The Czars, formed in 1994, have survived ups and downs with labels, various shelved projects, and the departure of most of the band’s members. Meanwhile, they have released six albums, one being a collection of covers that many hailed as the most beautiful covers record ever. This must be due, largely, to frontman John Grant’s effortless voice, with a tone somehow familiar and comforting but with an arsenal of tricks that amaze and engage. Next month, Grant will commence the recording of his new album in Texas, with Midlake acting as his band. Before slipping into the studio, he answered Identity Theory‘s 12 questions, and amidst his self-deprecation, revealed some of his favorite things…ABBA and milkshakes.
How do you feel about lyrics in music? Are they the focal point? Are they a distraction?
I think they can be both. I have a troubled relationship with lyrics. You can think too much about them. You must always just let them happen, to a certain extent. I’m talking about me here. It’s important to realize you can change them. I always thought once I had written something it had to stay that way. I don’t know why. I just did. I don’t feel that way finally anymore. That’s a very good thing.
Do you draw more inspiration from fiction, film, music, or everyday life?
More from everyday life, but once again, I’m starting to realize that you can use pretty much ANYTHING. And I will.
What is your approach to translating recorded songs to the live setting?
I don’t have much of an approach. I don’t feel like I’ve ever given a decent show due to how uncomfortable I’ve always felt on stage. By that, I mean that I’ve never worried as much about how to bring the music across live, because I was usually too busy worrying about the live setting. But to be fair, in The Czars we did it with computers a couple of times with earpieces and such (pain in the ass), and we did it very stripped down. I guess I didn’t like either.
Was there a particular album that made you first consider becoming a musician?
Not really, but if you were threatening me with a gun I might say ABBA’s first greatest hits album. It was a gatefold vinyl thingy, and when I first heard the song "SOS," I about came unglued for joy. Or maybe Supertramp’s Breakfast in America or the Carpenters’ Horizon.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Quitting drinking, sadly enough.
How did where you grew up influence your exposure to music and your tastes in music?
I think it was more the when, but I lived in a relatively small town in Michigan with 5,000 inhabitants, and my two older brothers had lots and lots of music. Beach Boys, Nazareth, Kiss, Molly Hatchet, Ted Nugent, Supertramp, Heart, Foghat, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bread, Blue Oyster Cult, Boston, Journey (LOVE!!!! Infinity).
Are you more painstaking or improvisational about the recording process?
Both–I like to be able to do whatever I want in the studio. I love to come up with things on the spot, and I also love to be very painstaking about things as well. I’m REALLY anal about vocal takes as I think my voice sucks. Don’t worry, I’m in therapy.
What was the greatest decade in music?
For me, it’s almost a tie between the ’70s and the ’80s, but I suppose it would have to be the ’70s. But I sure do love me some new wave.
What are three things that you love?
Owls, milkshakes, giant rollercoasters.
What makes you unhappy?
Constantly putting myself down.
What have you always wanted to do, but haven’t yet?
Live in Moscow, Berlin, and Buenos Aires.
What are you listening to now?
Right now I’m really loving the soundtrack from The Machinist which is by Roque Baños. Bass clarinet and theramin. For me, that’s a match made in heaven. Also digging the latest from Roisin Murphy, Apparat, and I can’t stop listening to Reset the Preset from Console.
Identity Theory’s recommended listening: "Dave’s Dream" and "Killjoy" by The Czars.