For The Grates’ debut album Gravity Won’t Get You High (2006), their signature animal was the giraffe. It was a fitting match: that year, the album towered over all other beasts, made mammoth strides, and won the affection of the people, both here and abroad. Two years later, The Grates present second album, Teeth Lost, Hearts Won: an entirely different animal altogether.
“If Teeth Lost, Hearts Won was a beast, I imagine it’d be like something from Where the Wild Things Are,” Patience says. “They’re big and scary. But they’ve also got this sensitivity, and pick up the little kid and protect him.” Alana thinks. “Or maybe the griffin in Alice in Wonderland,” she says. “He’s like a lion and eagle together, but a really gentle creature.”
Upon its release, Gravity Won’t Get You High immediately shot to the ARIA top-ten, was nominated for awards, and sold over 50,000 copies. The trio slogged it out for two years straight, with sold-out Australian tours, shows in the UK, US and Canada, and garnered gushing press coverage in NME, Rolling Stone, Spin and Filter, amongst others.
Then suddenly: after all the noise, Patience, John and Alana found themselves back in their hometown of Brisbane. In contrast to the concert halls and festival stages they’d grown used to, their bedrooms were dead quiet. At first, John found it disconcerting. “It was huge shift,” John says. “Coming home and having nothing to do except write.”
Instead of deciding their new direction on the spot, the trio opted to churn out song after song, until they struck gold. Luckily, they didn’t have to wait long. Tracks like ‘Two Kinds of Right’ and ‘Milk Eyes’ soon announced themselves as the new yardsticks, and suggested a major evolution. “We wrote a bunch of songs that week,” John says. “And right there was the direction of the new album.” Patience interjects sweetly: “We blew our creative load during that period.”
With Teeth Lost, Hearts Won, The Grates faced a new challenge in the studios: being their own co-producers for the very first time. While sound engineer/producer Peter Katis (Interpol, Mates of State, The National) joined the ride again, this time, The Grates were also alongside him closely at the producer’s desk at Tarquin Studios, a gutted-out attic in Connecticut, USA.
Initially, taking the production helm - occasionally by themselves - scared them. For six weeks, John had stomach pains, expecting something bad was going to happen. “On the first night, we were up having secret band meetings,” he says. “We were saying, ‘How are we going to deal with this?’ But then we decided, we’ve got to suck it up!” In the end, taking the role of co-producers proved to be essential for the band's development.
Needless to say, the band’s newfound musical smarts have paid off. This batch of songs is more sophisticated and punch-in-the-guts catchy than anything they’ve done before. Hand-clapping, foot-stomping first single ‘Burn Bridges’ is a good indicator of The Grates’ new musical direction, but also provides a handy manifesto. “Burn all them bridges down to the ground,” Patience squeals, “cause I won’t be coming this way again.”
“The first album was a bit of a party album,” John says. “With this one, we wanted more guts, something people could hold closer to their hearts and treasure.” Don’t worry, though The Grates are still as infectiously raucous as ever.
All three nominate slick pop shoe-shuffler ‘Two Kinds of Right’ as a firm favourite. Elsewhere, ‘Aw Yeah’ is a fist-raising rally anthem. ‘Storms and Fevers’ is a rousing, emotional number that swells the throat, moistens the eyes, and makes your collar seem suddenly tight. It’s a no-holds-barred, introspective side of The Grates, rarely seen until now.
New songs warrant new friends. On the infectious, bubble-gum pop of ‘Milkeyes,’ you’ll hear Kori Gardner (Mates of State) on backing vocals. A mother-of-two, Gardner is currently a poster-child for indie-pop mums. So it’s fitting that ‘Milk Eye’ was written during Patience’s baby-obsession phase. ”Everyone—including our manager—was having babies,” she says. “I got super clucky.”
Elsewhere, the rich, hillbilly twang of Brooklyn-based folkie Tim Fite appears on ‘Not Today,’ a demented, whiskey-soured waltz. The Grates had been obsessed with Fite’s cult albums when, by sheer coincidence, they found out Peter Katis had earlier produced one of his band’s albums. All it took was a phone call, and Tim came on board.
Teeth Lost, Hearts Won album retains The Grates’ trademark shambolic fun, but injects new layers and grunt into the proceedings. This time, Patience, Alana and John come armed with sharpened technical chops, killer arrangements and newfound songwriting oomph. Boasting the combined force of John’s rough-and-tumble guitars, Patience’s signature banshee yelps, and Alana’s churning drums, Teeth Lost, Hearts Won might be a griffin, it might be a Where The Wild Things Are monster. But either way, it’s the sound of a band unafraid to bite.