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Interview: John Grant talks sex, shame and beauty

By Matthew Todd

In the current issue of Attitude magazine, we sit down with 48-year-old singer-songwriter John Grant for an in-depth, eight-page feature interview. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find in the mag…

In 2010, feeling that the record industry was not something that would be receptive to a gay man releasing honest music about his life, as he had done unsuccessfully for ten years with his band The Czars, Michigan-born John Grant released his first solo album Queen of Denmark and everything changed. Met with universal acclaim, he found fans in Elton John and Sinéad O’Connor, MOJO magazine dubbed the album an ‘instant classic’ and then made it their album of the year. What was so impressive about the debut, alongside its touching and playfully catchy melodies, was its emotional honesty about his struggles with depression, low self-esteem, addiction and homophobia. It was uncompromisingly, unselfconsciously gay in a way that felt brand new.

This October, he returns with his third solo studio album Black Pressures, Grey Tickles. Black pressure is the Turkish translation of nightmare, and grey tickles is the Icelandic translation of a mid-life crisis, the latter where Grant now resides with his boyfriend. It is a painful, beautiful treat. We meet in Shoreditch House in East London, where he is in an upbeat mood.



It’s interesting to me that the Queen of Denmark came out in 2010, the year we wrote our ‘How to be gay and happy’ feature and talked about the book The Velvet Rage. Do you feel part of that cultural discussion of the growing awareness that the homophobia we experience growing up damages many of us?

I’m glad there’s awareness but I still feel like there’s a growing avoidance as well. I feel like the partying and the barebacking and sex parties. You know I’d love to just lose myself in that but it doesn’t go anywhere for me, for anybody, right? Maybe people think that’s uptight language, I don’t think so. Maybe they’ll think, ‘yeah, well, you’re just jealous because you’re not hot enough to be invited to the party. Sorry, get over yourself, self-loathing cunt’, you know. There’s a lot of that. I’m glad there’s awareness of it but I don’t think I hear a lot of that. It feels like everybody’s just having a big fucking party.

Where’s your awareness of that coming from?

I have friends I’m very close with that know I’m not going to judge anything they say to me; I just care about them and I don’t care what they say to me. I talked to a friend the other night about going to all the sex parties in New York and how there’s just piles and piles of beautiful men fucking without condoms and nobody’s asking questions. This friend allowed himself to be fucked in the ass and now he’s a wreck. At least he was for a period of time. There are all these guys who are doing PrEP before they go to these parties, thinking ‘I’ll do whatever the fuck I want’. I do think gay men are tired. I know that when I got HIV I felt relieved because I could stop worrying about it, because it’s always hanging over your head and it’s horrible. I think people want to be free of that burden of fear. Sure, it’s great to let go, but I don’t know, I personally am at a point where I want to learn to have intimacy with another human being, and it doesn’t seem like I can do that living the way that I have lived my life. And it’s good. It’s just surprising to me how difficult it is. After the years of mistreating something as if it were a toy and then realising that intimacy is possible with somebody else and there are people worth having intimacy with no matter how much of a jaded cunt you are, it makes me sad that I didn’t give a shit to such an extent that this totally preventable thing had to happen.

You’re one of the first people in culture I’ve heard express the idea that you can use sex as a way to hurt yourself.

Because I’m supposed to be ashamed about it. I don’t buy that. I believe that gay men were forced to have their relationships in certain places and seek each other out in certain places. I joke whenever I go through an alleyway that smells of piss and shit. I’m just like ‘ah, the smells of my childhood, I feel so comfortable’. Role play and the forbidden, because it was always forbidden to be with another man, that’s what gets me off now; it’s got to be forbidden and fucked up and wrong, as if this thing that’s OK and accepted is not very much fun. What about meeting somebody and falling in love? Is that not available to me? That has to be available to me – and yes it is, but there’s work to be done to counteract the things you have done to yourself. That’s sad because it wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault, but the fucked up part of it is that it’s your responsibility to change it. That’s the part that sucks. That’s what makes me angry. People treated you the way they did, they made you feel the way you did, because of who you are, and it affects you in a certain way and it’s so deeply ingrained in you and then they turn round and go, ‘well, it’s your fucking problem’. And it is. That’s life. You are responsible for changing this. And it makes me angry sometimes ‘cos you want to say ‘it’s not my fault. I didn’t ask for this’. That’s what I talk about on this record. Children don’t ask to get bone cancer, so get some perspective. There are so many horrors out there. We’ve got to get perspective and we’ve got to stop pointing the finger just because that’s been done to us all our lives. That’s another thing gay people and all people who’ve been repressed do. Gay people are judging each other based on who is masculine and who is feminine. That’s the shit that was done to us and we do that to each other. It’s so deeply ingrained in us. You’re just butch enough to be wanted or desired, blah blah blah…


It’s interesting when you see people on apps like Grindr saying ‘I don’t like camp guys’. Every single one of us will be shamed by that because every single one of us has grown up and at some point thought we’re not masculine enough by the very fact that we’re attracted to men. So, that experience can be very brutal. You’re automatically being judged and shamed.

I think it’s much easier to deal with the trauma that you’ve been through if you happen to fit into the categories of beauty, if you have the genes, if you have a giant cock and a body that responds well to training. I see a lot of these guys and I think it’s easier sometimes for them to avoid the trauma that they’ve been through because their presence is so desired, because if you are that beautiful then you are a celebrity, wherever you go. In many ways, I think beauty can be a terrible curse for some people because a lot of people can’t look past it. I certainly have trouble looking past people’s beauty so that I can get to the person. I have to apologise to people in my past for objectifying them and not giving a shit about who they really were. I’ve done that a lot too. That’s always present in my work, the subject of beauty.




You can read our full interview with John in the October issue of Attitude magazine – in shops now. Download the digital version of the mag from or order the print edition from