me On’ just came together so easy and so quickly that it just felt like it was a breath of fresh air to us.’