John Grant Sings About Living With HIV on New Album Pale Green Ghosts
John Grant is approaching his life honestly. In the lyrics of his latest solo album Pale Green Ghosts, the former frontman of The Czars sings about being an openly gay man who is also HIV positive. Grant was in town last week for a show at (Le) Poisson Rouge, and though our conversation veered into territory most musicians would balk at, he faced difficult issues with a thoughtful grace.
In a lot of ways your new record feels like a concept album, both sonically and content wise. Was that the intent?
I don't look at it as a concept album. In terms of sonically, well, my last record Queen of Denmark was about the '70s, so this one is a natural move toward the' 80s. I've always listened to bands like Skinny Puppy and Eurythmics and my heart has always needed to get that into a record. If my first record was about childhood, this one is about the difficultly of young adulthood. I had moved to Colorado from Michigan. It was a difficult move, was a difficult process with a lot of chaos and confusion. This is about going back and taking stock of that.
You talk about the '80s being a difficult, tumultuous time. Why was that?
Being gay was not okay in the environment I grew up in. I was told being gay meant you were going to hell. You grow up believing that when that's what you're being told, yet I saw myself becoming what I was not supposed to become. It was not okay in my family. Some people could say fuck you to their parents. I wasn't able to do that at the time.
To what extent have you reconciled with your family?
My mother died right after I came out, so she and I never got to work things out. As far as being reconciled with my siblings, they are fine with who I am. My sister actually came out as a lesbian. I came out in the 90s. 91 or 92 was when I told my parents. I never even planned to tell my father I have HIV. One of my brothers did. It's not something that's relevant to his life.
You bring up the fact that you're HIV positive and I read somewhere you were informed by text message. That must have been an overwhelming experience.
I was buying shoes in Berlin, I was living in Berlin at the time. And a guy sent me a text that said he had bad news. I had been with this guy... As soon as I landed in Sweden, I didn't know anyone in Sweden, I found a doctor and took a test. Of course it came back positive. It was January, it was dark all the time. It was a dark month. You know in your mind it's not the death sentence it once was, but it's still a very emotionally intense experience.