Simon Raymonde on… John Grant

Our columnist salutes his friend and label success story John Grant – whose new album, Love Is Magic, is out this month and is a further exploration of his multi-faceted creativity and unique psyche.

Simon Raymonde

John Grant has been in my life over 20 years now, and with his genius new record Love Is Magic coming out in the next few days, I thought it high time I dedicated a full page to his brilliance.

From inauspicious beginnings in 1998 when he sent me patchy demos of his first band The Czars, to now headlining at Brixton Academy in 2018, it has been a rollercoaster – and I say that with a smile on my face, because John truly is a rollercoaster junkie. And I don’t just mean emotionally. His recent birthday bash was at the legendary Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, the second-oldest amusement park in the USA – which, can you believe, opened in 1870? And it was here that John, with many great friends and family, enjoyed the 17 different rollercoaster rides over a beautiful long weekend. A fitting way to celebrate the great man’s special day.

I’ve known about this hobby of John’s since he first came to the UK and, on occasional days off from recording, he would head to Thorpe Park to unwind!

‘People talk very kindly about my label being ‘a family’ and I’ll take that any day, but John Grant really is like family to me’

And unwind he did. Those early recording sessions with The Czars weren’t a walk in the park. I flew them over to the Cocteaus’ studio in Richmond in 1998 to begin the album Before…But Longer and it was clear that there was some work to be done. But so massive was John’s talent, even though much of it was still dormant at that time, the glimpses he showed were significant enough for me to know this seedling would eventually blossom.

That it took until 2010 and the debut solo album, Queen Of Denmark, is less surprising once you know the background of what lay in the gaps between. The John Grant ‘story’ is a multi-layered and complex one, going back way further than the birth of The Czars and involving a lot more than music. However, it would be churlish in this column to try to précis the life and times of this fascinating man, and to skirt over the important issues
of addiction and depression to ensure I adhere strictly to my word count is not something I would attempt – but what is clearly one of the greatest chapters of my own life, is the John Grant one.

Yes, because it involves so many incredible people who’ve played huge parts in the narrative, but mainly because it involves John Grant himself. What a warm, funny and culturally invested man he is. As you can probably guess from his songs, he is a huge film buff and a multi-linguist of the highest order. He’s excellent company and a tremendous friend. People talk very kindly about my label being like “a family” and I’ll take that any day, but John really is like family to me. There’ve been tears and there has been laughter, but always there is love. He’s an absolute treasure of a human being.

‘John Grant teaches me lessons every day. To always be curious, to read, to never stop learning…’

Fitting, then, that at the back end of 2018, we will release the new studio album, Love Is Magic. A title that might suggest a softening, with notes of optimism, maybe even that a more romantic album might be in the offing? You can think that if you like. Know this, however: John has never sounded this good. Reunited with co-producer Paul Alexander from Midlake, who he worked with so successfully on Queen Of Denmark, this is a John Grant who knows exactly what he wants to do, how it should sound and, more importantly, how to get there.

With recent Creep Show collaborator Benge and John himself co-producing, and with Craig Silvey’s mix skills to the fore once more, I suggest this album is going to launch John into outer space. One of the album’s songs has a title that will have some laughing, some shocked and some offended. In this antiseptic world of anodyne media and plastic celebrity, artists like John Grant, Ezra Furman, Baloji, Jambinai, Father John Misty and BC Camplight, who all hold a black mirror up to society’s hypocrisies and inequalities, are needed more now than ever before.

Everything is backward. Those who are easily offended are, to my mind, often the most offensive. Those who are so easily horrified are most often the most horrifying. Those who are quickest to judge others are the ones that should be judged. With so much now at our fingertips, our minds should be expanding and growing, grasping more complex concepts and creating long-range solutions to the ills affecting our planet: but instead, they’re shrinking and we are reverting to the past failed habits of bigotry and hate that cannot lead anywhere good.

Love Is Magic, like all great art, teaches us some important lessons. John Grant teaches me lessons every day. To always be curious, to read, to never stop learning, to listen, to care and be generous, and to create. And, even if it’s only in your mind, to dance.

Simon Raymonde is currently in Lost Horizons and was the bassist and keyboard player in Cocteau Twins. He founded the independent record label Bella Union