Oh, to be young and successful…
What perilous thing for musicians, said Kevin Kane of the folk-pop group The Grapes of Wrath.
After two decades of acrimony, all is finally well for one of Canada’s favourite bands from the early ‘90s. The reunited The Grapes of Wrath perform on Friday, Aug. 14, at the Alberta’s Own Art and Music Festival at Tail Creek Race Way at Nevis,
The older and wiser Grapes have released a critically-praised album of new material, High Road — the first to feature all three founding members since 1991’s These Days.
Kane describes the most recent recording experience as “our most enjoyable, focused and hard working time in studio, probably because we had something to prove — that we could act like grown ups.”
Looking back at his Kelowna, B.C. band’s bitter split in 1992 at the height of its commercial success, Kane added, “I believe in the quote from Joe Strummer who said it was success that broke up The Clash…
“(Stummer) said, ‘Before we were successful, we were all fighting the same fight,’” added Kane — and so it was for members of The Grapes of Wrath.
The group had been climbing the alternative charts in the late 1980s and early 90s with such Beatle-esque hits and dorm-room favourites as All the Things I Wasn’t, I Am Here, and You May Be Right before imploding in what Kane describes as an immature clash of egos.
“You stop listening to other people’s ideas, because you stop listening … You’re clouded by your own reality.”
The musical partnership started in middle school when guitarist/vocalist Kane met drummer Chris Hooper, and his bassist brother, Tom Hooper in 1977. The three performed together, off and on, in various guises until they officially launched The Grapes of Wrath in 1983.
Gradually the band named for John Steinbeck’s novel became known nation-wide for its soaring harmonies, jangly guitar hooks and timeless melodies.
The 1987 single Peace of Mind was Canadian break-through hit, opening the door to two big-selling albums — Now and Again in 1989 and These Days in 1991. The latter won a 1992 CASBY award for favourite album.
But soon creative differences and personal resentments allowed the music to become overshadowed by anger and litigation.
Kane quit the group to work on solo projects and the Hooper brothers continued performing together as Ginger.
A “certain distance” was achieved by 2000 when Kane and Tom Hooper reconvened for a new album and tour, although Chris didn’t sign on for another decade.
The three members of The Grapes of Wrath are now in their late 40s and early 50s, and have come to better appreciate what they once had — and what they still share.
Kane feels a spark reignites whenever he plays with his old friends and band-mates, because “when you learn to play your instruments together, you start a life-long musical conversation. And you aren’t even aware of it.”
The musicians were amazed, for instance, at how easily their sounds melded when they began rehearsing again, said Kane. “It was almost like we could start performing immediately.”
The new album contains a few personal tunes, including the opener, Good to See You. It’s been interpreted as a sort of Valentine to long-suffering Grapes fans, but was actually meant as an extended olive branch to band members.
Of course, hearing from fans — old and new — is one of the coolest things about playing together again, said Kane.
He recalled, “We were playing at a festival in Ottawa and this guy comes up to us with his father said says we’ve been his favourite band since he was two years old!”
While it could be surmised that his old man turned him on to the group’s music, Kane said the young guy in his early 20s revealed “he was a much bigger fan than his dad.”
The Grapes of Wrath plays Friday at the Alberta’s Own festival with Northern Pikes, Alkatine and other bands. For ticket and schedule information about the Aug. 14-16 event, please visit www.albertasown.ca.