Top 11 Memories: The GRAPES OF WRATH on history, hot dogs and new album High Road

Something quietly lovely and quite-ly important happened earlier this month: the original lineup of Canada’s Grapes of Wrath released their first album as the original lineup, in 22 years.

It marks a moment that will be noted by none of the Pitchfork set – the Grapes had back then, and still to this day, cornered the market on warm, Beatles-y indie pop/folk, not trendy glitchrockpsychdeathchaphop.

“The whole band is in agreement that this was the most fun we’ve had in the studio since our first EP,” singer/guitarist Kevin Kane wrote to me back in May after the band had been recording with producer Darryl Neudorf.

“It was definitely the most productive: 12 songs in 13 days! We’re also stoked that its the most versatile record we’ve ever made and is almost like a compilation in the different styles and moods that get covered. As I accompanied Tom and Chris to the airport I think we were all sort of thinking ‘did we really just record a new Grapes record?!?’”

And they did. It’s here. On the new album High Road, 2+ decades hasn’t fiddled with the formula.. But the album has grown and evolved as the band – Tom Hooper, brother Chris Hooper and Kevin Kane – has; like the looks of the guys themselves, the sound of the band is as you’d hope.

It’s comforting that, when on any given week you’re checking out Danish punks, England’s latest boy-girl exports, two Brooklyn buzz bands and two Portland psych rock outfits, some things, like your history with the Grapes of Wrath – hasn’t changed.

History is a powerful thing.

So I asked drummer Chris to recount his favourite memories of his time with the Grapes of Wrath.

Here they are; and how lucky are the rest of us that we can make new memories with the band once again.

Top 11 Memories of Being in the Grapes of Wrath
(in no particular order)

1. One summer while playing a show in Toronto, I briefly fainted, due to the combination of heat in the venue and the volume of screams that the vocal mics picked up and sent blaring through my monitors.

2. We were so broke when we started, that Tom lived in a station wagon parked in the west end of Vancouver. He did run an extension cord out to the car, though, so he could have TV. I lived in a closet that just fit a single mattress.

3. Being terrified before our first show of the Lloyd Cole tour in Europe. Our first European tour and we were supporting my hero Lloyd Cole! I was shaking as we walked out on stage. I counted in and we played the set at about double speed…We got to play some great venues and cities and met some amazing people. I mean come on! We were from Kelowna for Christ’s sake!

4. Our first American tour. Three months’ straight in an old tour bus from the ’50s. Played 70 (?) shows in 90 days. Many awful shows, many good ones too.

5. Of course, there’s other “firsts”:
a) receiving our first EP, unwrapping it and putting it on the turntable.
b) first time hearing our song on the radio.
c) receiving our first gold record.
d) the first time one of our singles charted.
e) our first time in New York City.

We arrived in NYC and I immediately bought a hot dog from a street vendor and was sick all night. We played a showcase the next day on the Staten Island ferry and before our set, I feebly draped myself over the rail out on deck, trying not to spew. I turned to go in to play when suddenly and with no warning, I puked, spraying two women, point blank, who happened to be walking by. Luckily, for them, all I had in my stomach at this point was water.

6. The excitement of Canada Day shows. Playing for 40,000 people gives one a very surreal and somewhat detached feeling.

7. It was unreal getting to see (and benefit from) the excess of the major label days. Money was routinely thrown around and freely spent like it would never end.

8. We got to mix our album These Days at Abbey Road studios in London. We stayed next door and our apartment door opened to the famous crosswalk. One night we laid down in the middle of the street and took drunken photos of each other.

9. We were on a European tour and racing down the autobahn in Germany. Our tour bus driver, was a thick-accented Englishman who had also driven for Motörhead in the past. A rough and somewhat unpolished character, one could say. We would usually hear him yelling at other drivers, shouting insults and swearing in regards to their nationalities.

One afternoon he’d had enough, he told us go to the back of the bus and wait. At the back, by the bathroom, there was a phone that he could ring back to while driving. It rang, I picked it up. “Go into the bathroom and on the floor, you’ll find a lever. When I say, pull it up.”

A few seconds later I heard “Now!” and I gave it a yank. We all looked out the back window to see a huge cloud of misting piss completely drench the car directly behind us, and a loud, satisfied “Fuck You!” coming from my favourite bus driver.

10. We were in the wilderness of Woodstock NY recording Now and Again (’88?) when one morning as we sat in our cabin recovering from the previous night, [former member] Vince walked in with some wood for the fire, laughing that the rental car didn’t look right. We all went out to the driveway and could plainly see both sides of the car were basically scraped up, rippled and bashed in like tin foil, with most of the side panel trim torn off.

Looking down the winding lane that snaked through the woods leading to the studio, we noticed chunks of bark ripped out of the pine
Mikala and Grapes of Wrath in 1991 trees that lined the lane. Fragments of side-view mirror glass lay in the dirt. It appeared as if the car had bounced off tree after tree on its way back to the studio. Turns out someone should have walked the 30 seconds from the studio to the cabin the night before.

For some reason, even though I wasn’t responsible, the duty fell on me to escort our album production manager back to NYC to return the car and face the music, if you will. When she first saw the rental car, she understandingly looked as if she was going to faint; this was the second one we had gone through.

We drove into the city and straight to the rental garage. It was busy, but we finally got an employee working there to help us. We explained we were returning the car and there was a bit of damage. “Damage? Let’s have a look” he said. I pictured the record budget going up by about the price of one rental car. He looked at it and started laughing. Laughing really hard. “This is not good is it?” we asked him, stomachs sinking. “No big deal” he said. Lesson- always get insurance.

11. I would always drop by McVeigh’s Irish pub when we would be playing in Toronto and have a few drinks. Usually I would go with my friend Mikala (Backstage Rider!) [ED’S NOTE: HEY! THAT’S ME!] and we would sit and watch the characters and close down the bar. The night we flew in to start our new album last April, I took my brother for old time’s sake. Well, we had a great time and closed down McVeigh’s just like the ‘old’ days. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to recover now than it was in the ‘old’ days. \m/

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