Love Is Magic, John Grant’s fourth studio album, is well aware of the difficulties and confusion that love brings and is therefore able to celebrate the beauty and magic of it. After all, love is magic if you remember to nourish and embrace it fully with everything it has to offer. Grant’s ability to address any perhaps unpleasant issues bluntly in his songs remains undaunted. Musically, the Michigan born songwriter may be turning towards synthesizers and programming to a much bigger extent on Love Is Magic, but the human element of love, vulnerability, pain and longing that has always been rooted in his lyrics is still closely intertwined with it.
Almost entirely recorded in Cornwall, Love Is Magic is a brutally honest collection of songs that is daring and introspective at the same time. As gruelling as most of the themes in the songs are, it is always an absolute delight to sit down with John Grant while getting more than a glimpse of the man that has been shaping this new record. With the noisy Berlin rush hour in the background and John Grant’s warm welcome and tone in his voice, we ease into an hour long, meaningful conversation that is comparatively rare to have with an artist these days in the way Grant talks openly about intimacy, manipulation or the pain of being an adult.
In the title song Love Is Magic you say ‘And this thing called intimacy, is it what you always thought it would be, do you feel like you’ve experienced what the word is supposed to mean?’ How close do you think you have gotten to the true meaning of intimacy at this point in your life?
JG: ‘I have definitely gotten closer to it, but it’s hard. My last relationship was good and it’s still a good friendship. I was definitely starting to confront my own fears about intimacy and being with somebody else, especially in the realm of sex. We have such weird ideas about sex. I don’t know what it’s like for other people, but I always used sex as a recreational drug. You know, like coke or booze. But not as a form of intimacy. With this person, I was really starting to open up, but it was a very slow process for me. So I’m talking to myself a lot in that song.’
Would you say self-love is the first step to be able to really experience intimacy?
JG: ‘Yes, I think part of being able to be intimate with somebody is being comfortable with yourself. Because that makes it possible for you to open yourself to somebody else. Self-love makes everything else possible. I quite like myself, but I do find it difficult sometimes – this career that I’ve chosen for myself because you are constantly confronted with yourself.’
‘I don’t like being confronted with myself that often. Maybe if I looked like David Bowie or something. He is pretty much my idea of cool.’
Opening up like the way you are doing is very admirable, yet incredibly scary for most people. Everyone can share private snapshots on social media these days, but truly opening up to one another often seems unbearable, doesn’t it?
JG: ‘It seems like everybody thinks they are so fucking mysterious. People don’t seem to understand that they are already giving up a ton of things by what they don’t say. And what they don’t do. They think you don’t know anything unless they tell you. It seems like a control thing, too. Control is an illusion. At the end of the day I think opening up is a good thing to do. There is a lot of control issues out there. People are trying to control their reality and their situation. It’s understandable, but the older you get, the more you are just not willing to waste your time on gambling. There is no time. There is too much shit going on. And time is flying by.’
How do you balance out everything that is going on mentally as well as emotionally in your life?
JG: ‘I’ve been going to the gym which is really good for me. Exercise is so important because it actually causes you to have energy instead of taking energy away from you which is what a lot of people think. I’m trying not to eat too much crap. It seems really hard for me to get off sugar altogether. I do believe that sugar is deadly. I really do. So… fuck you Knoppers!!’
You were just talking about people’s desire to control their lives. In what way did control play a role in the making of Love Is Magic do you think?
JG: ‘As far as the music goes, I felt totally safe throughout the entire process of making the album. It’s just about choosing the right people to work with and getting smarter about you building a team that hopefully is going to take you through your entire career. And I just hope that I’m smart enough not to worry about those other things. Like how you are perceived by people. It doesn’t matter. It’s none of my business. I don’t have control over this part.’
Control and manipulation often go hand in hand. In your song Diet Gum you explore the consequences of manipulation. The American psychologist Joye Brothers once said ‘Love comes when manipulation stops; when you think more about the other person than about his or her reactions to you. When you dare to reveal yourself fully. When you dare to be vulnerable.’ Would you agree?
JG: ‘I love that quote that you just gave me. She is a smart lady. Basically, Diet Gum is a song about game playing and the absurdity of it. It is an overexaggeration of love gone wrong. About the whole game playing and the manipulation. It’s sort of just a caricature of older or younger versions of myself. I think these versions of myself are always present to some extent. There is still a little bit of that in me.’
‘That was the beautiful thing about my last relationship because it was really low levels of manipulation. Definitely no intentional manipulation, but then there’s all that manipulation that goes on that is unintentional. Because people are set in their ways and don’t have awareness of certain mechanisms that are happening inside of them.’
‘There is a lot of codependency in my life. It’s an ugly beast that I’m working hard to get rid off. It’s all positive and moving in the right direction for me. Slowly, but surely.’
Apart from love, that can be a real struggle sometimes, what do you struggle with?
JG: ‘I definitely struggle to become an adult. I didn’t want to become an adult. I wanted to be Oskar Matzerath from The Tin Drum and say I’m not going to take part in this ridiculous world that you have created because there is no place for me. I’m just a faggot who is going to hell. So why should I learn to become part of your society? That doesn’t work because you just keep living.’
‘My advice to young people would be – learn to do stuff, no matter what. Whether you feel like there is a place for you in the world or not. You’ll be glad you did later because you’ll still be there later. It’ll help you deal with loneliness and relationships.’
Is the crucial part about becoming an adult then learning how to deal with the past and moving on?
JG: ‘Yes, it is. It doesn’t matter what was done to you. You are the one who has to figure out how to live in this world. I haven’t wanted to learn that lesson. I wanted to blame somebody because I’ve been so angry about things. But it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t do anything good for you. The anger just destroys you. It eats away your stomach. It’s physically destructive. I definitely think that I’m becoming an adult which sounds like a horrible thing to say. I don’t think becoming an adult has to be a swearword because you can be an adult and stay young.’
Love is magic, but it doesn’t always last. Is there anything you have fallen out of love with, though?
JG: ‘I was wondering whether I’d fallen out of love with Iceland. Iceland has been really good for me, but sometimes I think I’m a little bit crazy to have moved there. I was really intrigued by that language and I still am. I still enjoy studying it and then I had this relationship there and that made me want to stay there. I met some great friends there. I don’t want to hurt the Icelanders by saying that I’ve fallen out of love with Iceland, but the honeymoon is definitely over. It’s that way everywhere you go. It happened to me when I lived in Germany, in the States and in England – and it’s happening to me now in Iceland. That’s where you move on to a deeper love. Just a different type of love. It might be inaccurate to say that I’ve fallen out of love with it. But – I’ve definitely fallen out of love with sugar. Can we go there?’
Love Is Magic will be released via Bella Union/PIAS on October 12th, 2018.