When his Denver band The Czars broke up acrimoniously, John Grant, who was struggling with addictions, had had enough of music. But he was coaxed to Texas to record his wonderful solo debut a bitter-sweet (and very funny) collection of songs about love l
IT’S ONE of the most unlikely comeback stories of recent times. John Grant was the singer in The Czars, a group who were too unsuccessful to be even tagged a cult act. By the time The Czars called it a day in 2004, the band members hated each others’ guts and Grant found himself stymied by drugs, booze and dodgy relationships.
The singer eventually cleaned up his act, moved to New York and worked in hospitals and restaurants. He didn’t really intend to make any more music. He’d had enough of that.
Enter Midlake. The Texas folk-rock band were big fans of Grant and his music, and they decided it was time to get him back in the ring. It took them several attempts to persuade him of their bona fides, but he came round in the end.
He moved to their hometown of Denton, Texas, began to write new songs and recorded a solo album, with Midlake as his band. That album, Queen of Denmark, was released last year. and it’s where a whole new volume in Grant’s story begins.
Grant and Midlake turned out to be a perfect match. The singer’s rich, emotive baritone and the band’s stately shuffle through 1970s-hued soft rock imbued the fierce, forthright, bittersweet and occasionally funny songs with grace, poise and atmosphere. Queen of Denmark turned out to be a triumph on several levels: it was better received than anything Grant had put his name to before, and it saw the singer coming to terms, in a way, with who he is.
“For me, making music is my way of dealing with the issues I have to deal with,” he says. “It’s survival, but I was very apprehensive to begin with. I’d gone away from music and I didn’t know if I wanted to move to a small town in Texas to record an album I didn’t have any material for yet, and live with people I didn’t know too well. But I had to do it. I had to be serious about my life for once.”
Grant also wanted to show people – perhaps himself too – that he could actually come up with a great record. “I had Midlake as my backing band, and we were working in their hometown, but I wrote the music and my lyrics are mine. I wanted to show what I could do.”
The positive reaction to Queen of Denmark is cheerful news for anyone who has followed the long-term fortunes of The Czars. Granted, it’s a small fan club, but it remains a