Whether it was drugs, al­co­hol or reck­less sex, US singer John Grant lived on the brink of self-de­struc­tion. In re­cent years, he has de­vel­oped close ties with Ire­land through friend­ships and col­lab­o­ra­tions with Ir­ish artists, in­clud­ing Sinead O’Con­nor. But

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - CHANGED MAN -

Four years ago, John Grant flew into Reyk­javik for the Ice­land Air­waves fes­ti­val, walked into a shop and was recog­nised by a lo­cal. “His name was Denni. He said, ‘Hey, man, I love your stuff — if you want to go out to the coun­try and see some things . . . ’ and he took me on a three-hour drive.”

Grant had been drift­ing, fol­low­ing two decades of binge­ing on sex, drugs and al­co­hol. View­ing Ice­land up close, he “saw this lu­nar and oth­er­worldly land­scape. A cold and tree­less Hawaii. The light, the air, the lan­guage . . .” Lan­guage is im­por­tant to Grant; he speaks Ger­man, Rus­sian and Span­ish, and has “a smat­ter­ing of French, enough for them to un­der­stand, and I made re­ally great progress in Swedish, but then I had a dark win­ter there — that’s where I found out I had HIV.”

Now Grant speaks Ice­landic, too, be­cause he fell for these is­lan­ders who let oth­ers live their lives as they choose. “Denni wasn’t com­ing on to me — he is a straight dude — that’s just how peo­ple are here.” It turns out that John Grant’s story, for so long so trou­bled, may fi­nally be one of re­demp­tion.

In the run-up to meet­ing the song­writer, I took to de­scrib­ing him to the unini­ti­ated as an an­gry, bearded, HIV-pos­i­tive Amer­i­can who writes witty elec­tronic pop mu­sic about his dis­as­trous past re­la­tion­ships. That wasn’t re­ally fair, then — he also writes beau­ti­fully ar­ranged love songs with mem­ory-worm lyrics such as “Baby, you’re where dreams go to die”— and it doesn’t even scratch the sur­face now I’ve spent a day with him.

We meet in Mokka, a cof­fee shop in the heart of Reyk­javik, in whose wood-pan­elled and cosy in­te­rior he seems in­stantly com­fort­able (he was pho­tographed here for the cover of his al­bum Pale Green Ghosts). Wan­der­ing out of Ice­land’s chill Au­gust air, he looms over me, hand­some and heav­ily bearded.

Forty-eight-years old now, he came to world­wide suc­cess late. A sense of ‘When you get sober, the wheels start turn­ing again’ — John Grant on stage at the Roskilde Fes­ti­val in Den­mark in 2013 alien­ation mixed with a ro­man­tic naivety put him into a spi­ral that in­volved co­caine and al­co­hol ad­dic­tions, dan­ger­ous sex and a self-de­struc­tive­ness that, had he been more com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful at the time, or had it been the 1970s, would al­most cer­tainly have killed him. This is a theme he sings about on his new al­bum, Grey Tick­les, Black Pres­sure.

He traces his dif­fi­cul­ties back to the ho­mo­pho­bia of his youth in Michigan and then Colorado. “Be­ing in school, when­ever I laughed or smiled, I would turn to find some­one star­ing at me with this ter­ri­ble ha­tred and dis­gust,” he says with a thick residue of feel­ing. “I had to con­trol ev­ery­thing — con­trol my voice, con­trol my fa­cial ex­pres­sions, con­trol my hair and my clothes, and where I walked and where

‘Be­ing in school, when­ever I laughed or smiled I would turn to find some­one star­ing at me with this ter­ri­ble dis­gust’

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