Honest to goodness
Ghost rider: John Grant
As he prepares to release his second solo album, John Grant talks to LAUREN MURPHYabout surviving homophobic bullying and addiction, being friends with Sinead O'Connor - and embracing his electric side
There are confessional songwriters, and then there is John Grant. The Michigan-born, Colorado-raised musician had been celebrated as a lyricist throughout his tenure with The Czars, the band he fronted for 10 years until their split in 2004. Yet it was the release of his astounding solo debut, Queen of Denmark, in 2010 that brought brought his music – and his propensity for pouring out his heart in it – to a wider audience.
Queen of Denmark laid Grant’s soul bare, and three years later it’s still buck-naked and trembling with cold on Pale Green Ghosts, the follow-up to that inordinately successful record. In real life, Grant is just as open and honest as his songs would suggest; so much so, that our 75-minute-long interview seems to resemble a therapy session at times.
Yet, as his music suggests, the 44-year-old is also exceedingly funny, capable of wrenching dark humour from the bleakest of situations and cracking jokes about Vikings, the proliferation of redheads in Reykjavik and the similarities between the Gaelic and Icelandic languages.
Roving polyglot Grant has called Reykjavik home for the past year, after a trip there to play the Iceland Airwaves festival in October 2011.
“I ended up staying and working with Biggi Veira from GusGus, because I had met him at the festival and talked to him about making some sounds with me for my record,” he says, in his deep, velvety growl. “I was planning on going to Texas to do it, but he was open to exploring some sounds with me, so I came back in January 2012 and basically, just started making the album. And I realised that I needed to stay here and get to know this place.
“I don’t want to analyse it too much because I’m really enjoying it, but I’m also sure that if a psychologist was to get a hold of me, they’d claim that I was running away, or searching for something. If it is escape, it seems to be very productive, at least.”
The theme of running away is one that Grant has returned to at many points in both his life and his music. He openly admits that time spent in Denver at Christmas made him “miserable”.
“It seems like no matter how much distance I get from that place, and no matter how much I can see that it’s a great place to live – because it’s a beautiful city, with all sorts of great things going on – it just does not fucking work for me. I go back there and all I think about is the guy that I love is running around in that city with his new man, and it makes me feel like it’s not my city anymore. And I lost my mother there, and I got sober there and experienced all the addiction shit there, and everything. I was hating it, and I hated that I was hating it – because I actually really love that place.”