Lost in West London late one night during their first an masse trip to England, aimlessly wandering foreign, unfamiliar streets, The Grates happened upon a parked car by the kerb, disco music blaring, its lights on, an ungentle a-rocking occurring. Peering deeper into the urban undergrowth, they made an unsettling discovery: the passengers therein were engaging in proud, loud and lusty congress on the backseat.
“All the windows were fogged up, except the wound-down one we could see the arse through,” grimaces John, their very hairy guitarist, still somewhat bemused.
“We were all like, wow.” adds singer Patience, her eyes wide (but they’ll go wider still, later). “That’s bold. That takes guts.”
It is now the grave responsibility of your correspondent to explain to Grates the infernal practise of ‘dogging’, thus divesting them of their cherished innocence, perhaps FOREVER. It isn’t pretty.
“You mean,” whimpers drummer Alana, disgust etched on her face, “They wanted us to join in?”
“I have this ongoing belly problem going on. I don’t know what the story is, I think some parasites might be in my guts…”
Patience leans across our table at the Electric café in West London, and peels out a grin so wide her eyelashes tickle the corners of her lips. You or I might, perhaps, greet such knowledge with an expression of dismay or upset, maybe with the word “Bother” or some vague synonym. Patience seems excited, elated by this news. To be honest, Patience seems excited, elated by petty much everything, a naturally heightened state of excitement that translates so well onstage, as she leaps and stamps and twists across the stage, insane grin in place, a little breathless (but we’re not sure if she’s ever out of control).
This sunny disposition, this heady lust for life, pervades the Grates camp. They are, declares the winsome Alana, “The very best of friends. We even stay in the same hotel room, all three of us, when we travel.”
“We argue all the time,” adds Patience (such an ill-fitting name - her every atom seems to buzz with impatience, for all the stuff there is to do and all the fun there is to have). “Our band practices take place in John’s Dad’s shed. We play for half an hour. Then we go and eat some barbecue…”
“Then John’s mum comes downstairs, and we have a chat,” continues Alana. “Then we surf the internet for a bit. Then we have an argument. I leave the room for a bit, and then come back, and we all make up, and play for five more minutes to celebrate. We’re all the best of friends,” she says again, “So we can afford to wanna kill each other one minute, and then all share a hotel room the next.”
“I taped part of our rehearsal the other week,” adds John, grinning with a simian wickedness. “All that was on the tape was Patience wailing, ‘I’m never gonna write another good song again!’”
She’s already written several wonderful ones. The Grates’ debut double a-side is a case in point; ‘Message’ skips and stomps like these suburban kids are taking a glitter-daubed chainsaw to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ blueprint and dancing gleefully in the wreckage, a tumbling racket of revving guitars, tumbling drums, stop-start noise and Patience’s howl, ricocheting off the speakers like a squash ball.
The flip is even more charming. ‘Suckafish’ is odd, off-kilter, faintly celtic but owing more to pixies at the foot of the garden than any leprechauns. It has that lumbering, gentle heaviness you always get when typically-loud musicians deign to decrease the volume, a sweet and messy thing of vulnerability and sing-song poetry that recalls a beautifully bruised Belly. You don’t expect something so tender to be hiding underneath something so brattily brash.
We aren’t here to talk about the music really, though, or at least that’s what The Grates seem to believe. We talk for about 90 minutes, all in. I don’t ask a single question. The tape clicks on while they’re talking, and whirrs absently as the chat unfurls, of wild and arcane subjects. Like what their spirit animal would be.
“Patience’s spirit animal is the seal,” explains Alana, authoritatively. “And Jon’s spirit animal is a bear. I don’t know what my spirit animal is.”
“It’s a toss-up, with Alana, between a polar bear and a koala bear,” interrupts John.
“I don’t feel an affinity with any animal,” frowns Alana. “And that’s my spiritual crisis.”
“John’s a bear, because he’s so very hairy,” offers Patience.
“And because he’d love to be able to hibernate,” adds Alana.
“I don’t think I could manage it, but I’d love to try,” smiles John. “Sleep for a few months, get it all out of the way, and then work for nine months without sleep.”
“John, bears still sleep at night when they’re not hibernating!” snaps Patience.
“Yeah, they only hibernate in the winter because there’s no food for them to eat.” adds Alana, scarcely more gently.
“Oh,” replies John, his eyes drooping slightly, so he looks like a momentarily glum (yes!) bear.
Check out the Grates’ website and you’ll be greeted by the band’s DIY design aesthetic in full flow, a cut’n’paste glut of vibrant colours and affectionate scribbles and paintings. The band press up their own badges, design their own sleeves, do everything, in fact, because they enjoy it. That’s the only reason they do anything they do. Luckily, the Grates enjoy being the Grates a great deal.
They formed in their hometown of Whitchurch, Brisbane, having been friends for as long as they could remember. They were, by their own admission, ‘rubbish’ to begin with, until Patience went off to live in London for a while, returning with a much stronger voice than before. The Grates are burgeoning huge in their home country, beloved of influential radio station Triple J. They deserve to be massive, everywhere. But especially places with decent air-conditioning.
John: “Its so hot in Australia, and I sweat so much when we play.”
Patience: “John’s a hairy guy…”
Alana: “But the venues in Australia rarely have air-conditioning. I’ve gotten so hot I’ve felt I might pass out while playing…”
John: “I’ve had sweat pouring off all of my body! Rivers of sweat!”
Patience: “I’ve thought, maybe I might puke onstage! And I have felt like it.”
Alana: “We discuss it beforehand, if she thinks she might get sick, we have a bucket onstage for her.”
Patience: “Because that’s cooler than saying, ‘Aw, I feel sick, I have to stop rocking out now!’ I’m not a baby…”
John: “Dad’s shed is air-conditioned, its excellent. We wouldn’t have gotten anything done without that. We don’t write fast songs during the summer; we write them in the winter, to stay warm!”
John’s Dad’s shed is the Grates’ HQ, the clubhouse where they hatch their plans for twisted nursery rhyme-aided world domination.
Alana: “It’s awesome… it’s huge, it’s soundproofed…”
John: “It’s not entirely sound-proofed. I walked outside it once while Alana was playing drums, it was really loud.”
Alana: “But the neighbours don’t complain. Our next door neighbour is insane, and she’s really lovely, and she just really enjoys tracking the band’s progress!”
“We’d been eating at this Chinese place,” continues Patience later, on her digestive disorder, “and I ordered ‘vegetarian’, which was disgusting, like raw tofu floating in chicken stock. Whatevs!” she snaps, efficiently shortening a sarcastic ‘whatever’ to two syllables. “So I ate some of John’s noodles, which he had with the pork. It was a skanky restaurant, and before we got served, I kept joking to John, ‘You know what meat they’re serving?’” Patience points at her handbag, emblazoned with a big picture of a cat. “And I’m hella allergic to cats. I reckon some cat-meat touched the noodles, and I had an allergic reaction on my insides. I’m allergic to everything about cats: their saliva, their hair…”
“And now, it turns out, their meat too!” laughs Alana.
“And my body flllllllllipped out” - ‘flipped’, but with the ‘l’ drawn out for, like, 5 seconds. “Whatevs, it was the most disgusting meal ever, and it was cat. Whatevs.”
(c) Stevie Chick, 2005