Released in March this year, John Grant’s second solo LP, Pale Green Ghosts,is a major deviation from his previous work. On the new record, Grant makes a largely unprecedented manoeuvre into the world of electronics. Although Pale Green Ghosts showcases a sonic makeover, Grant reveals that the record’s slinky electronic exterior was no whimsical dalliance. “I’ve always loved electronics, synthesisers and synthesiser music,” he says, “and I’ve always been a big connoisseur of that type of music, so I knew that I wanted to bring that to the fore in this record.”
Following the 2004 dissolution of The Czars (the group he lead for ten years), Grant took some time away from music to re-evaluate his creative ambitions. The stylistic extension displayed on Pale Green Ghosts, and before it, 2010’s Queen Of Denmark, shows that operating as a solo artist has largely freed Grant from constraints. “That’s one of the reasons that I felt like I needed to go solo, because it just wasn’t fair for me to be in a band where I didn’t want there to be a democracy. I wanted to do my vision and I shouldn’t have been in a band in the first place.”
However, being the undisputed commander of any solo enterprise also places a weight of responsibility on that individual. Despite his admitted adoration for electronics, Grant admits he was somewhat apprehensive about making the musical leap for this record. “Of course there was a part of me that worried about what some people would think. Sometimes I would lay awake at night and think, ‘Are people going to love it or are they going to hate it?’ Then when I went into the studio the next morning I would ignore that and just do whatever the fuck that I wanted to do.”
Although he is clearly enjoying being his own boss, Grant’s two solo LPs haven’t been completely solitary assignments. He drafted in Texan friends Midlake to help realise the comparatively pastoral Queen Of Denmark, while Icelandic producer Biggi Veira facilitated Pale Green Ghosts’ dark electronic movements. But perhaps the most venerable guest Grant has had in the studio is Sinead O’Connor. The Irish singer provides backing vocals to many Pale Green Ghosts tracks, including the single ‘GMF’, and Grant still speaks with disbelief about her appearance on the album.
“It was something that I never thought I would experience and it was amazing. She’s a good example of somebody who is very gracious and surpasses any expectations that you might have had.”
The life of a musician can be very unstable and sometimes the rewards will seem inscrutable, but to collaborate with an idol is a concrete reminder to Grant of the unmatched opportunities the vocation offers. “She’s very real and very warm and very funny and down to earth. Everything has been worth it just for that, you know – just to get to know her has been a really big deal for me.”
Evidently, Grant’s music is widely esteemed by many other contemporary artists and fans alike, and he’s always appreciative for the response. “I definitely see very, very concretely that what I do resonates with certain people, because they come up to me and tell me about it. A lot of people say to me, ‘Oh, you’ve probably heard this a million times,’ or, ‘God, I’m so sorry, this is probably really stupid,’ and I always say to them, ‘I’ve never met you before and the fact that my music resonates with you, that’s not something that I ever tire of hearing.’ I’m always very humbled and feel honoured when somebody says that to me.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
John Grant and John Murry at Sydney Festival 2014 with Darren Sylvester and Matt Vaughan (DJ set). Paradiso at Town Hall on Thursday January 16. Pale Green Ghosts out now through Bella Union/Universal.