Tag Archives: petur hallgrimsson

John Grant


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.

PGGIn 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. 

Iceland Airwaves recap part 2 – annual fun and off-venue

There are certain bands and events that have become staples of Iceland Airwaves for me.  I almost look just as forward to these events as I do the festival itself.

Off venue performances are key to the daytime schedule.  Scaled down and sometimes more intimate; these performances happen in record shops, coffee houses and even retail outfits playing to the street.  Available to everyone in Reykjavik, not just the wristbanded folk, it’s a good opportunity to see the bands play smaller sets.  This year there were over 200 Icelandic artists playing the approximate 650 performances.

Pétur hallgrimsson and John Grant at Kvosin

Pétur hallgrimsson and John Grant at Kvosin

I caught a laid back John Grant set.  John Grant is a big sweetheart so seeing him at an off venue is made even more special as his quick wit and charming demeanor really shine.  His keyboardists was sick for the performance so it was just him and Pétur on stage.  That strong baritone voice that could melt rock combined with Pétur’s extremely talented guitar made the Kvosin basement show fantastic.  We even got a teaser off the new album as during a keyboard snafu, he made up a new tune about evening time murders and broken keyboards.

Einar Örn getting in the ring at HarpaI also caught Ghostigital at an off-venue event.  I fucking love this band, consisting of Einar Örn Benediktsson of Sugarcubes, and Curver Thoroddson, an amazing mixer who has worked with bands such as Kimono and Sigur Rós, these two always put on amazingly chaotic shows.  Every year Einar Örn is in rare form precisely spazzing out with a microphone, ranting about being alone and fuzzy televisions, all while Curver is at the helm tweaking knobs and distorting the mic making a perfect concoction of organized and blissful chaos.

curver Thoroddson tweaking knobsThe gig happened at the top Harpa with the sun setting through the prisms of glass while Einer Örn began in a mexican wrestling mask that was quickly shaken off revealing a face with multitudes of expression topping off their quick but potent set.  I’m pretty sure everyone walked away very satisfied they saw them, I definitely was.

Another band I always seek out is FM Belfast.  Over the years they have become more and more known to the world off the Iceland rock, and their shows are energetic interactions.  Árni, Lóa and crew really know how to throw a party, and this year was no exception.  From making 500+ people crouch on their knees mid set, to streamers and a pre-emptive depanting on stage, these guys know how to include the audience in on all the fun.

Entire Harpa audience on the ground

I was really impressed with Árni Vilhjálmsson this year as he brought that ability to naturally interact with the audience to both Nini Wilson and FM Belfast.  With two completely different bands and atmospheres, his natural ability to break down that performer/audience barrier is spectacular.

Æla is another guilty pleasure of mine.  And as of yet, they’ve never disappointed.Æla  Typically cross-dressed, they are a band that definitely could not do a super bowl halftime event.  Copious amounts of nipple slippage, riding on the backs of the crowd as they sing away, and tux stripping to reveal a dress-clad singing member are all standard fair at an Æla gig.

at one point in the night, the band declared their love for, and pleaded for all the homosexuals in the crowd to come dance with them at the front of the stage.  Æla is fun and reminds me of the ole punk-rock standard of just rock out with your cock….

There is another festival that runs parallel to Airwaves, and it was at Bravó this year.  RafWaves is the love child of Ísar Logi Arnarsson and this year with over 30 local artists and DJ’s spread over two nights it was a great way to fill in and end both nights.  If the crowds get to be too much for you on the main drag and you just want to let your hair down and dance, I suggest you check out their website and plan to attend next year.

yet again, these annual performances did not disappoint.  the off-venue crowds were quite a bit larger this year, so I did have to miss a few performances I would have liked to have seen.  But over all my list was checked off and I didn’t go without at any point.