Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered and mastered by Sam Patlove
John Grant's from Denver and he's currently living in Sweden, if we can believe what the Internet tells us. He's lived other places, we're sure of it, but when you listen to his masterpiece of an album, "Queen of Denmark" - a record that British magazine Mojo named as the 2010 Record of the Year - you are struck by the thought that the man has no home. He has no safe haven, or at least no place that feels completely safe to him. The record is a gray day that never clears up. There's incessant mental and physical bullying that's being done. It's a perpetual onslaught of being unaccepted and sometimes you hear him being okay with it - for instance on "Jesus Hates Faggots," where he sings, "When we win the war on society, I hope your blind eyes will be open and you'll see" - and other times you hear a sinking, capsized man who wants to bury himself in a comfortable bed and never leave the room. He can hide away and weather the storm that's always out there - of intolerance and general human cruelty. Grant finds his strength ebbing and flowing and he's continuously feeling badgered. It gets bad and it gets good and there's just not much that can be done for the sustainability of the good, it seems. There's a section in the newest Chuck Klosterman book, "The Visible Man," speaking to the overstatement of feeling and how much importance people place on how they feel and what they're feeling at any given time. The argument made by the main character -- a man who's devised a suit to make himself invisible and able to go into people's homes to study how they behave when they're alone, for scientific purposes, he claims - is that people only know how they feel based on pain. They need the pain to give them a basis for anything that might make them feel a different way. Happiness is just a feeling of pain, thought about and felt in an opposite manner. There are many parts of Grant's songs that feel this way - as if they are supposed to be the good moments, those that one would smile through - but they're really just reflections of minor improvements in an otherwise unhappy episode of deep, personal agony. He tends to lyrically make a lot of lists and they tend to be lists of good things and lists of bad things. He might give different explanations or put different headers atop the lists, if they were written out on paper, but they are ultimately things that made people happy and things that make people sad. He sings about marshmallows, butterscotch and raspberries and we find that these are the pros right now. He's trying to make the best of whatever's happening to him, of whatever's going to happen next. Maybe he can save some of those marshmallows for later or find a place for a scoop or two of ice cream. It always sounds like he's going to need it.
John Grant Official Site
Bella Union Records