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John Grant

With dry wit and unflinching honesty, singer/songwriter John Grant transforms his perspective as a gay man and his struggles with addiction and relationships into music that spans tender ballads and scathing rants. While his literate songwriting and resonant vocals remain constants of his music, his sound evolved over time. His 2010 debut, Queen of Denmark -- which featured contributions from his close friends in the band Midlake -- built on the lush sound of his former band, the alt country-meets-dream pop act the Czars. Later, Grant incorporated more of his enduring love for synth pop and industrial music on albums including 2015's Grey Tickles, Black Pressure and 2021's Boy from Michigan. On every album, his ability to switch from ironic to heartfelt, and from suave to blunt at a moment's notice makes Grant a one-of-a-kind artist. Grant was born in Michigan, where he lived with his Methodist parents -- who disapproved of his emerging sexuality -- until he was 12. His family then moved to Colorado, where he was bullied in high school and struggled with anxiety and addiction. After moving to Germany in 1988 to study languages (he is fluent in German, Russian, Spanish, and Icelandic), he returned to the States in 1994 and formed the Czars, a Colorado-based band whose music split the difference between shoegaze, dream pop, and alternative country. Fueled by Grant's songwriting and rich baritone vocals, the band released a pair of independent albums in the '90s before signing with Bella Union, the label run by Cocteau Twins' Simon Raymonde (the dream pop pioneers were one of Grant's favorite artists, along with Ministry and Siouxsie and the Banshees). Though the Czars established a small international audience with albums like Before...But Longer and The Ugly People vs. the Beautiful People, the group ultimately broke up in 2004 after the release of Sorry I Made You Cry. After the Czars' split, Grant moved to New York and worked as a waiter and a Russian interpreter for a city hospital, and also played with bands like Midlake and the Flaming Lips. As he dealt with his substance abuse issues, he continued writing songs. In 2009, members of Midlake joined Grant in the recording studio, serving as his backup band during the creation of his debut album, April 2010's Queen of Denmark. Released by Bella Union, it was an offbeat, revealing set of songs that won critical acclaim for its explorations of Grant's addictions and sexuality. For his second solo album, he wanted to reflect more of his life-long love of electronic music in his own work, and recruited Biggi Veira of Icelandic electro-pop outfit GusGus -- whom he met while performing at Iceland's Airwaves Festival -- to collaborate with him on Pale Green Ghosts. Recorded in Reykjavik, the album arrived in March 2013 and featured vocals from Sinéad O'Connor. Like its predecessor, Pale Green Ghosts earned strong reviews, and Grant was nominated for the Best International Male Solo Artist at the 2014 Brit Awards. That year also saw the release of the concert album John Grant and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra: Live in Concert. Having found a new home in Iceland, Grant further established himself there by co-writing Iceland's entry in the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, "No Prejudice," which was performed by Pollapönk. That year, he contributed his version of "Sweet Painted Lady" to the 40th anniversary edition of Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and appeared on Hercules & Love Affair's third album, Feast of the Broken Heart. For 2015's Grey Tickles, Black Pressure -- which took its name from the Icelandic term for "midlife crisis" and the Turkish phrase meaning "nightmare," respectively -- Grant worked with producer John Congleton, Tracey Thorn, Amanda Palmer, and former Siouxsie and the Banshees' drummer Budgie. The album was a commercial success as well as a critical one, reaching number five on the U.K. Album Charts. Following the lengthy tour in support of the album, Grant then worked on several collaborations. He wrote a song with Robbie Williams that appeared on the singer's 2016 album The Heavy Entertainment Show, recorded a duet with Susanne Sundfør for her 2017 album Music for People in Trouble, and appeared on Vessels' 2017 single "Erase the Tapes." Early in 2018, Grant's dark electro-pop project Creep Show -- which also featured former Cabaret Voltaire frontman Stephen Mallinder, Tuung's Phil Winter, and Ben "Benge" Edwards -- released its debut album, Mr. Dynamite. Grant also worked with Edwards on his fourth solo album, October 2018's Love Is Magic. Inspired by the '80s synth pop sounds of the Eurythmics, Ultravox, and Visage, as well as the Carpenters and Einstürzende Neubauten, the album also featured Midlake's Paul Alexander and was a Top 20 hit in the U.K. Following an appearance on the second album from Raymonde's Lost Horizons project, 2021's In Quiet Moments, Grant returned with his own music that June with Boy from Michigan. Produced by Cate Le Bon, Grant's fifth album expanded on the reflective side of Love Is Magic with songs that were more overtly biographical and political than some of his previous work.
© Heather Phares & Andrew Leahey /TiVo


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