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John Grant

Reykjavík, Iceland’s coastal capital, has long been a haven for experimentally inclined musicians. It’s the go-to place for expansive music videos, and it’s home to such industry heavy-hitters as Björk, Ben Frost, Sigur Rós and Ásgeir. John Grant, the American-born singer/songwriter, artist and former head of The Czars, has called Reykjavík home since recording his second solo album there in 2012, Pale Green Ghosts.

“It’s an unstressful environment to be in,” Grant says. “The landscape is stunning, the air is crisp and fresh all the time and there’s a thriving music scene here that’s very progressive and modern. And, you know, it’s also a very friendly scene – it’s a pretty happening place. It doesn’t feel as small as it is.”
 
For Grant, it seems the perfect place to focus on his career without being sidetracked by his gradually increasing profile. Despite the critical successes of his latest album, last year’s Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, he hasn’t seen a great increase in media attention – something he considers fortunate.
 
“I’m not terribly jealous of the people I see who are constantly in the limelight,” he says. “That doesn’t seem to have a good effect for anybody, because it just seems like their reality gets warped in the public eye. You get all sorts of different types of entities interested in you that weren’t interested in you before, and I don’t feel like I would be terribly comfortable with that much attention.”
 
Living comfortably out of the spotlight has given Grant the opportunity to focus solely on his craft. Given the personal nature of his songwriting, the freedom and time for introspection are vital.
 
“It seems to me that I’m in a good position, because I’m with a record label that allows me to do whatever the hell I want to do with every album. And the only person that’s putting any input into the music is me. That’s a great position to be in, because I would prefer for my visibility to develop naturally because of people’s reaction to the music.”
 
If and when the fame monster does rear its head in Grant’s life, he has excellent models to aspire to – the list of artists he has worked with includes names such as Sinéad O’Connor and Elton John.
 
“They’re people that have their heads screwed on quite firmly, I would say – I mean, with Elton, it’s a little bit different because he is at the head of a gigantic empire,” Grant laughs. “So when you’re out to dinner with him or when you’re at his house – I’ve never seen things like that before, so it’s quite crazy.
 
“[Sinéad] has a nice house on the coast of Ireland and, you know, it’s a very normal existence. I’m just sort of underground and sort of barely visible, and so I suppose I haven’t really had the need to feel like I needed advice on that.”
 
Grant’s relationship with visibility is a curious one; his solo albums have always been marked by a fearless honesty about his own experiences with drug addiction, homophobia, domestic division and living with HIV. Grant is the first to admit, however, that his honesty doesn’t necessarily stem from altruistic intentions.
 
“I definitely am seeking connections with people, with my music. I think that I wanted to just be able to speak about myself and not be ashamed, so I think it’s more of a selfish thing than an intention to help other people. I get a lot of letters from people and the music does seem to resonate with a lot of people and, of course, for me, that’s very humbling and I feel very good about that.
 
“I just needed to say things exactly the way they were, without any fantasies attached to it and without the escapism. To just say, ‘This is the way it is, and I don’t give a shit whether you like it or not, it’s just the truth of my particular existence.’ ”
 
BY DAVID MOLLOY  

JOHN GRANT is playing at Forum Melbourne on Sunday March 13. He’s also playing at Golden Plains X from Saturday March 12 – Monday March 14 in Meredith, VIC. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is out now through Bella Union.