Music Guyd: John Grant Faces his “Ghosts”

Connor Sobolik
Authored by
Connor Sobolik

May 17, 2013
8:14 a.m.

What was supposed to be a 15-minute phone call with John Grant quickly evolved into a profound and thought-provoking conversation about everything from love to sex to HIV to Sinead O’Connor.

Grant is the expression of raw authenticity. His music makes one question if he is more honest with his audience than he is with himself.

His new album is not for the faint of heart. It’s heavy and heartbreaking, and I asked if he hoped to influence anyone.

I never really get that far that I actually think that I could influence people with my music. I’m not saying that if someone wanted to influence people with their music it would be arrogance. But, for me personally, to think that I could influence someone would seem like arrogance. I feel like all I’m trying to do is describe my particular experience as a human and describe it in a way that feels accurate and that actually gets across the everyday reality.
It surprises me that so many straight men come up to me and tell me that they connect to my music. I thought it was a really specific experience that couldn’t be separated from the gay experience.
The concept of “the one that got away” fits well with Grant’s experience in love and life, with two albums focused on expressing his feelings for and about the boy who had moved on.

I know a lot of people go through this because it’s just a common human experience. People keep telling you, “You should go outside more and drink lots of water,” and there is some tiny section of your brain that thinks maybe if I go outside more and drink lots of water like I am told to do, this person will love me again. Maybe if I lose weight or maybe if I bla bla bla.

I have good days and bad days but I think a least the knowledge that it’s possible [to be happy] is a big start, you know? I do seem to be able to notice the little things still. I still get a lot of pleasure on a daily basis from noticing things like light and shadows and a good cup of coffee and a good walk and music and the absurdities that you see walking around a big city.

Being that his past two albums were written about the same person, I asked if his muse had heard the final products. 

One of my other friends happened to see that he had the first album displayed prominently on his wall. I think he feels very validated that he has made such an impact on someone.

Let’s face it, you, me, all of us, we don’t necessarily plan or intend to fall out of love with these people. These things just happen and it happens all the time. It’s just the way it is, and I don’t think you can really be mad at somebody for not loving you anymore.

I did find it necessary to become angry at this person in order to start the moving-on process. It seemed to be one of the only ways that I could stop seeing him as the great, wonderful person that I wanted him to be. To be a little more honest about the fact that he did do things that were hurtful and that there were things that weren’t so great and that things weren’t always as great as you remembered them. That this person is just another person who is just as flawed as you are and everyone else. There was a time where I had to concentrate on those flaws in order to move on.

I feel a lot of shame connected to the fact that I wasn’t able to let go immediately and say, “Okay, fine,” because that’s what I wanted to do. What can I say, you know? I am just another human.

Sinead OConnor OldA strong Irish vocalist ties together the whole album while adding an extra layer of passion. Grant gushed about what it was like to meet and work with Sinead O’Connor for the first time. 

When I first saw her with her bald head, extreme beauty, and fierceness it was all over, and I have listened to her ever since. Then to get the phone call [25 years later] and hear “Sinead O’Connor loves your song ‘Queen of Denmark’ and wants to cover it.” Then I got in touch with her and we naturally became fantastic friends. [Later] she asked me if I had any demos from my new album while  we were hanging out in her hotel room. Which was also surreal and ridiculous for me. She took off the headphones and said “I have to sing on this album. You have to let me sing on this album.” I can’t even explain to you in words what that was like for me.

She is every bit as amazing as I thought she was.

There have been many developments in Grant’s life, including sobriety and being diagnosed with HIV. He has an incredible attitude on the subjects. 

I think it was just another wake-up call. I was holding on to certain self-destructive and self-hateful behaviours because I didn’t want to let go of everything. They happened to be in the realm of sex because you can get away with it more as it is a natural part of being human. I have taken a lot of steps to face myself and learn to love myself no matter what. Most of it was realizing I was an alcoholic and a drug addict and becoming sober. But I didn’t want to believe that I was using sex in the same way I was using the drugs and the alcohol. I was using it in a way to simply escape and change my state of mind at any given moment. It was a way of me going out and punishing myself for not being good enough.

John Grant’s new album, Pale Green Ghosts, is available on iTunes, and you can follow Grant on any of the pages below.

Grant-Ed: GuySpy is giving away copies of the album to 3 people randomly selected from the comments section below! Be sure to include your username in the comment and we will send a copy of the CD to the lucky winners! 


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