In 1999, Ashley Naylor and Sherry Rich (known collectively as The Grapes) found they had a good thing going when they released their debut album. Since then, they’ve been caught up in the whirlwind of families and musical careers, and though they’ve each continued to earn their stripes on the music scene, they’ve always been left wondering what could have happened if they’d continued on.
Until now, that is. Both back in Australia again, The Grapes are reuniting for a new album, “Western Sun,” and they’re bringing their songwriting chemistry back to their longtime fans through a PledgeMusic campaign for its release. We caught up with the duo to hear more about their first meeting, their new project and what occupied the space of time between the two.
It’s been well over a decade since the first album from The Grapes. What brought you two back together after so much time apart?
Sherry: Soon after we released the first Grapes album in 1999, I moved to Nashville to live and work as a songwriter. I ended up getting married and having children there, and before I knew it I’d stayed for 10 years! Ashley and I kept in touch -- we’d always planned on a second collaboration -- but never had time for the close personal contact needed to write more songs together as The Grapes.
The kind of songs we write can’t just be whipped out in a day or via email. When I moved back to Australia, we got together again and started to let some ideas marinate for songs and a concept for the new record. In 2009, we wrote all of the songs over a “lockout” period of intense writing in a studio in South Melbourne.
What were you both up to in the time between albums?
Sherry: I recorded an album of country classics with my husband, brother and mother called, “The Rich Family” (released in Australia). Then in Chicago I made my album “Dakota Avenue” in Wilco’s loft with the late great Jay Bennett and other Wilco guys. That only just came out in 2012. I also made three albums of music for young children as The Mudcakes with my husband, Rick. Art follows life, you know. While in Nashville I was writing with many people for BMG Universal publishing and then with Bug Music. I also played shows across the US.
Ashley released six more albums with his band EVEN and two solo records as well as working as a hired gun guitar slinger gigging and recording with Paul Kelly, Stephen Cummings, Kram, The Stems, The RocKwiz touring band, The Countdown touring band, Vika and Linda, Clare Bowditch and “The Man in Black” Johnny Cash stage show.
Is there something in the chemistry between you both that brought you back to the music?
Sherry: I’ve written songs with many, many people. I’ve gone into rooms at publishing houses with complete strangers with the set task of completing a certain kind of tune, which is more like a job. I like doing that because it’s challenging and can be fun and certainly lucrative if you write a hit tune that way. But there’s only been a handful of people who I’ve really connected with on a deeper level and created songs that have a kind of meaning and power that tap into the human condition and touch listeners in a real way that is hard to explain -- songs I’m very proud of.
When I write with Ashley, we have that unique something. We bring out the best in each other. My weaknesses are his strengths and vice versa. I won’t let him be lazy with a lyric, and he stops me from obsessing over arrangements and middle sections. And of course he just knows good rock from bad! It was quite accidental the way we started working together -- a Gene Clark cover for a Rubber Records sampler -- but from the beginning our musical relationship has been comfortable and easy. The music wants to come through us it seems.
How much of “Western Sun” is already finished?
Sherry: It is currently 90 percent mixed. So we just need to do final tweaks and then have it mastered. The artwork is ready to go.
When you first came back together to start to record, did it feel the same as it always had? What was different, if anything?
Ashley: As Sherry mentioned above, our lives had changed so much since we first recorded together, having kids, living in different countries and so on. The first Grapes album came together very organically and sporadically, but as we are now both incredibly busy with family life and our respective musical pursuits outside of The Grapes, we had to schedule time to sit together and see if we could still write the way we used to. So getting together this time round is more regimented, but thankfully the creative process is similar in that we easily respond to each other’s ideas and the songs flowed.
We are also recording in one environment with local engineer James Bellew so the sound has a uniformity which was absent from the first record. Many of the themes in the new songs are worlds away from the “lightness” of some of the themes on the first album. “Western Sun” reflects where we are both at now.