Gothenburg was cold and crisp, sunny and grand. The gravel from the cold winter still on the citystreet. People wore mittens and thick overcoats. The warmth from the sun thawed our frozen Swedish souls.
We didn´t know what to expect. John Grant made Mojo´s best album of 2010, an album Kentuckyseven more than loved. ‘Queen of Denmark’ is 16 songs of intimacy, self exploration and self exposure. Who was this guy?
He sat relaxed by the great statue, behind some orange sunglasses. An hour later we were friends. No more, no less. We spoke over lunch. We spoke about life, music and everything in between. We spoke in Swedish, Danish and German too.
Photos: Jonas Löfvendahl / Magnus Säfström
You live here in Gothenburg, how did that happen?
“I got here to do a record with Andreas Kleerup, hadn’t really heard of Gothenburg before. I couldn´t believe how beautiful it was! I moved in with Petra, a friend I met after my gig at Pustervik. I’ve lived in big cities before, three years in New York, but I do enjoy the small town. I don´t go out any more, not like I used to. I don´t drink anymore, at all. It´s all about the people and the music.”
How´s the record with Kleerup coming along?
“We haven´t come very far, we have no deadline. We have ten tracks, five from me and five from him. When I get back from my tour I´m gonna start doing vocals. We first met DJ:ing at Strand together and just hit it off. When I came to Sweden, Kleerup was one of those guys I wanted to meet.”
Queen of Denmark made Mojo’s number one 2010, how about that?
“I really freaked me out. For me, Mojo is the bible. It’s is a new world for me now. This is gonna keep meaning big stuff for my career for a long time, meaning that many more people will discover my music. Because of my lyrics it won´t become mainstream in a bad way, this is just a good thing.”
What kind of music are you listening to right now?
“I love the new PJ Harvey album. I love her, what she does with her voice. I just discovered a Swedish band called ‘Pacific’, I really like the voice of that guy. It´s like electronic based indiepop. I also listen to ‘Glasser’, ‘Black Devil Disco Club’ and many other bands.
How did you end up on stage?
“I sang at the church quire as a kid. But I wasn’t considered someone who could sing. I knew I could sing, but I was too afraid to really sing out. Alcohol helped me. It was the only way to get on stage.”
Are you working on new material?
“It´s scares me to do a follow up. All you have to do is be yourself, but that is hard sometimes. I have to ignore the Mojo-thing and just do a record.”
“I´ve been writing songs for a while. I got half of the songs for a new album already. This one will be more about anger. I want it to be fuzzy and distorted with lots of beautiful melodies but with a harder edge. I want it to be a big wall of sound, and then down to nothing, very dynamic. I´m recording with Midlake, starting in September. ‘Queen of Denmark’ was no filters, the next record will be the same.
How do you write your songs?
“To me, it´s a long process. I tend to change things all the time. It´s really very strange, I want to be perceived in a certain way, I want people to see me as strong, and not gay. Like a real man, not emotional. Like I wrote about in ‘Silver Platter Club’. One of the things that fascinates me the most, are watching the interviews in the locker rooms after a game, any sport, and you see the look on these men’s faces. It´s total and complete selfconfidence. At least it looks that way. But I’ve never been able to even pretend. I wish I were a better liar.”
Do you see yourself ever becoming an author?
“I would like to see myself that way, but I don’t think I am ready for that yet, the more I read the harder it seems. It´s an amazing talent, like one of my favorite authors Scott Heim, whom I became friends with, who wrote ‘Mysterious Skin’. I do have a huge vocabulary, so I probably could write something, but it wouldn’t be fictional. Everybody has a story to tell. Look at the greatness of Nick Cave and Tom Waits. It could be about anything, this lunch or that wallpaper behind you.
Any other projects, down the line?
“I´m thinking about, maybe an EP or an entire album, doing something that Kleerups girlfriend told me. Her pets, and the accidents they had. I have written down all of them. And it is a lot of pets and accidents.”
“One is about a pony, called Moffe who falls through the ice and then there is the story of the rabbit Fetknopp who was blown up in an explosion, when her mother were killing roots in the garden. It´s Muffin, the chicken who was taken away by an eagle, when he tried to hide in a pile of wood, and just got swept away by the big bird. And you got Plommonsippan, the African Parakeet who flew into the dishwasher and died. Crazy stuff.”
The video to ‘Chicken Bones’, what can you tell us about it?
“It was like my worst nightmare, doing that video, because it was all real, you know. I had to walk around in that outfit, in that neighborhood, being called a fagot from the people there. It took me back to the times when I was younger. I don’t feel comfortable with my body, and wearing that suit made me feel really uncomfortable. The song is about racism and hatred and the video kind of captured parts of my life, parts of me.”
When did you decide to come out?
“It took me a really long time, I was probably 25. And what was painful, was that a lot of people knew and were talking about it behind my back – we all know about him, but he doesn’t seem to know it yet – that’s painful, cause you can´t deal with it. Everybody else knows, but you are having a hard time dealing with it yourself, for a while I was trying to see if I could stop it from happening, I didn’t want to be that way. That’s pretty heavy duty, the total rejection of the self.”
“And it just turns into panic attacks and depression, cause you can´t live like that. I didn’t wanna be hated. There were physical attacks on me, verbal attacks all the time. There was just this hatred in people’s eyes. You knew, you were disgusting to them. I started to believe in them, that they were right, and that’s the worst part of it. At this time, I started drinking heavily, but I still couldn’t talk about it all.”
Did your music help you?
“My music at this time was just about making noise, I didn’t think I could write about myself, I was afraid if I wrote about myself, my family would see that, my father would see that, and then they would reject me based on that.”
How´s the relation with your family today?
“I don’t know if my father has even heard my record, and I won´t ask him. We don’t communicate a lot but he definitely loves me, I know that. We live in different worlds. My father lives in a world where he still wants me to be a missionary in Russia or something like that. But he is proud of me, he is proud of the success I am having in the music business, but I think he´s also disappointed. My parents made it clear that they could never support my lifestyle, but – We love you, anyway. I can live with that, but I guess I have a lot of stuff to work through.
¤¤¤ Lunchtime was over. The room emptied. Outside the window the afternoon sun hit people hard, knuckles, guard down. It was a story to be written and John Grant walked away, down the street. He looked like he could use some shelter from the storm, a place to call home. We watched him go and got back to work. The song ‘Queen of Denmark’ echoed our white office walls.
Who’s gonna be the one to save me from myself?
You’d better bring a stun gun and perhaps a crowbar
You’d better pack a lunch and get up really early
And you should probably get down on your knees and pray
It’s really fun to look embarrassed all the time
Like you could never cut the mustard with the big boys
I really don’t know who the fuck you think you are
Can I please see your license and your registration?
John Grant gigs Gothenburg tomorrow, April 27th @ Nefertiti.