His 'Queen Of Denmark' album was ecstatically received and he's on the bill for Meltdown festival, but has he put the issues that informed his last record behind him?
John Grant is currently recording the follow up to his 2010 album ‘Queen of Demark’, and next week he is due to play at the Antony Hegarty-curated Meltdown festival.
Two years ago, during the promotional tour for his debut solo album John Grant gave a series of interviews detailing his addictions and depression, often providing graphic insights into crack, sodomy and the lash. Unlike other tabloidal confessions these came from an unnervingly real place. Two years on and with a little distance, I wanted to know if looking back he had any regrets about airing his particularly dirty laundry in such a public way.
How did you get involved in Meltdown?
I stumbled into it; I got a call from Hercules and the Love Affair after doing a song with them, it’s due to be the first single song off their new record and they asked me if I wanted to perform it at Meltdown. So I kind of snuck in through the back door really.
It’s being curated by Antony Hegarty this year. He is due to perform with you and Hercules and Love Affair on the 6th of August isn’t he?
Yeah he is going to perform ‘Blind’ with us and we are going to do the song we did together for his new album, plus another one, so it’s really going to be a great night.
Is there anyone else you’re looking forward to seeing?
I’m only really going to get the chance to see Elizabeth Frazer, who I was planning on coming over to see anyway; after that I am jumping on the Eurostar and fleeing toParis. It’s all a little bit of a whirlwind, but it’s a nice break from the stress of the new record.
How is the new record coming?
In my tiny little dinosaur brain I think I am almost done and should get it finished by the end of August. I just have the last song to do, which I thought would be quick but it needs a string section and horns. Without wanting to offend anyone I’m trying to do this on a relatively small budget, so there are lots of variables to consider. It’s really exciting that I have Sinead O’Conner on it as well. I’m glad it’s going to be over soon so I can maybe relax a little before I have to freak out about something again.
Your last album ‘Queen of Demark’ seemed to be a hit through a combination of critical acclaim and word of mouth...
It’s nice to have the support from people like Mojo and people discovering through recommendations from their friends, because nowadays you get pummelled into submission by things, like those ads on Facebook saying ‘a mixture of Bjork and Kate Bush, if you like them you’ll love this.’ Everyone is looking to develop their own individuality right? And our music tastes are a way of doing that, we all access the same emotion and the same colour and we are looking to mix them together in our own special little cocktail.
Two years on from ‘Queen of Denmark’, do you view the work differently?
It’s the first album of mine that I was truly happy with, but that has a lot to do with other variables. I now have the ability to look in the mirror and say ’I have all these faults and there are things that aren’t great about me, but it’s good that I am me and I can live with it’.
Which previously you weren’t able to do?
Most of the time during the first five records I wasn’t capable of looking at myself and being honest about what I was becoming. I was skirting the issues, all the stories that came out about my addictions and depression were because I was just avoiding those issues.
A lot of the press at the time focused on your addictions. Are you happy that you were so honest?
The point of me doing the interviews in the way I did was me saying that not only do I not need to be ashamed of it, but other people don’t. I didn’t feel the need to present a specific face to the world or impress anybody and be afraid to say anything, because personally, that’s the only way I can live my life without developing ulcers and anal cancer.
You also spoke at the time about your depression and that it drove you to contemplate suicide
I think it’s important to figure out what’s going on, and not be afraid to say ‘I’m not making it here like I should, I have a problem’. I had a very close friend of mine shoot himself in the head a couple of months ago and earlier this week another friend tried to take his own life. These problems are so real and a lot people feel like they can’t talk about them and start this suicide idea as some sort of final escape. Let’s face it- suicide is not a weakness, it’s a total lack of perspective.
The way you deal with your problems, regardless of how big they are or even if half the shit in your head isn’t true; in that moment because that is your perception, that is your reality and that’s the world you’re living in. It makes it important. In time you can turn it around and help other people but when you’re in the middle of it doesn’t help if people say ‘3 million children are dying of AIDS in Africa’. That doesn’t do anything to solve you, because what’s going on with you is important, because you matter in a way no one else can matter. You matter to specific people in a specific context.
How do you deal with those issues now?
If I balance nutrition and exercise I have a much better platform to deal with it. You think it’s the cocaine that’s killing you, but it’s also the habits you form around it. The idea of diet and exercise when you’re an addict are completely alien and you were doing horrible amounts of damage in places you didn’t even know about. If I don’t get that balance I’ll come to you with tears in my eyes in the afternoon about what my mother did to me, all because I’m not taking care of myself. It’s important that once you have gone through the horror and the terror of figuring out what is wrong with you, you make the decision to let go of depression and realise it’s not just about the drama of addiction but finding out ways to live your life after that.