During the Renaissance, art and intellect mingled as an equally provocative and exciting duo. Both were highly valued and experimented with during this era. From Michelangelo to Galileo, from Shakespeare to Copernicus, huge strides were made in human civilization within the span of a couple hundred years.
Fast forward to 2016, where facts are being ignored for “gut feelings” and most artists are struggling to pay rent. Sometimes, much to our lament, it seems that art and intellect have failed.
However, maybe we’re about to experience a second Renaissance. At least, that’s the little glimmer you’re left with after speaking with musician John Grant.
Grant is bringing brains back into art in a big way. After becoming enamored with Iceland after a visit, the classically trained and over-educated musician moved there to create his second album and to add the Icelandic language to his repertoire (he already knows at least four other languages).
“Before moving there, I wasn’t attached to anything at the time and I was having some success with my first record, so I had a little bit of flexibility,” Grant explained during a conversation with us. “I was invited to play in Iceland so I went there and I just sort of freaked out over it. Got excited about the people I was meeting there and the landscape and the language so I decided to stay there and learn the language and make my second album and sort of build a little life for myself there and I haven’t regretted it.”
He’s become proficient to the point where he wrote the lyrics to Iceland’s Eurovision song last year. In Iceland, he finds a certain vocational equality that is lacking elsewhere.
“They don’t really encourage certain careers as being more valuable than other types of careers. They don’t put emphasis on being a lawyer or being a doctor as being better than being an artist.”
The title Grant’s latest album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, is the English translation of the Icelandic word for “midlife crisis” and the Turkish word for “nightmare.” But despite the rather grim title, the album delights the senses with clever lyrics and vivid swells of stringed instruments juxtaposed with spoken word and the electronic staccato of synths. It is an auditory blend of brooding balanced with blithe.
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure defies what we’ve come to expect from an album. The songs stand individually rather than as a cohesive story, jerking the listener to attention with every track transition. And within Grant’s cynicism for the modern world, listeners will surely smirk at the candidness or cheekiness of his lyrical wordplay.
“I’ve pretty much been turning to humor since I was born. Sort of as a survival mechanism but I also just really love good humor,” Grant said. “I’ve always included that naturally in my music sort of as a reaction to myself. And that’s a reaction to the absurdity of life and the difficulties of life and the difficulties of getting perspective and overcoming yourself. Leaving the past behind you and being in the present takes a large dose of humor.”
He has a knack for finding comedy in dark times, of which Grant has overcome several. He struggled with addiction in the past (he is now 11 years sober) and announced he is HIV positive at the Meltdown Festival in London. Fortunately, he always seems to find the silver lining and cites comedic powerhouses like Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Gary Larson and Looney Toons among his long list of his greatest influences.
The tour for Grey Tickles, Black Pressure will be passing through Seattle this evening at the Showbox. Grant is planning on putting on a great show.
“Look forward to some authenticity in music,” said Grant. “Expect to see three people on stage who are passionate about music. Who are very excited to be there and to connect with them in whatever way is possible given the atmosphere of the moment. We’re doing what we love to do and we feel really grateful to be doing it.”
We were also pleased to hear Grant has a particular appreciation of Seattle’s musical legacy, and of the next-level audiences in the Emerald City.
“I do really like playing Seattle because there’s a really deep appreciation for music up there,” said Grant. “There’s quite a long history of great music coming out of Seattle. I think people in Seattle are really appreciative of a wide range of music and it makes me look forward to going there.”
Catch John Grant at the Showbox at the Market tonight – doors open at 7:00 PM.