John Grant (musician)

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John Grant
Grant performing at Jena, Kulturarena, on July 24, 2014.
Grant performing at Jena, Kulturarena, on July 24, 2014.
Background information
Birth nameJohn William Grant
Born (1968-07-25) July 25, 1968 (age 52)
Buchanan, Michigan, U.S.
OriginParker, Colorado, U.S.
GenresFolk, alternative rock,[1] indie rock, electronic rock, synthpop, new wave, soft rock
InstrumentsVocals, piano, synthesizer
LabelsBella Union, Partisan, Sena
Associated actsThe Czars, Midlake

John Grant (born July 25, 1968) is an American singer-songwriter and former member of the Denver-based alternative rock band the Czars.[2] After recording six studio albums with the Czars, he embarked on a solo career in 2010.

His debut solo album Queen of Denmark was named in 2010 the best album of the year by Mojo.[3] In 2015, his third studio album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure received widespread critical acclaim,[4] and peaked at number 5 in the UK albums chart.[5] His fourth album Love is Magic was released in 2018 and entered into the top 20 in the UK.[4]

Grant has also collaborated with numerous artists including Sinéad O'Connor, Goldfrapp, Tracey Thorn, Elbow, Beth Orton, Conor O'Brien, Damien Dempsey, Hercules & Love Affair, Midlake,[6] Kylie Minogue, Budgie,[7] Robbie Williams [8] and Piano Magic.

Early life[edit]

Grant was born in Buchanan, Michigan, but later raised in Parker, Colorado by his engineer father and housewife mother.[9] He was brought up in an orthodox Methodist household, at odds with his emerging sexuality. At high school he was, on occasion, bullied both physically and emotionally by his fellow pupils.[10] Grant now sings openly, often with caustic candour, about the landmark experiences that have pained and shaped his complex life to date; it took Grant until his mid-twenties to feel comfortable with his sexuality, having been raised in an environment where it was "clear that those people were going to hell".[9] Grant moved to Germany in 1988 to continue his study of languages and is fluent in German, Russian and Spanish, as well as Icelandic, the language of his newly adopted home.[10] Bands he listened to at that time were "Ministry, Skinny Puppy, poppy stuff like Scritti Politti and Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cocteau Twins".[11] Prior to his solo music career, Grant worked in various jobs including as a waiter, record store clerk, a translator and as an air steward based in New York City.[12][13]

The Czars[edit]

After some years in Germany studying and working Grant returned to the US in 1994. Along with Chris Pearson, Andy Moneley, Jeff Linsenmaier and Roger Green he formed the alternative, Denver-based rock band The Czars. They enjoyed critical success, releasing six studio albums, but commercial recognition proved elusive. These were troubling years for Grant as he battled with drug and alcohol addictions. On top of this he struggled with severe anxiety, a condition that has stalked him throughout his adult life.[14] While still with The Czars, Grant, who had always been a huge fan of the Cocteau Twins, met with Simon Raymonde. Raymonde had recently started the record label Bella Union and although not particularly looking for new acts at that time he sensed the potential. He agreed to produce two Czars albums. Unfortunately the alcohol and substance abuse continued for Grant and after releasing Sorry I Made You Cry in 2004 the band split.[15] Following the demise of the band, Grant moved to New York and "returned to mainstream society", as he put it at the time.[9] He worked for a while as a waiter before taking up work as a medical interpreter for Russian in a city hospital. He felt compelled to continue writing music during this time. It was also during this time that Grant began the process of confronting the addictions that had been so destructive during his time with the Czars.[16] Best Of was released in December 2014 on the Bella Union label.[17]

Solo career[edit]

Queen of Denmark (2010–2012)[edit]

While still working and writing in New York, it was the Texan folk rock group Midlake who eventually persuaded Grant to return to the recording studio.[18] They joined him to record and produce what would be his first solo album; Queen of Denmark. It was released on the Bella Union label in April 2010. Described as a "deeply personal album" it explores Grant's struggles with alcohol and drug addiction as well as his personal struggle to reconcile his sexuality. "Brothers" was how Grant described Midlake when interviewed at a later date for the publication MusicOhm.[19]

Queen of Denmark received critical acclaim and was chosen as Best Album Of 2010 by the British music magazine Mojo.[3] Grant was also nominated as Best Breakthrough Act at the Mojo Awards and won Best Live Act for Mojo.[20] Filmmaker Andrew Haigh used several songs from Queen of Denmark in his 2011 movie Weekend.[21]

In 2012 at London's Meltdown Festival while performing on stage with Hercules & Love Affair, Grant announced that he was HIV positive.[18]

Pale Green Ghosts (2013–2014)[edit]

During a trip to Iceland to perform at the Airwaves Festival, Grant met Birgir Þórarinsson aka Biggi Veira of Icelandic electronic pop group GusGus. The electronic, synthesized dance sounds that Grant was looking for and experimented with in Veira's studio formed much of the backdrop to his second album Pale Green Ghosts, which Veira himself produced. Sinéad O'Connor was guest vocalist on three of the tracks, including "It Doesn't Matter To Him". Grant was quickly and deeply touched by the people and landscape of Iceland, so much so that he now has a permanent home in Reykjavík.[1]

Pale Green Ghosts was released in March 2013 to critical acclaim. Pale Green Ghosts was Rough Trade Records Album Of The Year,[22] and number 2 in The Guardian's Best Album of 2013.[23] A nomination for Best Solo Artist at the Q Awards followed (with David Bowie and Laura Marling among the other nominees).[24] A nomination for Best International Male Solo Artist at the Brit Awards in 2014 followed,[25] and Attitude named Grant Man of The Year 2014.

In 2013 Grant put his linguistic skills to effect by translating Ásgeir Trausti's album Dýrð í dauðaþögn. The English version titled In the Silence was released in October of that year. In 2014 he co-wrote "No Prejudice", the Icelandic entry for the Eurovision Song Contest performed by Pollapönk.

In 2014 Grant guested on the 40th anniversary release of Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, covering the song "Sweet Painted Lady". Always on the lookout for likely or unlikely collaborations, Grant has been keen to explore his passion for electronic and dance music, guesting on the album The Feast of The Broken Heart, by Hercules & Love Affair and released on Moshi Moshi Records.

In the first half of 2014, Grant joined British group Elbow on the North American leg of their tour. In October 2014, accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Grant recorded tracks from his first two albums for a concert on BBC Radio 6 Music arranged by Fiona Brice. This was released as an album: John Grant And The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra: Live In Concert.[26] Grant concluded 2014 with rave reviews following his UK concert hall tour with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. wrote that the concert "could honestly be one of the greatest gigs of all time at London's Royal Festival Hall".[27] That night, he duetted with Alison Goldfrapp on (the Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood song) "Some Velvet Morning" at the Royal Albert Hall.

Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015–2017)[edit]

2015 saw Grant release his third solo album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. Recorded in Dallas and produced by John Congleton, it featured guest vocalists Tracey Thorn (Everything But The Girl) and Amanda Palmer (The Dresden Dolls), and former Siouxsie and the Banshees drummer Budgie.[28] Upon its release, the album was hailed by the likes of NME,[29] The Guardian[30] and Mojo.[31] Before embarking on a worldwide tour, Grant appeared on UK TV show Later... with Jools Holland in early October. Accompanied on stage by a band including several backing singers and special guest drummer Budgie, Grant delivered a show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, receiving a five-star review in the national press.[32] In July 2015, Grant played Glastonbury and Latitude festivals before embarking on a world tour. The following year, he toured across much of the US and Europe. In October of that year he made a third appearance on the BBC Two show Later... with Jools Holland.[33]

Grant co-wrote and recorded the track "I Don't Want To Hurt You" with Robbie Williams which features in Williams' album The Heavy Entertainment Show, released November 2016.[34]

In 2016, Grant performed a solo show at the Royal Albert Hall, which was met with rave reviews. He was joined on stage by Richard Hawley who performed "Disappointing" from Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. Also guesting were Cate Le Bon, who duetted on "Torn Between Two Lovers" – a song made famous by Mary MacGregor – and Kylie Minogue in a performance of "Glacier". Kylie invited Grant back to the Royal Albert Hall to duet with her on "Confide In Me" for A Kylie Christmas in December that year.[35] Two songs from 2013 "Black Belt" and "Pale Green Ghosts" appeared on Haigh's HBO series Looking. On December 3, Grant was the subject of BBC Radio 4's Reimagining the city, where he took listeners around Reykjavik.[36]

In 2017, Grant appeared at the Hay Literary Festival in conversation with Cosey Fanni Tutti (Throbbing Gristle/Chris & Cosey), to discuss her autobiography Art Sex Music, which was a Sunday Times, Telegraph and Rough Trade Records Book of the Year.[37] Grant announced in 2017 that he had signed with publishers Little, Brown and Company to write his autobiography.[38] 2017 also saw Grant curate North Atlantic Flux: Sounds From Smoky Bay, a four-day event celebrating the best in Nordic and Scandinavian culture as part of Hull's year as UK City Of Culture. The festival, a collaboration with Curated Place, went on to win three awards at The Drum UK Event Awards, including the prestigious Cultural Event Of The Year. Highlights of the festival included performances from Susanne Sundfør, GusGus, Tonik Ensemble, Nils Bech, Adelle Stripe, Wrangler and Grant himself, who also gave a two-hour Q&A hosted by writer and poet Adelle Stripe and later described as "enthralling".[39] In July, Grant returned to the Royal Albert Hall to contribute to a fund-raising event on behalf of Stonewall, for a conversation with Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins: the evening marked the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offenses Act 1967.[40] That month, Grant also joined a distinguished line up celebrating the music of Scott Walker, as part of the BBC's Late Night Proms. Jules Buckley's Heritage Orchestra joined special guests Grant, Susanne Sundfør, Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker to perform a string of Walker's songs. The event was broadcast on BBC Four, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 6 Music.[41] Grant also recorded "Mountaineers", a duet with Susanne Sundfør for her album Music for People in Trouble, which was released in August 2017.[42]

Having toured with Elbow in the US in 2014, Grant teamed up with Guy Garvey to record a duet version of Elbow's "Kindling (Fickle Flame)", which was released in September 2017.[43] Grant was a guest vocalist on The Great Distraction, an album by Leeds-based art–electro rock quintet Vessels. The single "Erase the Tapes" featuring Grant was released in September 2017.[44]

As well as recording his fourth solo album, due for release in Autumn 2018, Grant has been working on a side project – Creep Show; a collaboration with Wrangler's Stephen Mallinder, Phil Winter and Benge.[45] Described as experimental pop and surreal funk, the first single "Modern Parenting" from the album Mr Dynamite was released on January 30, the full album was released on March 16, 2018.

Love Is Magic (2018–present)[edit]

On July 9, 2018, Grant released a short teaser video on social media. The following day, together with the announcement of his fourth album, Love Is Magic, a song of the same name, taken from the new album, was released as a digital download and lyric video. The album Love Is Magic was released in October with favourable reviews.[46] In a 5 out of 5 star review, The Independent described the record as "sardonic wit and heart-stopping drops of sheer honesty",[47] and NME hailed it as an album of "arch brilliance that also makes room for quiet introspection".[48] Grant then went on tour in the UK with a full band including Budgie on drums,[49] before embarking on a world tour from November.

In January 2021, Grant released a stand-alone single, "The Only Baby", with an accompanying music video.[50]

On March 24, 2021, Grant released a new single, "Boy From Michigan", and announced a new album by the same name, set to be released on June 25, 2021.[51]

Personal life[edit]

Grant has resided in Reykjavík since the recording of Pale Green Ghosts. He is openly gay and has been in a relationship with an Icelandic graphic designer but chooses not to publicly name his boyfriend.[52][53] In addition to music, Grant has a strong interest in languages and can speak fluent German, Spanish and Russian, as well as conversational French and Swedish. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald he mentioned that he has studied Icelandic since moving to Reykjavik.[54]

Grant was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2011 which is reflected in the lyrics to his song "Ernest Borgnine". He has since spoken candidly of his diagnosis and explained "I was messing around with my life and indulging in destructive behaviours and ended up getting a disease that could have totally been avoided. When I look at the fact that there are millions of children in Africa with HIV, who never got to choose, it makes me need to figure out why I let that happen to myself. That song is saying all those things."[54][55]



With The Czars[edit]


Album Album details Peak positions
Queen of Denmark 66  –  – 157 70  – 38 50 59
Pale Green Ghosts
  • Released: March 11, 2013
  • Label: Bella Union
  • Format: LP, CD, digital download
42 122  –  – 29  – 68 42 16
John Grant and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra: Live in Concert
  • Released: 2014
  • Label: Bella Union
  • Format: CD
 –  –  –  – 90  –  –  –  –
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
  • Released: October 9, 2015
  • Label: Bella Union
  • Format: LP, CD, digital download
46 87 89 122 3 99 34  – 5
Love is Magic
  • Released: October 12, 2018
  • Label: Bella Union
  • Format: LP, CD, digital download
 –  –  – 64
 – 192
 – 17
Boy from Michigan
  • Scheduled: June 25, 2021
  • Label: Bella Union
  • Format: Box set, LP, digital download[59]
To be released


  • 2013: Gets Schooled (Rough Trade Records) (duet versions of five tracks from Rough Trade's Album of the Year Pale Green Ghosts)


With The Czars[edit]

  • 2000: "Val"
  • 2002: "Side Effect"
  • 2002: "X Would Rather Listen"
  • 2004: "Paint the Moon"


  • 2013: "Pale Green Ghosts"
  • 2013: "GMF" (with Sinéad O'Connor)(IRL #93)
  • 2013: "Glacier"
  • 2015: "Disappointing" (with Tracey Thorn)
  • 2018: "Love is Magic"
  • 2018: "He's Got His Mother's Hips"
  • 2018: "Touch & Go"
  • 2018: "Is He Strange"
  • 2021: "The Only Baby"
  • 2021: "Boy from Michigan"
  • 2021 : "Billy"

As featured artist[edit]

  • 2017: "Mountaineers" (Susanne Sundfør featuring John Grant)[60]
  • 2017: "Whiskey" (Bi-2 featuring John Grant)[61]
  • 2017: "Kindling (Fickle Flame)" (Elbow featuring John Grant)
  • 2017: "Erase the Tapes" (Vessels featuring John Grant)
  • 2018: "Mr Dynamite" (John Grant and Wrangler as Creep Show)
  • 2021: "Cordelia" (Lost Horizons featuring John Grant)[62]


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  41. ^ "Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967–70)". BBC Music Events. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
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  61. ^ "Виски (feat. John Grant)" from Виски (feat. John Grant) – Single by Bi-2 on iTunes, retrieved September 14, 2017
  62. ^ Lost Horizons feat. John Grant - Cordelia (Official Video), retrieved March 25, 2021

External links[edit]