American singer-songwriter John Grant comes to Japan to play a much-anticipated pair of gigs at Tokyo Kinema Club. Metropolis spoke to Grant, one of the most candid and emotionally engaging artists of his generation, about Japan, his latest album and the surprising link between him and Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi.
Metropolis: Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi has recently been using your song ‘“Pale Green Ghosts” (with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra)’ as his theme music whilst skating. What did you think when you first heard the news?
John Grant: I was simply honored that Daisuke would choose my music. I also felt very excited.
M: I guess a lot of people, especially people here in Japan, found out about you and your music through him and his skating. What’s your take on this?
JG: That’s such a wonderful thing, because that might mean that I can travel to Japan more often to perform, which is what I would love to do. It would be a wonderful opportunity to get to know your beautiful country and people better.
M: Did you have a chance to see him skating to your song? Was there any change in how you view the song after seeing his performance?
JG: Unfortunately I have not had a chance to see Daisuke perform to my song yet, but I will!
M: Let’s talk about your latest album Love Is Magic. The album seems to be influenced by electronic music, which is quite different from your previous albums. Was this change intentional? If so, why?
JG: It’s definitely intentional but I do not really see it as a “change” for me. I love many different types of music and they all inhabit the same space in my brain. I have loved synthesizers and synth music since I was a young child. Incidentally the Japanese are partly responsible for this love through Roland and Yamaha. The Yamaha CS-80 is one of the most incredible things to ever be created. The Roland SH-101 is also worth the weight of the CS-80 in gold. I loved Yellow Magic Orchestra and Tomita as well. Snowflakes Are Dancing is one of my favorite albums. Having said all that, these sounds are just a part of my musical constitution and so it was very natural for me to use them in my music.
M: Love Is Magic has such a positive vibe to it compared to your previous album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. Was there any change in your feelings or surroundings compared to when you released Grey Tickles, Black Pressure?
JG: I suppose it was partly due to the relationship I was in when I started creating Love Is Magic. Although that relationship was not sustainable in the end, it was a very positive experience and so I guess I probably felt more hopeful. I still feel like Love is Magic is quite dark under the surface. Love conquers, but the world is still a dark place.
M: The artwork of Love Is Magic is really unique and makes such a strong impression. What kind of image did you try to convey for the album’s artwork?
JG: I love album covers so very much. This concept was designed by Scott King who is a great artist. We wanted to convey “doing whatever it takes to get the right sound”. On the cover I’m recording “The Common Snipe.”
M: In ele-king’s interview in 2016, you said that one of the most important things for you as a songwriter is to be able to express what you want in your own way. What inspired you when writing lyrics for this album?
JG: I was inspired by many humans throughout my life for this record and was also inspired by sounds and the beauty of the countryside in Cornwall, England, where I wrote and recorded most of the record. I was also “inspired” by the state of the world we live in, which is not great presently.
M: Also, what matters to you the most when creating sounds?
JG: You just have to feel it in your stomach and in your bones. I want to get goosebumps. You always know when you get it right because I almost always yell out “YES!”
M: You will be playing in Japan for the first time in three years this March. What are you most excited about?
JG: I hope I get to meet Daisuke and I am just excited to be around the people and see the architecture and hopefully some nature as well. Maybe the cherry blossoms will be blooming when I am there, which would be amazing. I also love the food very much and I like going to record stores to look for rare 12″ singles by bands I love. Strawberry Switchblade, Talk Talk, The Associates — to name a few.
M: You have Budgie from Siouxsie and the Banshees in your band. Could you tell us who else is coming to Japan?
JG: Yes, Budgie is a fantastic performer and person, very happy he is with us. I’ll also be with the rest of my band, Chris Pemberton from England on keyboards, Jakob Smári Magnusson on bass and Pétur Hallgrímsson on guitar.
M: What kind of live set can the fans expect?
JG: Our fans can expect to hear many songs from the new album as well as songs from the other three albums as well, including “Pale Green Ghosts,” of course. The lights will be beautiful and we will be playing our hearts out and excited to connect.
M: And finally, is there any message you’d like to give to your fans here in Japan?
JG: Thank you for your love and support. We can’t wait to come and play for you.