Kevin Kane and brothers Tom and Chris Hooper grew up together in Kelowna, learning to play instruments in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In 1983, they became the Grapes of Wrath, and this Saturday night, the folk rock band whose music reached gold and platinum record sales in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is coming to Courtenay to play the Sid Williams Theatre Season Opener Rock Concert with the Odds.
The Grapes disbanded in 1992, and they have only been back together since July 2010.
“I’m just really glad the band is back together,” said singer/guitarist Kevin Kane, calling from his home in Toronto. “It’s been a lot of fun doing shows and just hanging out together.”
Kane and Tom Hooper got together to do a few acoustic shows a couple of years ago, and they were offered a spot at the B.C. Fusion Festival in Surrey in July 2010.
“They said ‘we’d prefer it as a full band,'” recalled Kane. “We approached Chris, and to our surprise and pleasure, he said yes. The show went really well, and we enjoyed rehearsals.”
Since then, the trio has played about 15 or 16 shows together, and Kane thinks they are better than ever after 18 years apart.
During their time away from the Grapes, Kane and Tom kept playing, and he thinks they’ve improved.
“I think Tom and I are singing better now,” he said. “Chris didn’t play for 10 years, but he’s playing better. Sometimes when you step away and then come back to something, you get fresh perspective.”
Kane believes the reunited Grapes are also different because they don’t take what they’re doing for granted.
“We appreciate what a privilege it is to get up on a stage more than we did,” he said. “When you’re young in your twenties and you have some success, you almost feel a sense of entitlement. Now, every time we get up to play, we really appreciate what a great thing it is. When you’re out there playing a lot, you get tired of your songs because you don’t get a chance to create. For one of our albums, we did 200 shows one year to support it. You can get a little frustrated with playing so much. Being away from it so long, you can come back to it, and we enjoy playing the songs a lot more.”
Kane says there are a lot of things he learned in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Grapes were so successful — and also since leaving the band — that have had a big impact on him.
“I think I’m a lot more aware of the things I’ve learned since then,” he said. “When I think back to that period, all I remember is you are so busy you don’t get a chance to think. It’s only since then, in hindsight, that you get a chance to reflect. I think this happens to a lot of bands; you want to strike while the iron’s hot, so to speak … it becomes hard to say no. Sometimes saying no becomes a good thing. We have the same agent as Tegan and Sara, and he says they say no more than they say yes. Sometimes I think we might have overdone it back then.”
Kane has learned to appreciate his life as a musician.
“I’ve learned that getting up in front of people to play your own music and especially a bunch of people who want to hear it is a great privilege, and I don’t take it for granted,” he said.” With a band, well Tom and Chris are actually family, but we’re more like a family unit than a professional one in many respects because we grew up together, learned our instruments together and learned how to be in a band together. Getting together now, I appreciate what we’ve got together as a unit. It was immediate from the first rehearsal; we sounded just like us. When you get up and play with other people … it’s a great opportunity to get to enjoy those things you might have been distracted by other things and didn’t enjoy as much.”
Growing up in Kelowna, Kane says he and the Hooper brothers were influenced largely by British Invasion bands such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who.
“That’s how Chris and I started hanging out in Grade 8; one of us had a Beatles T-shirt,” he said, adding he was also a big Kinks fan. “We figured out we’re kindred spirits. He had a drum kit he was trying to figure out. I think I’d just gotten an electric guitar. We figured out our instruments together. Tom is a couple years younger, and he got a bass for elementary band.”
Punk rock came around in about 1978 and 1979, and that had a big impact on the three teens.
“The great thing for us with punk was it sort of made us feel you don’t have to be a virtuoso to be in a band,” he said. “We were buying singles from people who were the same age and who sounded crummier than us, and we thought ‘what’s stopping us?'”
Songwriting has always been important to the Grapes of Wrath, and Kane says Simon and Garfunkel were also big influences.
“I’m much the same way, and I think Chris and Tom are the same — we still listen to the same type of music where the songs are the important thing,” he said.
Back in 1983, when Kane and the Hooper brothers chose the name Grapes of Wrath, it had nothing to do with the John Steinbeck novel.
“That was just a random thing,” said Kane. “We had a show and we needed a name. We looked in a book of movie names and started writing them down. That was honestly the least stupid one. We had some pretty dumb ideas.”
After leaving Grapes of Wrath, Kane released four solo albums. He gets something different from performing solo and performing with the band.
“Playing solo is kind of neat for me when I’m playing a good show in front of people … it allows me to really get into the nuances of performing,” he said. “It’s about a certain subtlety. The band thing is a lot of fun for opposite reasons. I still get the same thrill from playing a slightly-too-loud electric guitar as I did when I was a teenager.”
Kane also feels that playing together as the Grapes of Wrath again, the band has a certain timeless quality to it.
“We get taken right back to the Hooper basement every time we play together, in a way,” he said.
The Grapes of Wrath play the Sid Williams Theatre Season Rock Concert Opener with the Odds this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 or $40 for members and $25 for students, and they are available by calling 250-338-2430 or visiting www.sidwilliamstheatre.com.