John Grant (musician)

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John Grant
Grant in July 2014
Grant in July 2014
Background information
Born (1968-07-25) July 25, 1968 (age 54)
Buchanan, Michigan, U.S.
  • Singer
  • musician
  • songwriter
  • Vocals
  • piano
  • synthesizer
Years active1994–present

John William Grant (born July 25, 1968) is an American singer, musician, and songwriter who holds both American and Icelandic citizenship. He came to prominence as the co-founder, lead singer, pianist, and primary songwriter for the alternative rock band the Czars. After releasing six studio albums from 1994 to 2006, the band split up and Grant took a break from music before starting a solo career in 2010.

Grant's debut solo album Queen of Denmark was named the best album of 2010 by Mojo. His 2015 album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure received widespread critical acclaim and peaked at No. 5 on the UK albums chart. His 2018 album Love is Magic entered the top 20 in the UK.

Grant is also known for his collaborations with varied musicians such as Hercules and Love Affair, Budgie, Damien Dempsey, Elbow, Goldfrapp, Piano Magic, Midlake, Kylie Minogue, Conor O'Brien, Sinéad O'Connor, Beth Orton, Tracey Thorn, and Robbie Williams.

Early life[edit]

John William Grant was born in Buchanan, Michigan, on July 25, 1968. His mother (died 1995)[1] was a housewife, while his father was an engineer. He has three siblings,[1] and grew up in a conservative Methodist household which was at odds with his emerging homosexuality.[2] When he was 12 years old, the family moved to Parker, Colorado.[3] He was bullied both physically and emotionally in high school.[4] He would later sing openly, often with humorously snarky lyrics, about the landmark experiences that pained him and shaped his life; it took Grant until his mid-20s to feel comfortable with his sexuality, having been raised in an environment where it was "clear that those people were going to Hell".[2] Grant moved to Germany in 1988 to continue his study of languages.[4] 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".[5]


The Czars (1994–2006)[edit]

In 1994, Grant returned to the U.S. and co-founded the Denver-based alternative rock band The Czars.[6][7] With Grant as its lead singer, pianist, keyboardist, and primary songwriter, the band enjoyed critical success and released six studio albums, but commercial recognition proved elusive. Grant met with English musician Simon Raymonde, a member of one of Grant's favorite bands, the Cocteau Twins; Raymonde had recently started the record label Bella Union and, although he was not particularly looking for new acts at that time, he saw potential in The Czars and agreed to produce two of their albums. After releasing Sorry I Made You Cry in 2004, the band split in 2006.[8] Grant then took a four-year hiatus, which he spent working in New York City as a waiter at the Gramercy Tavern, medical interpreter for Russian patients in a hospital, record store clerk, and flight attendant.[1][2] The Czars' Best Of album was released in December 2014.[9]

Solo career[edit]

Queen of Denmark (2010–2012)[edit]

During his hiatus in New York City, Grant had a chance encounter with members of the Texas-based folk rock group Midlake, who eventually persuaded him to return to music.[10][11] They joined him to record and produce Queen of Denmark, his first solo album, which 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 homosexuality. He described the members of Midlake as his "brothers" in an interview.[12] Queen of Denmark received critical acclaim and was chosen as the best album of 2010 by British music magazine Mojo,[13] which also awarded Grant its Best Live Act Award and nominated him for its Best Breakthrough Act Award.[14] Filmmaker Andrew Haigh used several songs from Queen of Denmark in his 2011 film Weekend.[15]

Pale Green Ghosts (2013–2014)[edit]

Grant performing in September 2013

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 he 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. Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor was guest vocalist on three tracks. 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.[7]

Pale Green Ghosts was released in March 2013 to critical acclaim. It was Rough Trade Records' Album of the Year,[16] and ranked at No. 2 on The Guardian's list of Best Albums of 2013.[17] A nomination for Best Solo Artist at the Q Awards followed, with David Bowie and Laura Marling among the other nominees.[18] He also received a nomination for Best International Male Solo Artist at the Brit Awards in 2014,[19] Later that year, Grant put his linguistic skills to effect by translating Ásgeir Trausti's album Dýrð í dauðaþögn. The English version, In the Silence, was released in October.

In 2014, Grant co-wrote "No Prejudice", the Icelandic entry for that year's Eurovision Song Contest performed by Pollapönk. He also guested on the 40th anniversary release of Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, covering the song "Sweet Painted Lady". He also guested on the album The Feast of The Broken Heart by Hercules & Love Affair, and was also named Man of the Year for 2014 by Attitude magazine. Also in 2014, he joined British group Elbow on the North American leg of their tour. In October, accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, he 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 called John Grant and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra: Live in Concert.[20] Grant concluded 2014 with rave reviews following his UK concert hall tour with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Clash magazine wrote that the concert "could honestly be one of the greatest gigs of all time at London's Royal Festival Hall".[21] 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]

In 2015, Grant released his third solo album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure.[22] Recorded in Dallas and produced by John Congleton, it featured guest vocalists Tracey Thorn and Amanda Palmer and drummer Budgie.[23] The album was acclaimed by NME,[24] The Guardian,[25] and Mojo.[26] Before embarking on a worldwide tour, Grant appeared on British talk show Later... with Jools Holland in early October. Accompanied on stage by a band including several backing singers and guest drummer Budgie,[27] he delivered a show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, receiving a five-star review in the national press.[28] In July, he played at the Glastonbury and Latitude festivals before embarking on a world tour. The following year, he toured across much of the U.S. and Europe. In October of that year, he made a third appearance on the BBC Two show Later... with Jools Holland.[29]

Grant co-wrote and recorded the track "I Don't Want To Hurt You" with Robbie Williams,[30] featured on Williams' 2016 album The Heavy Entertainment Show.[31] In 2016, he 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". Minogue invited Grant back to the Royal Albert Hall to duet with her on "Confide In Me" for A Kylie Christmas in December that year.[32] Two songs from 2013, "Black Belt" and "Pale Green Ghosts", appeared on the HBO series Looking. On December 3, Grant was the subject of BBC Radio 4's Reimagining the City, where he took listeners around his new home city of Reykjavík.[33]

In 2017, Grant appeared at the Hay Literary Festival in conversation with Cosey Fanni Tutti to discuss her autobiography Art Sex Music, which had been named Book of the Year by Sunday Times, Telegraph, and Rough Trade Records.[34] Grant announced in 2017 that he had signed with publishers Little, Brown and Company to write his own autobiography.[35] 2017 also saw him 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".[36] 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.[37] That month, Grant also joined a distinguished line up celebrating the music of Scott Walker, as part of the BBC's Late Night Proms. The Heritage Orchestra conducted by Jules Buckley 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.[38] Grant also recorded "Mountaineers", a duet with Susanne Sundfør for her album Music for People in Trouble, which was released in August 2017.[39]

Having toured with Elbow in the U.S. 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.[40] 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.[41]

Grant also spent time working on a side project called Creep Show, a collaboration with Wrangler members Stephen Mallinder, Phil Winter, and Benge.[42] Described as "experimental pop" and "surreal funk", the group's first single "Modern Parenting" from their album Mr Dynamite was released on January 30, while the full album was released on March 16, 2018.

Love Is Magic (2018–2020)[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.[43] The album Love Is Magic was released in October with favourable reviews.[44] In a 5 out of 5 star review, The Independent described the record as "sardonic wit and heart-stopping drops of sheer honesty",[45] and NME hailed it as an album of "arch brilliance that also makes room for quiet introspection".[46] Grant then went on tour in the UK with a full band including Budgie on drums,[47] before embarking on a world tour from November.

Boy from Michigan (2021–present)[edit]

In January 2021, Grant released a stand-alone single called "The Only Baby" with an accompanying music video.[48] In March, he released a new single, "Boy From Michigan", and announced his new album by the same name.[49] In May, the single "Billy" was released, the second from the new album.[50] The album was released on June 25 and received acclaim.[51]

Personal life[edit]

Grant moved to Iceland in 2013 and has lived in Reykjavík since. He was granted Icelandic citizenship in 2022.[52] He is openly gay, which he has explored in his lyrics, and was in a relationship with an undisclosed Icelandic graphic designer.[1][53] In addition to his native English, he can speak fluent German, Icelandic, Russian, and Spanish, as well as conversational French and Swedish.[3][4][54]

Grant's years with the Czars were troubling as he battled with drug and alcohol addiction, as well as severe anxiety, having suffered with the latter throughout his adult life.[55] During his hiatus from music between 2006 and 2010, he lived in New York City, where he worked as a waiter at the Gramercy Tavern[1] and as a medical interpreter for Russian patients in a hospital.[2] He also worked as a record store clerk and flight attendant.[1][56] He felt compelled to continue writing music during this time, and began the process of confronting the addictions that had been so destructive during his time with the Czars.[57]

While on tour in 2011, Grant lost his passport and was not allowed to board a flight from London to Verona; after remembering that the day's edition of The Times newspaper featured his image and details of an interview on the front page, he used a copy of the newspaper as a form of ID and obtained an emergency passport from London's American embassy, which allowed him to board a later flight.[58]

In 2012, while performing with Hercules and Love Affair at the Meltdown Festival in London, Grant revealed that he had been diagnosed as HIV-positive while living in Sweden the year before.[1] His experience with the disease is reflected in the lyrics to his song "Ernest Borgnine".[11] 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][59]



With The Czars[edit]


Album Album details Peak positions
Queen of Denmark 66  –  – 157 70  – 38 50 62 59
Pale Green Ghosts
  • Released: March 11, 2013
  • Label: Bella Union
  • Format: LP, CD, digital download
42 122  –  – 29  – 68 42 20[60] 16
John Grant and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra: Live in Concert
  • Released: December 1, 2014
  • Label: Bella Union
  • Format: CD
 –  –  –  – 90  –  –  – 74[61]  –
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
  • Released: October 9, 2015
  • Label: Bella Union; Partisan Records
  • Format: LP, CD, digital download
46 87 89 122 3 99 34  – 2[62] 5
Love Is Magic
  • Released: October 12, 2018
  • Label: Bella Union; Partisan Records
  • Format: LP, CD, digital download
122[63]  –  –  – 64[64]  – 192[63]  – 9[65] 17[66]
Boy from Michigan
  • Released: June 25, 2021
  • Label: Bella Union; Partisan Records
  • Format: Box set, LP, digital download[67]
 –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – 2 8


  • 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)
  • 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)[68]
  • 2017: "Whiskey" (Bi-2 featuring John Grant)[69]
  • 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)[70]


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External links[edit]