Published on June 23rd, 2014 | by Martin Aston0
John Grant – MOJO Album of 2010
John Grant’s debut solo album Queen Of Denmark deservedly won MOJO Magazine’s album of 2010. I interviewed him about the MOJO victory and summarised the album’s astonshing achievements. Having been a huge Czars fan, and first interviewing John in 2004 when the band’s final album Goodbye was released to only a small groundswell of appreciation, there was a feeling of relief and vindication that John was finally being recognised.
John Grant: Queen Of Denmark (Bella Union) No matter how satisfying the simmering country-noir mirages of his former band The Czars, its frontman John Grant felt hopeless, compromised, suicidal even, until Midlake’s intervention. The Texans supplied confidence and vintage ‘70s empathy, allowing Grant to bypass the inhibitions that traditionally airbrushed soft rock and channel a life’s worth of vitriol, self-flagellation, hunger and fireworks, leavened by dollops of self-deflating bile-black humour. Grant asked why love is hell and Jesus hates faggots in a last-ditch attempt at self-improvement and atonement after a decade of alcohol and cocaine dependency, and the fact he was channeling Patsy Cline, Karen Carpenter and David Gates makes it even more bittersweet. Like a couple of similarly intense MOJO classics before it – Antony’s I Am A Bird Now and Bon Iver’s For Emma… – Queen Of Denmark sounded like a record its creator has been waiting his whole life to make.
How does it feel to hear Queen Of Denmark is MOJO’s album of 2010? I really can’t believe it. I’m speechless. It’s a very, very, very big deal for me. I tell myself it’s a mistake, or that the staff feels sorry for me [laughs]. It makes me feel … young and fresh. It feels like an amazing achievement. My first thought, being who I am, is that there’d be this horrible backlash, ‘he doesn’t deserve this, who the fuck is that guy, never heard of him’. But I won’t start questioning your taste. I feel really proud of the record. I’m just glad it’s my turn right now.
What’s been the best thing about the album’s reception? I thought people would have a problem with my candour. That seems to be the opposite case. Why? Because of the way it’s presented, the raw emotion, with a huge dose of black humour and reality. Everything on that record is something that I personally have experienced. It’s also timing and luck as to whether your songs reach people. But when you’re being truly honest, and not trying to put up barriers, people appreciate and identify with it.
Which track sums up the whole experience of exposing your soul in this manner?
The title track. That’s my personality in a nutshell. It’s about having a love-hate relationship with yourself, like ‘Yeah, sometimes I really do suck but so do you, so fuck off if you don’t like it’. I’m partly addressing myself but also the people that would say to me, ‘you don’t deserve to have the same rights as others, to be treated as a human being’. It’s as I sing in Jesus Hates Faggots. You know there have been all these teen suicides in the States. I’ve definitely been there. I’m writing a song right now when I list all my faults in the verses and in the chorus I sing, “I’m the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever going to meet.’ That might spoil the next record for some people. But that’s how I feel.
What hopes did you have for the album? That it would be possible to have a career in music and not have to go back to waiting tables. I hoped it would lead to meeting people I could learn from, and to buy all the equipment so I make the sounds I want to make.
How important were Midlake? It can’t be overstated. At a time in my life when I was filled with self-loathing and self- doubt, especially with regards to the music industry, they said ‘you’re amazing. People need to hear your voice and what you have to say because you have a great way of saying it. And we want to make sure that happens.
How would it have sounded if you’d crafted it alone? The album still wouldn’t have been made. I wouldn’t have been able to gather up enough courage and strength.
How have the live shows been? They’ve been the best experiences I’ve ever had playing live, the first time I’ve ever felt that type of connection with an audience. Before, I’ve never felt sure what I was talking about, or what I was doing there. But I’ve got to the point where it’s OK to be me, no matter how flawed I am, which helps. It’s also been nerve-wracking, because I’m someone who likes to have all the bells and whistles, and I’ve had to do a lot of touring with just me and Casey (Chandler, keyboards]. Though that’s a great way to see that the songs can stand up to scrutiny.
Has there been one highlight above all others? Besides getting album of the year in MOJO? Being on Jools Holland and all the things that happened on that day, meeting Nick Cave, Jools, hitting it off with Jake from Scissor Sisters and Brandon Flowers, discovering the amazing voice of Rumer. It was my holy grail to be on that show, being part of the club so to speak.
Any downside to this incredible year? [long pause] The only thing that’s been difficult at times is singing about some of the stuff I’ve written about. When it hits too close to home and I’m experience some of the after-effects of having gone through all that. It feels like poking a finger in a bullet wound.”
What’s next? I’m touring with Casey all through December in the US. Then I go to Sweden to record an album with [producer] Kleerup, who had a big hit [With Every Heartbeat] with Robyn a while ago, which will be mostly electronic. And then I’m going to do the proper follow up to Queen Of Denmark with Midlake again, sometime next year. And I’m moving to Berlin. I’ve been based here recently and I’ve wanted to live here for 20 years. It’s got a lot of material for inspiration, the feel and look of the city, and it fits as far as the electronic tracks I want to do. And I like hearing about how incredible my German is all the time!”
There were two electronic tracks on the Queen Of Denmark special edition but most people don’t know of your passion for electronica.
It’s definitely a huge part of my personality and my influences, though I don’t think many people see that fitting in to the John Grant image, whatever that is. I haven’t found my voice with it yet, and my influences are pretty tough acts to follow, but I have a bunch of songs ready.