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12 February 2014


John Grant's Iceland

In the category for Best International Male Solo Artist at this year’s Brit Awards (known in the United States as “The British Grammys,” and the rest of the world as… the Brit Awards), there are five nominees, four of which you’ve likely heard of: Bruno Mars, Drake, Eminem, and Justin Timberlake. Playing the role of beloved underdog is John Grant, the fifth nominee, whose album Pale Green Ghosts (released back in May), continues its long campaign to win the hearts and minds of everyone who manages to fall under its hour-long spell of lyrical tales evoking pain, suffering, triumph, loneliness, dancing, and a bevy of every other thing humans do to put off staring too deeply into the abyss. In fact, man-made wonders like Pale Green Ghosts often help us to forget entirely about that abyss, and revel in being alive. Slowly–as it often goes with great works–this album finds its reverent listeners the old-fashioned way: one by one. Grant is in it for the long haul.

Unfortunately, Grant is bad at basketball. But he drives a smart-looking Saab with a roomy trunk. And while the rest of the world was busy debating the merits of a mass Grammy marriage ministered by Queen Latifah (all the while forgetting the most important thing: that “Same Love” is an abysmal tune despite the best intentions of Macklemore, or Lewis), Grant had already quietly released the video for his song “Glacier” that says more in eight minutes than, well, here… Watch it and we’ll pick this back up on the other side.

Formerly a bit of a cult figure, fronting the Colorado quintet the Czars, Grant parted ways with the band and did two remarkable things: announced (somewhat surprisingly, on stage) that he was HIV-positive and moved to Iceland. He recorded Pale Green Ghosts in Reykjavik with producer Birgir Þórarinsson of GusGus. He fell in love with the country and he hasn’t left.

Here, we ask Mr. Grant one question. Graciously, he not only took the time to answer it, but provided photographs (with captions) too.

Why do you live where you live, Mr. Grant?

I came to Reykjavík to do music, but ended up falling hard for the language and the people and the landscape. It’s pretty much like anywhere else but not. The people are quite different but then again they are also quite similar to people everywhere. They have a strange mix of Scandinavian cool and Mexican relaxedness, which I really dig. There are untold numbers of hot men walking the streets here as well, by the way. Women too, if that’s your bag. The language is exceedingly complicated and really beautiful, but Finnish, Hungarian, Arabic, and most Asian languages are even more complicated, so I know better than to bitch about it. The light here is amazing. There’s something very special about this place, but I don’t know if I can put my finger on what it is. I guess what I love about Reykjavík is that it is small and very livable, but it is also very cosmopolitan. There’s a lot of creativity going on here and a lot of it is the good kind. You can get a lot done on a given day in this place. I like how the arts are encouraged. I like that I can say “fuck” on the radio, because one often needs that word when describing anything having to do with life on this planet. I’m fond of saying I just wanted a different backdrop for my bullshit, but it’s a lot more than that. I feel like I can be part of a community here, or, rather that there is a community here that I would like to be a part of and that’s strange and scary and also simply great. I like to go sit on my favorite bench and think. I still love to go to Mokka and have coffee and you have to do that if you come here. I love the crispness of the air and the fact that it never gets hot here. There are plenty of other places to go if you need the heat. I just feel comfortable here.

"This is right around the corner from my apartment. Middle of the day in December. The small lake is called Tjörnin which means, 'the pond'."

“This is right around the corner from my apartment. Middle of the day in December. The small lake is called Tjörnin which means, ‘the pond’.”

"My favorite bench, also right around the corner from my house, in autumn."

“My favorite bench, also right around the corner from my house, in autumn.”

"Yellow Icelandic poppies at dusk in summer. Outside of [producer] Biggi's house."

“Yellow Icelandic poppies at dusk in summer. Outside of [producer] Biggi’s house.”

"Favorite sign in Reykjavík: 'bonus shoes.'"

“Favorite sign in Reykjavík: ‘bonus shoes.’”

"Driving around in summer in the Southwest, I believe."

“Driving around in summer in the Southwest, I believe.”

"The current state of affairs in Reykjavík."

“The current state of affairs in Reykjavík.”

John Grant will be on tour throughout Europe in March. He will be the special guest on Elbow’s forthcoming tour of North America, and will play dates this summer (most notably the Primavera Sound festivals in Spain and Portugal). The Brit Awards will take place on February 19th. Pale Green Ghosts is out now.

Written by Gregg LaGambina

Photographed by John Grant