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John Grant

+ {The Czars}

A former frontman of shoegazing alt-country outfit The CZARS, singer-songwriter JOHN GRANT (born 1968 in Parker, Colorado) has been known to kick about with, and perform with, MIDLAKE and The FLAMING LIPS. Openly gay since the break-up of the aforementioned band in 2004, alcohol and drugs problems subsequently masked him coming to terms with the realisation he was HIV-positive; John’s lyrics in both of his deeply personal solo sets reflect his introspective traumas and trials.
Back in 1994, life looked somewhat brighter, when, as a failed English translator living in Germany, singer/pianist John relocated to Denver, Colorado and officially formed the aforesaid CZARS, abandoning the icy Titanic moniker almost overnight. Together with bassist Chris Pearson, drummer Jeff Linsenmaier and guitarist Andy Monley, The CZARS plugged away on the fringes of the indie-pop/alt-rock scene, self-releasing a couple of sets by way of MOODSWING (1996) {*6} and the similarly-tracked THE LA BREA TAR PITS OF ROUTINE (1997) {*7}.
Adding second guitarist Roger Green, and an unusual signing for ROBIN GUTHRIE and Simon Raymonde’s UK-based Bella Union independent, The CZARS identified with the post-shoegazing and alt-country market on BEFORE… BUT LONGER (2000) {*8}. Previewed by attendant single, `Val’ (featuring a beautiful vocal with TARNATION’s Paula Frazer), Grant’s brittle and misty-eyed falsettos excelled in range and tone; example the Laurel Canyon-like `Any Younger’ and `Stay’. Bookended by WEBB PIERCE’s `Leavin’ On Your Mind’, John and his team also grind out a handful of howlers in `Zippermouth’ and `Gangrene’.
THE UGLY PEOPLE VS. THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE (2001) {*7} echoed their previous record’s sentiments, with engineer Giles Hall at the controls of the group’s lavish, atmospheric chamber-pop sound. Frazer was called upon once again for `Killjoy’, but it was their weighty ROGER WATERS-meets-TIM BUCKLEY aesthetics on the likes of `Caterpillar’, `What Used To Be A Human’, `Drug’ `Anger’, that forced attention from the critics.
Looking like they might take off into the world of MORRICONE soundtracks (an EP `Music From The Film I’d Rather Be Gone’ was released on a 3” CD in Canada), The CZARS plus newcomer guests Elin Palmer (violin) and Sara Lov (backing vocals) completed, what was to become their last outing as a full-time band: GOODBYE (2004) {*8}.
Rewardingly uplifting as it was cloudy and overcast, Grant and Co crafted songs of bittersweet intimacy; songs that were probably penned on a summer’s day in Denver, but recorded in a studio in the bleak mid-winter of 2003/4. Still, if one was already a CZARS devotee, `Paint The Moon’, `My Love’, `Little Pink House’, et al, they’d more or less splashed out on a canvas borrowed from the heavens.
With only John Grant to carry the can of the missing CZARS, he completed a belatedly-released posthumous covers set, SORRY I MADE YOU CRY (2006) {*7}. It featured `Angel Eyes’ (ABBA), `Black Is The Colour’ (trad), `Where The Boys Are’ (CONNIE FRANCIS hit), `My Funny Valentine’ (Rodgers & Hart), `For Emily’ (SIMON & GARFUNKEL), `Leavin’ On Your Mind’ (Webb Pierce), `You Don’t Know What Love Is’ (Don Raye & Gene DePaul), `I’m Sorry’ (N.J. Clesi), `I Fall To Pieces’ (PATSY CLINE hit), `Strange’ (MEL TILLIS) and `Song To The Siren’ (TIM BUCKLEY). Their mini revolution was indeed over.
JOHN GRANT duly took time out in New York, returning from musical exile with the wondrous and mistakenly overlooked (in his own country at least): QUEEN OF DENMARK (2010) {*8}, a very 60s, folk-angled set with misty psychedelic and spacy bubblegum-pop overtones – think NOEL HARRISON, JACQUES BREL and some 70s pop stars ELTON JOHN, 10CC, BILLY JOEL, et al. His penchant for name-checking is apparent on `Sigourney Weaver’ (Winona Ryder is in there too). Yes, folk music (`Fireflies’ at least) with piano – and a Mojo “Album Of The Year”. It’s clear John has several gripes about the world and its people at a traumatic time in his life, and everything from `Where Dreams Go To Die’, `Marz’, `Jesus Hates Faggots’ and `Chicken Bones’, pull heartstrings as well as a large bit of tongue-in-cheek leg.
Abandoning romanticised folky overtones for laptop electro-country, JOHN GRANT’s sophomore UK Top 20 set, PALE GREEN GHOSTS (2013) {*7}, exorcised his demons in one fell swoop; `Black Belt’, `Sensitive New Age Guy’ and the noodling title track almost perfect examples. Also augmented by his good pal, SINEAD O’CONNOR (who’d just covered songs from his solo debut), the pair gelled gloriously on the set’s outstanding deliveries, including `GMF’ (“Great Mother Fucker”) and `Why Don’t You Love Me Anymore’.
Sanctioned by BBC6 and backed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the double-CD LIVE IN CONCERT {*7} was issued toward the fall of 2014. Relying on material from his previous couple of sets, the combination of both singer and strings was something special.
Foot-in-the-door and resolute in his quest to become housewives’ choice among the collegiate crowd, guru GRANT chalked up another semi-classic set in GREY TICKLES, BLACK PRESSURE (2015) {*8}. Poetic muse aside through bookend `Intro’/`Outro’ pieces, the orchestrated alt-ballad title track was a flying saucer’s distance from the noodling, doodling of `Snug Snacks’ (disturbingly name-checking JOAN BAEZ, JOAN AS POLICEMAN, G.G. ALLIN and Charlene Tilton), while a fusion of fuzz-funk, avant-punk and death-disco created hilarity on both `Guess How I Know’ and IGGY POP-ish `You & Him’; the latter featuring AMANDA PALMER (ex-DRESDEN DOLLS). As diverse, gloopy and wigged-out as one has come to expect from a “midlife crisis” star with his finger on the proverbial pulse, jester John kept the momentum motor running on `Disappointing’ (with TRACEY THORN) and the nightmarish triumvirate of `Global Warning’, `Magma Arrives’ and the KRAFTWERK/NUMAN-esque `Black Blizzard’. Once again he was backed by guitarist Petur Hallgrimsson and bassist Jakob Smari Magnusson, adding veteran sticksman Budgie (of SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES) to fill the void left by McKenzie Smith.
© MC Strong 2011-GFD2 // rev-up MCS Mar2013-Oct2015

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