As the singer-songwriter at the head of The Czars, John Grant found critical appreciation but precious little in the way of commercial success. When his bandmates all got tired and left, forcing the Czars to split, Grant’s personal life took a downward spiral into addiction and depression. Years later, Grant worked through his problems to begin a solo recording career, and now finds himself both a critical darling and a BRIT nominee.
“I felt very nervous and out of place,” he told The Skinny about his nomination for Best International Male Solo Artist alongside Eminem, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars. “But I found that I was able to just enjoy myself [at the ceremony]. I had a great time. I didn’t feel like I belonged. But I was very humbled and flattered to be nominated.“
Not belonging has always been an issue for Grant. The Czars showed plenty of promise but were never quite able to consolidate it, despite the patronage of Bella Union label boss and ex-Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde. Before… But Longer (2000) was probably the closest they got to a breakthrough, and Grant’s sublime vocals were showcased on follow-up The Ugly People Vs. the Beautiful People (2001). But after several years of stagnation, the band split in 2004 with the release of Goodbye, and Grant, dogged by a crisis in confidence and other personal problems, sank into depression, made worse by drink and drugs.
When he returned to recording with Queen of Denmark (2010), he was able to relate some of those problems frankly, and the result was an album of stunning emotional depth that eclipsed anything he had previously done with The Czars. Pale Green Ghosts (2013) was, according to The Skinny, “a deliciously misleading combination of brutal lyrics delivered satin-wrapped in strings, midnight piano and that velveteen, half-askance vocal”. It earned 5-star reviews from three UK newspapers and was Rough Trade’s Album of the Year. Third solo album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015) continued Grant’s resurgence, both as an artist and as a person.
“I do feel more confident, for sure” he told The Skinny. “I also feel very humble. I’m not in danger of thinking that I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m just very pleased I get to do this. I feel like, very slowly, I’m going in the right direction.”
John Grant solo discography
Queen of Denmark (2010)
Pale Green Ghosts (2013)
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015) (The Skinny review)
John Grant discography as singer-songwriter of The Czars
The La Brea Tar Pits of Routine (1997)
Before... But Longer (2000)
The Ugly People vs. the Beautiful People (2001)