Clash Daddy shoots the breeze with Mr. John Grant
“I’m sitting on my favourite bench, as I’m leaving soon and won’t be back ‘til beginning of June. So I thought I’d sit here and enjoy the sun,” says John Grant over the phone. “I’m not trying to cause any trouble but it’s shockingly beautiful today.” But he likes the weather here in Brighton too: “I’m a pig in garbage – I love that weather, walking along the seafront of Brighton, looking at the turbulent ocean… I would have been a happy boy!”
Somewhat of a late bloomer, this American’s debut solo album of 2010, the Midlake produced Queen Of Denmark, saw him talk with stark honesty about his homosexuality, his battles to overcome drink and drug addictions and his love for someone called Charlie. He then used the stage at last year’s Meltdown to announce that he was HIV-positive. It all seems grist to the mill, however, as his purple patch extends to the new album, the brilliant Pale Green Ghosts, which he made in Iceland. “I didn’t plan on moving to Iceland, but I came here to make my record. I ended up finding an apartment to stay in and then I decided I really liked it.
“I was intrigued by the language; I’ve made lots of progress, but it’s such a complicated language that it’s difficult to form simple thoughts because of all the grammar involved. When you think of any noun, for example, you have 16 different possibilities for that noun. The other night I was in somebody’s house and I said, ‘I think I’ll take my hat off’, and I thought I could say it – I had all the right words – but not the grammar, even for that simple sentence.”
“This is the most complicated language I have tried to learn so far; They say your language centre shuts down in your late teens; 17, 18, and then it becomes hard going,” he laughs. Still, the man obviously has a talent for language, being able to speak German, Russian and Spanish along with English, and it was something he was nearly destined for after leaving school. “My parents were very upset about me not knowing what I wanted to do. So, everyone got excited when I latched onto German, and when my parents were able to cart me off to Germany they were elated.”
However, the lure of music eventually took a grip. “Music is not seen as an undesirable thing to do (Grant is talking about Iceland, which has a population of just 300,000, and yet has an inordinate amount of well known acts), it’s seen as relevant and a productive thing to do with your life. The parents here are not so likely to say, ‘Oh you need to go to law school.’
“I was in such emotional turmoil when I was at school that I just gave up, I didn’t try. I made As and B’s in grade school, but when I went through adolescent I was in such turmoil that I didn’t think there was a future for me. I barely made it out of high school, I was failing a lot… it was very uncharacteristic of me. I really wanted to become something, and in my senior year at High School I started taking German and that sort of saved me a little bit. It was the last year of High School before you go out into the world and go to college… I remember going to the Graduation Party and they were playing this game – all the kids were going off to their fancy colleges where it costs 50, 100 grand, Ivy League schools. The game involved having to pick something out of a hat, horrible scenarios for your first year of college… and I was surrounded by all these rich people, my rich friends from school, and one of the things that somebody picked out was: ‘you find out your room mate is gay’ and everybody just guffawed, and thinking what a horrible thing that would be for your first year of college. And I just thought, ‘Yeah, you’re fucked’.”
The conversation inevitably turns to his father, homophobia, gay marriage, and… Jeremy Irons… “I wouldn’t describe my relationship with my father as good, there’s nothing hostile about it… he’s very right-wing, he thinks Obama is something approaching the anti-christ – a Nazi-communist bastard. We don’t have much to talk about. I find that to be unfortunate.
There was this video recently where he was musing aloud, about gay marriage, he didn’t have an opinion either way, but was wondering if that would open the door for a gay man to marry his gay son. The interviewer brought up the incest laws, and he said that didn’t count as incest because the man can’t procreate! He also said he thought the smoking ban in New York was a dangerous thing, because the government doesn’t need to stick its nose into such things because people can take responsibility for each other, which I also thought was fucking hilarious. I just don’t understand that at all. There’s crazy people everywhere… I do feel I have to talk about these issues.
“My favourite saying about the marriage equality thing is, based on people saying how homosexuals are going to ruin the institution of marriage, my thing I like to say is: straight people do not need any help to fuck up their marriages!” he laughs.
In Pale Green Ghosts, Grant along with Gus Gus’ Biggi Veira have created a beautifully judged mix of industrial electro pop and open letters to the ever present Charlie. It also features a guest vocal from fan and friend Sinead O’Connor. “I didn’t know how people were going to react to it; my heart is shaped like a synthesiser and I think this album is about my adolescence in the ’80s, and it was all about that synth music from then. And Iceland was responsible for me getting more into rock music via The Sugarcubes [Bjork's first band], something I really connected to. As for England, Gary Numan, Chris & Cosey, Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire, New Order were the soundtrack to a big chunk of my life. I still listen to that stuff constantly and I love it just as much as I did back then.”
As for Sinead: “She covered one of my songs and that opened the door for me to say ‘hi’. She and I quickly became friends, I was listening to her stuff from day one; musically, I’m not her equal, but she’s the kind of person I like to be around; funny and warm. That’s a bit wild for me.” So, is it true that she would have his babies if he were straight? “You would have to ask her,” laughs Grant. “But, that seems to be the case…”
John Grant is on UK tour, Spring 2013
Tags: Biggi Veira, cabaret Voltaire, Chris & Cosey, Fad gadget, gary Numan, Gus Gus, Iceland, jeremy irons, John Grant, Midlake, New Order, Obama Barack, Pale Green Ghosts, Sinead O'Connor, The Sugarcubes