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John Grant bares his soul

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Singer-songwriter John Grant's new album is "a tiny anthropological study." Photo: Shawn Brackbill
Singer-songwriter John Grant's new album is "a tiny anthropological study." Photo: Shawn Brackbill  

"Love Is Magic," the title track from John Grant's new album, tells a somber tale. Yet the song's video stands in stark contrast to the opening verse. As Grant sings of depression, passive aggression and forgetting to take one's medication, adorable images of happy pups playing with their owners flash onscreen.

"The song is about how love is worth it, no matter what you've been through previously," the openly gay Grant, who is now touring in support of the album, tells B.A.R. "It's also about how the everyday can make love seem mundane, but that it is worth hanging in there for. It's sort of uncharacteristic for me to write a song like this that so completely flies in the face of the cynicism I have often felt regarding love and the possibility of unconditional love from another human being."

Grant touches upon a variety of topics on the album, which includes a song with the eyebrow-raising title "Smug Cunt."

"'Smug Cunt' is about the smug cunts in our government, as well the definition of masculinity in America, which often appears to be if I have a lot of money and people are afraid of me, I'm a successful male," he explains. "'Metamorphosis' is about the onslaught one is subjected to in the everyday world. Out on the street, on the internet, in one's own mind, etc. 'Tempest' is about the altars of American worship, the malls and shopping centers, not the churches, and nostalgia for childhood. There's a dash of escapism in there as well."

When asked what he was trying to convey with these songs, Grant said that he wasn't trying to convey anything.

"I think I'm just trying to be," he said. "Being also entails reacting to what one sees in one's surroundings and the world in general, as well as the inner dialogue and thought life. If anything, the album as a whole is simply a cross-section of everyday life from the perspective of one individual out of 8 billion. A tiny anthropological study, maybe. For me, the ability to be myself in any context is rather an art-form."

Grant also spoke about the importance of being an openly gay artist in the era of Trump and his anti-LGBT policies.

"I think this goes back to the question of just being," he said. "It's important for the LGBT community to continue showing up and just being themselves. One mustn't allow oneself to be distracted by all the rhetoric, news and bullshit online. Maybe some social media can be used for some good and make certain things more convenient, but mostly it just seems like a lot of noise no one needs more of. Everyday life interacting with real people is where it's at. That can be quite difficult in this new world, where isolation ironically seems to be the result of access to everything all the time."

Grant will be appearing in concert at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Dec. 16. He hopes his audience will leave the show feeling uplifted and inspired.

"They'll get to see us giving it our all up there on stage, trying to connect with them and just have a good time," he said.

What's next for John Grant?

"Probably another album," he said. "Maybe a score. Not sure. Need to put some pictures up on my walls at home in Iceland. Or at least figure out where the fuck I want to live."

John Grant at Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell, Dec. 16, 8 p.m. Tickets ($20-$44.95): www.eventbrite.com

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