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Restaurants, labels and parenthood with The Grates

The Grates interview

Ahead of their Teamwork Makes the Dream Work tour, Patience Hodgson, John Patterson (aka The Grates) and baby Soda take some time to discuss their restaurant business, starting their label Death Valley and parenthood.

The Grates tour

HAPPY: You guys mentioned something earlier that was pretty cool, you manage a cafe or bar?

PATIENCE: Yeah, in Brisbane!

HAPPY: The Southside Tea Room right?

PATIENCE: Yeah! So John opened up a bar called Death Valley. That was our initial plan, we’d have it be a bar. But people didn’t want a bar out there.

JOHN: Yeah we were using a cafe space as a bar and it kind of wasn’t working so we got a bar next door now and a beer garden which is separate. It’s like a compound now, we’ve taken over two buildings and a car park.

HAPPY: You guys are total moguls now! 

PATIENCE: Like boot strappin’ moguls! Totally! Well we’re into that, because when we first started the whole thing was after we came back form Brooklyn. In Brisbane you see these shops open up thats costs so much money! I just want to see a place which is just run by people, but made cheap.

JOHN: Yeah, just a place that could cost next to nothing.

PATIENCE: Exactly. We saw it happen in Brooklyn, it’s a thing they’d developed over time. Like any art project or album, it changes.

JOHN: It’s not like…

PATIENCE: What you opened is what it is.

JOHN: You can let it find itself, the shop can find itself over the years and settle into something.

PATIENCE: And just evolve. In the beginning we didn’t have a fridge, we couldn’t afford a fridge, then we afforded a shit fridge, and now three years on we have a good one. (laughs) So it just took three years to get a good fridge.

HAPPY: That’s pretty awesome. And now you have the Red Robbin Super Truck as well, which looks pretty rock n’ roll!

PATIENCE: That’s our mate, he’s been the head chef at a lot of places and he was like “I’d just like to go out!“. John was like “I’m working in the kitchen every night, let’s work together, you can run a place, we’ve got a car park which would be the cheapest rent in the whole of Brisbane“. Which is really good when you’re starting businesses. It’s really heard when you have something like art or having anything that has to start from the ground up these days, it’s just rent! Just to try something out!

It sort of upsets me with Brisbane, and it probably happens in Sydney as well, there are places that would probably be awesome and they might open but you’d only get two years out of them. And you need at least two years to get a small following of people. By the end of those two years they’d be so over the rent price they’d give up. I think that’s what people say about Berlin. There’s so much diversity there and it’s great fun and for the arts too because rent is cheap.

The Grates teamwork makes the dream work

HAPPY: I think we should all move to Berlin!

JOHN: I read somewhere the most expensive rent it is in Wollongong.

PATIENCE: That’s right, what’d it say? It said rent in Wollongong is more expensive than New York. But it’s getting pretty crazy now with the tea room now. This is the true test of balancing our worlds with this upcoming tour. If we can balance both and not have the place fall apart while we’re away!

HAPPY: Especially when your barista is also your drummer! That’d be hectic.

PATIENCE: It is pretty hectic, but we’re confident it’ll be fine. It’s the kind of thing you wake up in the middle of the night with a cold sweat over!

HAPPY: Well what got you guys into this in the first place?

JOHN: Touring, just getting to eat at different kinds of restaurants and eating lots of shitty street food and lots of great food. And dive bars through America, just seeing a bunch of stuff that wasn’t in Brisbane and feeling like we were the only people who could bring it with the authenticity it deserved.

PATIENCE: Just for the longest time there wasn’t a dive bar in Brisbane. We came home from Brooklyn and straight away and went to a birthday and John wasn’t allowed in.

JOHN: I was wearing shorts and they wouldn’t let me in. And it was a video game bar.

PATIENCE: It was a video game bar! And it was Brisbane!

JOHN: I started to get really mad about how they didn’t take into account the heat in Brisbane and the people of Brisbane. It was so stupid.

PATIENCE: We have heaps of haters of our shop at the moment.

HAPPY: Really? Why?

PATIENCE: Heaps of local businesses love us and there are a few who don’t. One of our walls have been graffitied and we just don’t care. I don’t think that’s a great leap to not care. Other people have put up stickers and artwork. It’s not even the other local businesses, it’s their landlords who are like “You better take down that graffiti!“, and I’d be like “Pfffft! Are you going to make us?“. That starts wars and things like that, so even though we’ve been able to open up and achieve out goal…

JOHN: It’s not without its defectors.

PATIENCE: Yeah it’s not without it’s defectors, we’re constantly fighting a battle to be able to. And we always do. We feel it’s the first commercially run art space in a way. Whenever we put on an art show we never take commission because I know how hard it is to be an artist. I feel like saying “You idiots, we’re trying to do good things!” We’re constantly fighting off council complaints.

JOHN: Just getting dobbed on all the time by other people.

PATIENCE: We just found a place with really cheap rent and we knew to do what we wanted to do we couldn’t have the burden of rent, but the downside of that is that you’re in the suburbs. Those peeps in the suburbs, some of those building owners are not ready for what you’re bringing. They see people with tattoos…

JOHN: They start freaking out!

PATIENCE: There’s always this feeling like we’re bringing in this unwanted element to the neighbourhood!

JOHN: But we’re driving the price of real estate up though!

PATIENCE: Yeah we’re always cited by newspapers as ‘local bars’ in the neighbourhood, but it’s us! (laughs) They’re using us but at the same time fighting us. Oh and an ibis got in our bin and we had to apologise for that. But it was a really good time to open up a business and do something outside of music. It’s really challenging the way you balance it all out. It was like how it was really challenging when you first start a band and you don’t have a manager or anything, but with a business. But then that’s why we named the album Dream Team, because we just met the best people! We have amazing staff!

HAPPY: I think it’s pretty cool to see you guys expanding your horizons like this.

PATIENCE: Although we might put it on pause for now!

HAPPY: Yeah just pause the mogul growing until the tour’s done!

JOHN: We can have some micro festival (laughs).

PATIENCE: Oh don’t even talk! He has so many ideas! He’s like the visionary and the dreamer, and every time he tells me one…

JOHN: She shits on it (laughs)

PATIENCE: No! I’m the devil’s advocate.

JOHN: The devil has never had a bigger advocate (laughs).

PATIENCE: I’ll be like “We’re gonna be coming back from tour. Do you even have any time? Who’s going to be doing that with you? Blah blah blah blah“. I’m raining on parades with the crappy reality of situations. But John will be like “This will be the best idea“, so I’m the reality police; “Do you even have time? You have a baby now” (laughs).

HAPPY: Why not, dream big!

PATIENCE: I saw this thing where Francis Ford Coppola said to Tarantino “If you’re going to climb Everest you may as well do it today“, and I took that as if you’re going to do something there’s no point waiting for tomorrow. It only gets harder every time.

HAPPY: Which kinda throws your devil’s advocate argument out the window every time.

JOHN: (laughs) Now I’m going to use that! The Coppola rebuttal!

The Grates baby Soda

HAPPY: Well speaking of things you guys have started you also have a label called Death Valley as well, is that where you got the name for the bar?

JOHN: We named them at the same time knowing that we were going to open the bar in six months.

PATIENCE: I also just liked that it was death to the valley, which is the valley in Brisbane where everyone goes out drinking and it’s a bit of a hell hole.

JOHN: I was thinking today too we were meeting a band at our bar next week, and what other record labels have bars?

PATIENCE: And just with the way music, you need a bar. If you’re just running off mp3 sales, good luck! We can just give away mp3’s with every beer (laughs).

JOHN: With USB sticks!

HAPPY: Do you have any plans for signing other people?

JOHN: Yeah, we’ve been talking about some stuff, but we’re just gonna take it easy. I’m really interested in building careers for people so music can be something people can live off and not just be a flash in the pan.

PATIENCE: And he’s going to use all of his ingenious thoughts to figure out all those things. It’s an interesting place where music is; how you get it out there with streaming and all this stuff. It’s especially fun for people like John.

JOHN: I think it’s more fun for me now, especially when you see so many formats dying since when we first started the band. iTunes wasn’t in Australia when we put our first record out. It was frustrating back then because you knew what was going to happen but it just had to play out. Now that is has I’m really excited about the music business.

Baby Soda begins to drool.

HAPPY: Do you guys ever see her joining The Grates? Maybe adding some backing vocals one day?

PATIENCE: I never see her as a part of The Grates. We have a rehearsing room under our house, and I think that’d be really nice when she’s 10 or 12 years old and all of the cute bands she might have. I think about me upstairs and hearing the practicing downstairs! We know the Violent Soho guys, and our kids are about the same age, and we have the band room. This is the great Soho/ Grates collaboration we’ve been waiting for. I fantasise about it all the time!

HAPPY: Will you take her out on tour with you?

PATIENCE: Yeah. It’s funny, lot’s of guys in bands have had kids, but the mum won’t be in the band so she’s just the main parent. So it’s funny being a lady – there are lots of ladies who choose not to have them and wait or have them really early. It’s interesting. Usually the baby will be side of stage with mum. It’s an interesting [mix] being mum and rock!

HAPPY: That is pretty cool! Well we’re almost out of time so we’ll ask out last question, and Soda you can answer too if you feel like speaking your first words, but what makes you happy?

PATIENCE: Umm, I don’t know so many things! Hanging out with Soda makes me really happy.

JOHN: It used to be riding my bike and listening to podcasts, but after breaking my arm now it’s just listening to podcasts (laughs).

PATIENCE: (to Soda) How could you not be the thing that makes me happiest! Your smile is so cute!

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July 13, 2015