11:00 AM GMT 29/10/2012
IT'S BEEN A VERY GOOD year for former Czars frontman John Grant. From the chaos of his former existence - mired in drugs and unfulfilled in a band at odds with one another - he has emerged with a MOJO five-star "instant classic" solo album and plays an intimate show for the magazine next Tuesday, June 8, at Camden Town's Jazz Café. MOJO's Andrew Male caught up with him.
Why did the Czars never happen?
What was so frustrating about the Czars was [that] I knew we shouldn't be making music together. It was impossible for the problems in the band not to show up in the final product. You can try and hide all that stuff and not talk about it but it shows up. That music was hugely frustrating for me because it never felt like what I wanted it to feel like. We were five very different people who wanted to be successful in the music business. I was going through alcohol and cocaine addiction and that was a huge part of me not being able to access myself and be totally honest with myself and the band. We were too different. And I didn't want a democracy, I wanted to realise my vision and I was completely unapologetic about that. But there were other people who wanted to bring their identity to the fore. We tried to incorporate everybody's stuff into the music and it didn't work. We fought constantly. But with this album The Midlake boys were unbiased enough and unprejudiced enough to work with me without judgement. I haven't had that before.
When did you first meet up with Midlake?
It's hard for me to remember but I think it was 2003, the last time The Czars went to SXSW. The Czars were pretty much over with and that was when I bottomed out with the substance abuse. I guess it was after I got sober that I met them and I was all over the place, trying to figure out who I was. I was nowhere, just coming out of that cloud.
What did they bring out of you?
We really connected as people. They really liked me, as a person, and I really liked them. They appreciate my dark wit and my take on things. None of them are gay but they have never taken issue or been interested in that part of me. They don't care who I am, they just like it.
That dark wit and personality comes through in the album...
That's what they brought out of me. I was listening to [Supertramp's] Breakfast In America on eight-track tape in the '70s, Journey's Infinity album, and my brothers were into everything from Molly Hatchet to Bread and The Beach Boys. And on my own I was listening to the Carpenters and ABBA and Olivia Newton John. Growing up in this little town in Michigan, I knew I was gay when I was a very young kid and ABBA's music was so comforting to me. They were exotic creatures to me because they were from Sweden... but those harmonies, you can't argue with the beautiful arrangements. The girls sang their soaring melodies and the boys were in the trenches with music theory and knowhow.
Did you discuss that mid-'70s soft-rock feel with Midlake?
It was ongoing. They brought me back to my roots. Eric Pulido played me London Bridge by Bread, and that just blew my mind. That's what I wanted the record to sound like. The album was supposed to be mixed at the end of July and it didn't get finished until the end of October. The first guy who mixed it was leaving too much of his own stamp on it. It didn't sound right, [so] I panicked and I went over to Paul Alexander's house and I was freaking out about deadlines. The next day there was a meeting at Eric Pulido's house and the whole Midlake band was sitting there in the living room and they said, 'We want you to know that we feel this is a really special record and we realise that you want to get the record done but it needs to get done right. We have recorded the sounds we want and we don't need anyone to change them.' So we got a second person to mix the record and that didn't work either and then Paul said he'd do it with this guy Matt Pence who mixed the Midlake record. They really nailed it.
The lyrics are extremely personal...
The great eureka moment was when I was explaining to this kid who had writer's block and I said, 'You have everything inside you to make the music you want to make. You have experiences that are singular to you. You don't have to do anything people tell you, you just have to get the fuck out of your way, and let it happen. And then I thought, I should be listening to my own advice. My biggest problem is that I was always trying to be what people expected me to be. The thing that I love about this record is that for the first time I was able to connect to that child who was hearing the Carpenters, Journey, Supertramp and SOS the first time. After the pain of waking up with internal bleeding, surrounded by blackened spoons and foil on the kitchen counter, those nights of absolute horror, thinking I wasn't going to make it and my only option was to commit suicide, to be able to connect a little bit back to the innocence of my childhood was fucking amazing.
That's a literal reconnection on a song like Marz isn't it...
I went back to that little Michigan town and that soda fountain was there for sixty years and the same woman was serving me that served me when I was a child and it smelled exactly the same. It's a little main street and most of the buildings are empty now and this place is now for sale and I got to go there one last time and this woman went into the basement and found me one of the original menus from when it opened, from when a sundae was 5 cents and I took all of the lyrics from that menu and it was so emotional. What a beautiful thing that I got to go to that place as a child.
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 10:18 AM GMT 02/06/2010