John Grant

John Grant began thinking about The Art of The Lie in the Autumn of 2022. Earlier that year, John had been introduced to Ivor Guest, producer and composer at Grace Jones’ Southbank show, the finale of her Meltdown Festival. They began talking about two records Guest had worked on, ‘Hurricane’ for Jones, ‘Prohibition’ for Brigitte Fontaine. “Grace and Brigitte are two very big artists for me,” says Grant. “I love the albums he did for them. ‘Hurricane’ is an indispensable piece of Grace’s catalogue.” An idea was sparked. “I said, I really think you should do this next record with me. He said, I think you’re right.”  

A year and a half later, the result is John Grant’s most opulent, cinematic, luxurious album yet: The Art of The Lie. As the title suggests, the lyrical ingenuity counterweighted under all this considered musical largesse is as dark as its production is epic and bold. Ivor Guest and his cast-list of storied musicians have brought the drama, flecks of intrigue as beguiling as Laurie Anderson or The Art of Noise. John Grant has earthed it in deeply felt humanity and pitch-black realism. “The clothing that it’s dressed up in makes it more palatable,” he says. “It helps the bitter pill go down. Music and humour are how I’ve always dealt with the dark side of life. Come to think of it, it’s how I deal with the good side too.”

Grant likens the musical flavours of The Art of the Lie to the sumptuous Vangelis soundtrack for Bladerunner or the Carpenters if John Carpenter were also a member. While undeniably a John Grant record, nestling humour into tragedy, bleeding anger into compassion, there is a musical ambition and nerve to The Art of the Lie which offsets its most political and personal moments.

The hard juxtaposition of beauty and cruelty makes for compelling listening on Grant’s sixth album, a record that ties childhood trauma to hardened adult after-effects, twinning both to the political malaise of America 2024, a country being drawn to the precipice of its own destruction. “We were allowed to feel like we belonged for a couple of seconds,” says Grant. “Not anymore.”

‘The Art of the Lie’ is a considered title, taken from the song ‘Meek AF’, itself a lyrical inversion of the biblical edict that the meek shall inherit the earth. Against a lubricated groove, some Zapp-esque talk box and a spidery keyboard figure, Grantsets out his understanding of the new ethics of America. “Trump’s book, ‘The Art of the Deal’, is now seen by MAGA disciples as just another book of the Bible and Trump himself as a messiah sent from heaven. Because, God wants you to be rich.”

“This album is in part about the lies people espouse and the brokenness it breeds and how we are warped and deformed by these lies”, he says. “For example, the Christian Nationalist movement has formed an alliance with White Supremacist groups and together they have taken over the Republican party and see LGBTQ+ people and non-whites as genetically and even mentally inferior and believe all undesirables must be forced either to convert to Christianity and adhere to the teachings of the Bible as interpreted by them or they must be removed in order that purity be restored to ‘their’ nation. They now believe Democracy is not the way to achieve these goals. Any sort of pretence of tolerance that may have seemed to develop over the past several decades has all but vanished. It feels like the U.S. in is free-fall mode.”

Another abiding theme for the record is parenthood. Three songs, ‘Father’ (“one of the best I’ve ever written”), with its redolent echoes of the stab and haunt of Pale Green Ghosts, ‘Mother and Son’ and the hymnal ‘Daddy’, which explodes from a mordant chrysalis verse to its colourful butterfly chorus, make up the spine of the record. “Father contains both the adult and the child. Daddy is from the perspective of the child. I’m talking about the way that I relate to men as I go out into the world, because of the confusion I was brought up in about what it means to be a man.”

This bleak confusion underpins a particularly emotional new chapter in the novelistic solo life of John Grant. The artist is building a world, with new episodes augmented by new textures. In this respect, the presence of Ivor Guest is almost like a typesetter’s art. How best to convey the sad overview that the meek will not just be denied the world, but will be made its optimum scapegoat?  

“We could often only work for two weeks at a time, it was so intense,” says Grant, before recalling one episode in the studio. “Ivor assembled a team of incredible musicians. Dave Okumu [from The Invisible] is such an incredible guitar player. He came into the room when we were playing the demo of ‘Father’ and just immediately started doing what you hear on the record. Robin Mullarkey played fretless bass and blew my mind, and the very talented Seb Rochford was on drum detail. There were a lot of moments of magic from everyone.” The album also features a guest appearance from Scottish singer Rachel Sermanni who provides the beautiful and moving backing vocals on ‘Mother And Son’.

Among its unsettling political charge, a record of sometimes spectral beauty, sometimes elegant funk, like opener ‘All That School For Nothing’ and irresistible first single, ‘It’s a Bitch’, emerges. “Father is a pretty simple track, musically speaking,” he explains. “It’s not a complicated composition. But it still feels very rich and layered because we took our time with it. We had to. It couldn’t be done quickly. To me, it’s always about distilling things down to their essential components.

Grant had been thinking of records that had a profound effect on him while making The Art Of The Lie. “The first time I heard Time Its Time, the last song on The Colour Of Spring by Talk Talk; or The Night of the Swallow by Kate Bush, on The Dreaming; or some of Jane Siberry’s material on The Speckless Sky or anything by Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance; those were important moments for me in music. And of course there is a bit of the Devo spirit in everything I do in some way or another. There’s a lot of amazing humour in their music but they were also serious as a heart attack. I guess this is one of the important themes in my life; it’s about moments and being able to recognize them and be in them while they are happening in spite of whatever else is going on. It’s being in a taxi, the most normal situation in the world and seeing the grandeur, the sheer weight and majesty of a big city passing by, staring in awe. The absurdity of the world on the outside juxtaposed with the world taking place on the inside. That fascinates me, the ability to capture what it really feels like to be a human.”

 

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John Grant

The Art Of The Lie

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