John Grant Is Exploring The Lies And Liberties Of Love

21 October 2015 | 2:31 pm | Steve Bell

"My lyrics are just about being a human and the experience of living on this planet, and I suppose it's about love quite a bit."

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American singer-songwriter John Grant possesses a complex persona, a trait reflected often in his vaguely schizophrenic music. His third solo album (following a decade fronting Texan indie troupe The Czars) Grey Tickles, Black Pressure follows this template, fusing intensely personal and often dark narratives over meds of melodic organic instrumentation mixed with flourishes of electronic.

Grant made the album in his adopted home of Reykjavik, Iceland with esteemed producer John Congleton (Okkervil River, Modest Mouse, The New Pornographers, Sleater-Kinney) who — while introducing strict deadlines and time limits to keep Grant focused — also allowed the musician to relax and enjoy the time spent working and recording in the studio.

"I found it really challenging to work with a producer because I suppose I have control issues," Grant admits. "It's that fine line between having control of your songs but also letting that person you hired to do a specific job just do that job, and letting go. I found that really difficult at times, but mostly it was a really enjoyable process — it was quite fun — so it was a mixed bag. But I was very happy with what we did together in the end."

"My lyrics are just about being a human and the experience of living on this planet, and I suppose it's about love quite a bit."

Grant explains that he didn't have a set agenda going into the album sessions, having learned from past experiences to just embrace the mayhem.

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"I have ideas when I go in to do them, but then I do let the songs drive where we eventually go. People were asking me what the next album sounded like and I kept saying that it would be fun if it sounded like a mixture of The Beach Boys and Einsturzende Neubauten — I thought that sounded nice to me but it didn't quite turn out that way," he chuckles. "But there's a lot of different things going on on this record, and I think that's to do with me wanting to let all sides of my personality out on the records. Sometimes I wish I could make a more even, cohesive statement as an album but I don't think that's being true to who I am, so it ends up sounding a little bit all over the place, and I've sort of just learned to embrace that."

Grant continues to say that the eclectic musical nature of Grey Tickles, Black Pressure included some inspiration from out of left-field.

"I was just thinking that I definitely still wanted to do a lot of stuff with electronics, because I love those sounds so much. But there was also a lot of funky stuff coming out of me — a lot of funky sounds — and I sort of just went with it, and there's also the '70s AOR ballads and I started getting a little bit friendly with distorted guitars on this record too. I was really enjoying playing around with distortion and fuzz and all those things — I suppose I was inspired by listening to Kim Gordon's latest project Body/Head, I was listening to that a lot during the winter months in Iceland and really loving all that noise. This is a bit poppier than that, but I felt like being a bit harder-edged on this one, and I suppose that mixes well with a lot of the anger that's on the record."

The album's overt lyrical anger is tempered with liberal doses of levity and humour — as is Grant's wont — and the songsmith is more than satisfied with the overall product.

"I have to tell you that this is probably my favourite batch of lyrics so far — I was quite pleased with some of the words that came out of me this time," he smiles. "My lyrics are just about being a human and the experience of living on this planet, and I suppose it's about love quite a bit. Different types of love: with your friends and with your family, and romantic love, which seems to be a big topic for everybody and with which everybody is dealing in one way or another constantly. This record I bookended with a couple of different takes on this Bible verse about love, and in the middle there are these 12 sort of anthropological studies of one tiny little grain of sand — one human's experiences with these things — and the juxtaposition of those things; what I was told that love should be when I was young, and how it was for me in practice."