It’s a cliche that bands are like marriages. But for irrepressible Brisbane three-piece the Grates, it was a cliche they embraced, right up until drummer Alana Skyring left the band to become a chef in New York in 2010.
At that point, singer Patience Hodgson and guitarist John Patterson, who are married with two young daughters, took the next step: sought counselling.
“I guess we were all family, and it was like a break-up,” Patterson says.
Hodgson counters, “it’s like a different kind of divorce,” as Soda (aged three) and Fade (11 months) squawk and chirp in the background.
Patterson adds: “I guess we were kind of lost.”
He and Skyring, in particular, had been close friends since their early high school days. The psychologist’s advice was firm: after eight years in the hothouse of a touring band, it was time for a long break.
“He said, do not do anything together, be totally separate, give it a good amount of time and then come back together, and you will be different people,” Hodgson says.
“So that was it. We just sort of didn’t do anything. Alana knew that side of it, we told her, and then she was like ‘all right, I get it, sure thing, let’s just give that a crack.’ ”
Hodgson and Patterson continued without Skyring for a while, releasing their fourth and final studio album Dream Team in 2014. A couple of years earlier, they’d set up a successful small business, Southside Tea Rooms, in the Brisbane suburb of Morningside.
Then, slowly, the couple and Skyring resumed contact: “just little conversations here and there and texting”, Hodgson says. When Skyring returned to Australia to visit, the trio hung out for the first time in years.
By the time 2018 came, Skyring and Patterson were chatting daily. With a decade having elapsed since the trio’s second album, Teeth Lost, Hearts Won, it was the right time for a reunion, with Skyring returning from New York for a short run of shows.
Patterson refers to the shows as “definitely a celebration” of the band rather than a new beginning, although there will be new songs alongside classics from the group. “I think we’re just going to see how it feels … But there is a reason we did this band in the first place.”
Hodgson says children have irrevocably complicated future plans. “Everything sounds good before you have kids, and then you’re like, uh, wow, this is a learning curve.”
One thing Hodgson hasn’t lost is her energy – or turn of phrase. “I am really excited about working with Alana again, but until they figure out a way to grow babies outside of the lady, just the logistics of being female in any kind of working industry, is pretty intense.”
First published in The Age (Shortlist), 25 October 2018