John Grant Talks About Gay Rage: “I Think It’s A Really Big Piece Of A Lot Of Homosexual Lives”

The out singer-songwriter's deeply personal album, "Grey Tickles, Black Pressure," is out today.

We shared the surreal new video for gay avant-gard singer John Grant’s newest track, “Disappointing,” the other week.

It’s the latest single off Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, a sprawling, angry—and often hilarious—album that drops today.

john grant Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

Below, Grant spoke with us about the video, his traumatic childhood, the anger that fuels him, and more.

NNN: What was the concept behind the song and video for “Dissappointing”?

John Grant: It’s basically just that the world is full of disappointment, but none of it is strong enough to distract me from the beauty of your smile.

I suppose it’s about my commitment to this person and how—I don’t want to speak for him—but he’s probably concerned about what’s going on during all these months when I’m out on the road.

It’s not like people are knocking on my door but one certainly has opportunities to become “distracted” from one’s partner, you know? It’s just my sort of saying “there’s no worry, there’s no competition for you.”

It’s actually just a super-romantic song.

shirtless redhead disappointing john grant

And then the video—We don’t see the sauna a lot. Someone in England today was saying “Yeah, people don’t like to talk about the saunas and that they exist.” And I thought, “Huh! They must not be living in New York.” We don’t feel it’s something to not talk about.

I suppose the sauna represents what was happening out there. Some of the video was sort of abstract, though: I love hedgehogs, and the birthday cake was supposed to be a hedgehog!

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The cake represents the relationship, or what I have to offer him. Even surrounded by all these men, but what I have for you is just for you and I’m offering it. Will you accept?

The whole album has a really quirky sense of humor, despite being about crippling depression. I think that’s part of what makes it so meaningful.

I’ve definitely been in some dark places. I suppose my default defense mechanism is to try to be funny, or to try and make people laugh when I have to talk about things that are uncomfortable.

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That sort of comes up when I’m writing songs—it just happens naturally for me. It’s my way of balancing things.

Related: John Grant Opens Up About Being HIV+ In Hercules And Love Affair’s “I Try To Talk To You”

I don’t want to get too dark. I mean I love getting dark—but too dark is just plain painful. I need to make it possible for me to get through it.

The other big theme of the album seems to be about growing older.

This aging thing is quite strange. I don’t want to generalize too much, but gay men worry about aging a lot more than other men, from what I can tell.

Youth is prized above all things—the beauty of youth—and I know a lot of gay men who are very, very obsessed with keeping young.

I don’t understand it in most of their cases. I think older men are super sexy. The “beauty of youth” thing, I totally get that. But by God! I would not want to be where I was in my 20s. I was clueless!

So its more about acceptance than fear.

It’s about making peace with death. It’s about letting go of this life. Because you’re going to lose everything, everyone you love.

Ari Magg

As someone who has struggled with depression for several decades, there are many tools available to me to minimize the downtime and the damage. I can eat right, I can sleep, I can exercise. I can reach out to people who understand.

I guess the album is about not being distracted by the fact that the world is a giant shit show. There’s a lot of great things happening and you don’t want to lose out by worrying about the past and the future.

You’re releasing such an avant-garde album just as other gay artists are breaking through to the mainstream. Did you feel any pressure to make your album more pop-y?

No, my label believes in me to the extent that I can pretty much do what I want. That’s hard-won freedom over the last 16 years.

I feel pressure to top myself each time I do an album [but] I’ll be damned if I’m not going to have control when it comes to my art.

What about all of the film references on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure? There’s a lot of horror references—Scanners, Poltergeist—and the teaser image is pretty gory, too.

I’ve always been into horror movies. That’s part of how I relate.

The picture, with the blood on my face, is often what I’ve felt like doing to people who attacked me verbally when I was younger. It’s meant to express a lot of the rage I have inside.

John Grant
Michael Berman

What I grew up with was a family so religious that homosexuality was considered this terrible sin and, of course, you were going to rot and hell. And the people at school: they hated me and called me a faggot, even though they didn’t know what was going on with me. There was a lot of cruelty. A lot of nastiness.

What I hated the most was that I could never stand up for myself. I was taught to agree with those people. I was taught to think that I deserved to be treated that way. And that’s where a lot of the anger inside of me comes from.

Related: John Grant’s Video For “Glacier” Is A Timeline Of 100 Years Of LGBT History

I wasn’t getting support at home, I wasn’t getting support at school, there was nobody to talk to about what I was going through, so I escaped into booze and cocaine. There was a lot of shame. It fills me with sorrow when I think about how sad it is.

There were times when I thought, “I’d like to fucking beat to death the people who are saying that I don’t deserve to breathe the same air as them.” So I wanted to honestly touch on those things. I think it’s a really big piece of a lot of homosexual lives.

the czars

Did you feel some of that rage when you were with the Czars?

I experienced it to some extent… I didn’t feel comfortable dealing with my issues. I was making music with all these other guys who didn’t have any of that going on.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why we fell apart. I never really felt like I could be myself.

The guys knew that I was gay, of course. They were wonderful to me—they didn’t treat me any worse than they treated anybody else. But I did meet other bands out on the road who would be like “Oh, man, dude, that guy’s a faggot! Can you believe this shit!”

And I remember thinking, “Really, still? You’ve got to be kidding me.” In the world of musicians I never thought that I would come across that.

Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is available now.

freelance pop-culture blogger (NNN, MTV Iggy, Oxygen) / recovering academic / wannabe club kid / satanic hipster / talentless DJ.