John Grant and Pétur Hallgrímsson at Kvosin during Iceland Airwaves ’13
John Grant began in Colorado with the band The Czars. After the Czars ended and life was lived, Grant released his first solo album, Queen of Denmark. With the help of the Texan band Midlake, he laid down songs about his life, abuse, drugs and coming out in a not-so-comfortable environment.
The album pairs it’s music and lyrics well, truly helping the listener feel, not just hear the songs. Songs such as”Marz”, with it’s gleeful roller coaster ride through the piano scale, makes you double take when you realize the lyrics are describing someone’s ideal post-suicide location.
His second album, Pale Green Ghosts, is about heartbreak, his heartbreak. In line with Queen of Denmark, the lyrics are raw and powerful. We get a glimpse of the wild mouse roller coaster ride he went through -self-depreciation, hate, sadness and anger ooze out of the words as his baritone voice works inflection and emphasis as if they were keys on an emotional piano. There is little whining, just a lot of F-you’s and F-me’s which leave the listener not wanting to cry it out with Grant in a hugfest, but get drunk at a bar toasting all that’s rotten about love.
In the age of singles, it’s rare to hear an album this well crafted. Each song dutifully plays its part in the story while simultaneously living as its own individual piece. The piano scales are still there, and the dynamic production duo of John Grant and Birgir Þórarinsson of GusGus are able to encompass a wide range of synth. Some songs sounding like the current era, and some having more of a vintage 80’s electronic feel such as “Sensitive new age guy”, which sound like it was written on a beefed up Casio keyboard, certainly enforcing the rumor that Grant loves vintage synth.
The last track on the album, “Gravity”, is a song every person coming to terms with themselves should hear. Sincere, well crafted and to the point- the song speaks to people who are told they are bad for being themselves. It addresses just how painful the hypocritical rationalization of people still clinging to the “hate the sin, love the sinner” dogma is to someone growing up, especially when that dogma comes from people who they love and respect. Growing up in a region close to Denver, and having watched the dominant religion tear young people apart this very way, it’s a song I wish a lot of kids my age could have heard. The first time I heard the track I have to admit it brought back sombre memories of individuals I wish would have heard it.
Instead of just telling the listener it gets better, he says, “Don’t you pay them fuckers as they say no never mind.” and continues with “Don’t listen to anyone, get answers on your own
Even if it means that sometimes you feel quite alone.” It’s not just an “It gets better” speech, it’s “here’s what I did, and what you need to do” advice from someone worth looking up to.
The album more than deserves the attention it has been receiving. It made almost all of the top lists of the year from the journalistic music world, and made number 1 on Rough Trades top list. Most important of course, it remains on my most listened list in my iTunes.
I truly enjoy both of the albums, but to me, Grant really shines in his live shows. I’ve seen him perform gigs with a full band at Harpa to the basement of a Hostel with only Pétur by his side. No matter the size of venue or number of people Grant’s Baritone voice, warm personality and cracking smile draw you in and make you feel at home. He’s not afraid to banter on about this and that before a song, and in the event of instrumental mishaps or delays his quick wit and charm more than entertain the audience until go time.
The few times i have seen Grant live, Chris Pemberton, from the UK band Budapest played piano, and Pétur Hallgrímsson played guitar. Pétur is an Icelandic veteran who has not only done session work for a slew of global artists including Kylie Minogue, but was in two very popular Icelandic bands, Lhooq and E-X.
You can learn more about John Grant on his website or Facebook page. And can purchase his albums pretty much anywhere music is sold.
With the seriousness of his material and his extremely busy touring season, I was more than surprised and very grateful that he took the time to answer my 4 nonsensical questions, so thanks again and here they are:
1. What is your favorite off-venue Airwaves, or Icelandic joint to jam at? I suppose my favorite is KEX because it is so beautiful and the owners and the food are amazing.
2. If you combine all of your favorite colors (for you, add your band mates if you would), what do you get? Grey
3. What are 3 of your favorite little known bands of Icelandic origin? Tilbury, Prins Póló, Pikknikk
4. If you could be any creature playing your favorite song, what would the creature be? And what is the song. I’d be an ocelot singing S.O.S.