He couldn't have been more candid as he discussed depression, addictions and a recent HIV diagnosis
When approaching to interview a band or artist, the desired aim is often to break down the barrier between artist and human, between person and persona, to excavate and reveal a personality and pick and scratch at the brain that shaped the musical output of their alias. Often this is a fraught, exhausting and occasionally futile exercise because many artists build safety walls to protect themselves. They create characters, wear masks and operate from the screened-off comfort of mystery and darkness. Others, like John Grant, bulldoze down that wall, merging and solidifying the human being and the artist as an indistinguishable one. Neither one is ‘right’ or ‘better’ but merely a means to be more reflective and indicative of the artist at work, a truer representation – and there is no truer representation of John Grant than the truth itself.
A year after the success of ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, an album scattered with fluttering electronics and gut-wrenching moments as frequently as it was with lyrical frankness, tenderness and scorched bile, it was a breakthrough album that superseded Grant’s supposed breakthrough album, his 2010 debut, ‘Queen of Denmark’. Grant finished highly, often top, in the end of year 2013 accolades and even ended up with a Brit Award nomination for International Male Solo Artist, squaring up against Bruno Mars, Eminem, Drake and Justin Timberlake. In 2014, his 46th year on the planet, Grant finds himself receiving his highest level of praise, success and achievement no doubt with more on the way. However, the road to success for Grant has not so much been a rocky one, but – from a personal and mental journey – one more akin to a trip along the Gaza strip.
For the last two years Reykjavik, Iceland, has been home to Grant after he fell in love with the Capital when working on ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ with Gus Gus’ Biggi Veira. There is a feeling of serenity to Reykjavik that makes it easy to see why somebody would settle here. The sea air is crisp and fresh and it gently whips through the city streets, landing deep into your lungs; the towering mountain skyline, coated with snow, glistens and twinkles under the shimmering spring sun and it is a constant source of beauty and magnitude every time it meets your gaze. The people are endlessly kind, gentle and helpful, something that seems to permeate within the culture and general attitudes here – whilst walking the streets the evening before meeting Grant I stumble across a bar (a themed Big Lebowski bar no less) and in capital bold black letters on the front of the door it reads: ‘If you are racist, sexist, homophobic or an asshole, don’t come in.’
I meet Grant for lunch and we settle down for a big bowl of sustenance. “I’ll be human once I eat this,” he tells me, still somewhat tired after a few busy days, some of which were spent in Paris playing as part of a Rough Trade Record Store Day event. After lunch, we head back to his place, taking a detour past a local bakery. We then walk past a giant pond filled with ducks and swans and Grant recalls how, the previous evening, he saw three swans on the water, at sunset, perform an almost synchronised swimming-like series of motions under the rich changing colour of the sun, moving gracefully atop the gently rippling and sparkling water. “It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life,” he says, clearly enamoured by his surroundings.