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interviews 2008

Interview with John Grant of The Czars 

Jen:  Hello John!  The Czars have had a long and complicated history (with line-up changes, record labels dragging their feet, etc) filled with ironic moments (being the first US band signed to U.K. Bella Union record label!).  What happened after the release of your latest studio album, ‘Goodbye’, in late 2004?  Is The Czars currently still a band?  Is there any material being worked on at the moment?

John:  Hello there! No, the Czars is no longer a band. After ‘Goodbye’, we had a parting of ways. I toured under the name for a while after we broke up, because I was doing most of the same material, but there’s too much baggage attached to that name for me and I just want to move on. I’m currently working on my solo album which will be under the name John Grant. I’m looking to put that out with Bella Union and will search for an American deal after the album is done.  

Jen:  Of all your albums (‘Moodswing’ in 1996, ‘The La Brea Tar Pits of Routine’ in 1997, ‘Before...But Longer’ in 2000, ‘The Ugly People Vs. the Beautiful People’ in 2001, ‘Goodby’e in 2004), which is your favorite, and why? 

John:  ‘Goodbye’ is my favorite, because it’s the only Czars album that came anywhere close to being what I had hoped for when I we were writing it. Everything else, in spite of a few good moments here and there (Drug, Lullaby 6000, Killjoy, Val, Dave’s Dream), but mostly it was just a band with a huge identity conflict flailing aimlessly about. 

Jen:  Your first two albums, before you were signed to Bella Union, were self-produced.  What was it like, when you were starting out and self-producing an album, compared to being on the roster at a record label?  Was it hard times when you were on your own as a band, or did you all manage fine?

John:  I would almost say it was easier being on our own than it was being on Bella Union. We always had “real” jobs and music was more of a hobby that kept getting in the way of being a waiter rather than the other way around. 

Jen:  Bella Union released a rarities and covers compilation called ‘Sorry I Made You Cry’ in 2006.  Were you involved in the creation of this album, or was it the record company’s idea to put this together?

John:  It was the record company’s idea to put it together but we got behind it once we realized it we liked the idea. 

Jen  What is ‘X Would Rather Listen to Y Than Suffer Through A C of Z's’?  Is it an album of your songs performed live?

John:  No, it was an EP of original songs that were not on any of the albums. It’s hard to find, now. I don’t even have one and I wish I did because that’s one of the things we did I really liked. 

Jen:  For those who have not heard your music yet, how would you describe your sound?

John:  A confusing mix of alt rock, country, bluesey-esque stuff with a touch of electronics here and there. 

Jen:  John, have you always been the main songwriter for the band?  I’ve always wondered about the parallel nature of being a poet/writer and being a songwriter - do you ever feel like you would want to publish your lyrics as poems instead of as songs?

John:  Yes, I’ve always been the main songwriter and I’ve never really wanted to have my lyrics published in any other way, but you also have to take into consideration that I have almost always thought that everything I do is crap. 

Jen:  The Czars have toured extensively internationally over the years.  What have the shows been like?  What are your fondest memories from the tours you have done (and where were you)?  Do you prefer the unpredictability of the live setting or do you enjoy the recording process more?

John:  The memories for me were the guys we met from Kilmarnock, Scotland who were in a band called Heirloom at the time (amazing as well!!!) and who remain good friends to this day and touring with the Flaming Lips in Spain. And also going to Norway and the club VEGA in Copenhagen, Denmark and London because it’s an amazing, completely unaffordable city. There are sooooo many. 

Jen:  You have also composed the soundtrack for an independent film called ‘I’d Rather Be Gone’ - always a cool thing to do!   What is the process like for creating songs/sounds for a film?  Do you watch the completed film repeatedly to soak it in and then create songs that fit the mood of the film?  Or do you come in with pre-existing material?

John:  I never even saw the film. The other guys watched it and we just put together stuff in the way we did at that time which actually always was quite haphazardly. We did use some pre-existing material as well. I don’t think we were too happy with the outcome. 

Jen:  How has the music industry changed for you as a band since The Czars first formed in 1994?  Has it gotten harder or easier to work in the current musical landscape?   I’m curious about this because it seems like there was a “golden era” in the late 80s to early 90s that shined on non-mainstream bands that has since faded away.

John:  From what I have been told and from what I see, everything has changed, but it was always hard for us, because we had so little success and it is still hard. Not being in the mainstream is still very in from what I can tell. It’s more DIY, but it seems like the whole industry is more DIY nowadays. But I don’t know anything about anything, so… 

Jen:  You are on the Bella Union label in the U.K., run by Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins - how did that come about?  Did you get to meet and chat with Simon and Robin Guthrie?

John:  We spent quite a bit a time with both Simon and Robin. They were both pretty hands-on in the beginning and so we were always together in London when we were over there. We sent them some music and they responded and then eventually asked us to come over to London to do an album. 

Jen:  How do you create your songs?  Is it a collaborative process where you all work on a song in the same room, or do each of you come up with a piece of the puzzle and then one of you sorts it all out?

John:  Sometimes an entire song would reveal itself to one of us, but that was rather an exception. Mostly, like you said, it was the putting together of many different pieces. 

Jen:  What is the address of your official website where we can find more information about you and order your albums?

John:  I would go to the Bella Union site or Amazon or iTunes. There’s no official site for the band or me right now. I’ll have my own soon, though!!!

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A sixth-former hides from another A-Level dedicated hour, armed with pen, paper and Sony Ericsson. Screw the teachings of Plato or even Shakespeare’s soliloquies- she’s got Joseph Mount, founder of rough electro-pop, on the end of the line- who needs an education when one has Metronomy. It’s been a busy year for the three boys of gothic dance, success flowing from all streams of the industry.  With a new single “My Heart Rate Rapid” being unveiled at the end of this month and a much awaited second album “Nights Out” circling a record store near you around the summer, the electro spot-light today casts light on the leader of the electro pack.   

New single coming out, how are you feeling about that, apparently mastered by all the ‘fisher-price keys that Toys’ R’ Us can afford’?
I don’t know really, I think it’s a good song, it’s weird I guess. There are no lyrics in it at all, just weird singing….fisher-price keys? That’s interesting, didn’t use one to make it but I get what they mean.  

The up and coming album ‘Nights Out’, how long did that take to get into progress?
Some of the songs on it are quite old, but there was a big gap between the first record and this one, so I wasn’t rushing it- I had quite a while to do it. It was weird as it always ends up that some of the best songs were the last ones I wrote, kind of only a few months before finishing the album.  

Any tracks that particularly stand out for you?
There’s one called ‘On the Dance Floor’ that I really like, and that’s quite an old one, that’s the first vocal one I actually wrote and then there’s another one ‘Holiday’ which is new, it’s like a disco song, its is quite a lot of fun.  

Your recent support slot with CSS grounded your original live show, how is the new album going to come across in the future of Metronomy gigs?
We’ve been playing quite a bit of material from the new album; the vocal tracks are a bit more engaging from the older stuff we used to play. What we’ve played so far has gone down pretty well, I’m hoping when people know the songs they’ll start singing along and all that; clapping at the end- that sort of thing.  

Any chance of incorporating the love-foxx cat suit?
Absolutely, I don’t think any of us would look good in a cat suit, we’d walk out and then absolutely anything could happen…if we get desperate we might have to.  

What are your summer plans? Festivals?
We’re going to do quite a few, Bestival, Benicassim which is in Spain which I hear is pretty hot, think its quite easy to die there, people die in tents…dehydration (I’ll try to avoid that). Yeah, basically just playing festivals and I’m sure they’ll be like tours coming up around the album and that kind of thing, just a lot of playing hopefully.  

5 minutes with the mastermind of a dance trio leaves us with everything from the excitement of a new album to a little bit of hope that coming to a town near you will be a cat-suit flocked Metronomy (especially for the ladies), not bad for a clueless sixth-former with a couple of questions up her sleeve- back to Shakespeare I think. 

Erin Kubicki, 13.03.08


Krummi the singer in Mínus amongst other things answered Stuart Bowen's questions for the band including how to order beer in Icelandic and what should be included on a honeymoon itinerary to Iceland.  

For the uninitiated, and in your own words, who are Minus?
Mínus are four individuals who live to create something beautiful out of nothing. 

"The Great Northern Whalekill" is your fourth album and quite a departure from how Minus sounded on your debut.  What have been the highs and lows of your journey to this point so far?
We only remember the highs so this journey has been amazing. We took some time off in 2005-2006 so we could start a family and kinda settle down. Now we're back with our feet firmly on the ground and ready to drive the Mínus art machine. The only lows were maybe trying to get sober after all these years, we are not as crazy as we were i can tell you that but don't expect choirboys! 

Joe Barresi, your producer for "The Great Northern Whalekill", has worked with the likes of Tool, Queens of the Stone Age and Melvins.   What was he like to work with, and what did he bring to group during recording?
It was very interesting working with him, we learned a lot. I personally didn't work as much with him as the boys did because i produced my vocals on my own with the help of our engineer husky. Joe is very precise and is a genius in guitar sound, amazing! It is not easy to impress him so that was very good you know to have somebody telling you the truth. 

How do you feel the departures of Johnny and Frosti will influence the sound of Minus going forwards?
After they left we have become much more experimental and we put more dynamics in our live set. We allow ourselves to incorporate a lot more psychedelia in our live set and we agree on everything because we love the same music and we're best friends. We can't wait to record our next album which will happen this year. 

Is there something that they put in the water in Iceland, as over the last few years, the music scene has become huge – how do you explain this?
We are a small country so we're not as influenced as others, we kinda try to create a new sound. We are inspired by our nature and culture. 

There´s only one scene in Iceland not you know scenes so nobody sounds the same. Basically we all look at ourselves as serious artists, so we put time and effort in our work. 

You are releasing The Great Northern Whalekill in a year that is full of other eagerly-anticipated releases.  What will you be buying / listening to this year?
I don't really buy new music that much, i personally buy vintage vinyl from the 60´s and 70´s. We will never stop listening to Captain Beefheart, Allman Brothers band you know brilliant stuff like that. 

Who has control of the music on the tour bus and what is normally playing?
Well I'm a bit of a music control freak so I'll be playing some heavy 70´s stuff and a fair share of the blues and of course some good old prog rock. 

The album art for The Great Northern Whalekill is, ummm, striking!   If the person you have gracing the cover had not been available, who else would have made your naked wishlist!?
Someone else just as striking and beautiful and we are not being sarcastic! 

My fiancée and I are getting married at the end of the year and are going to Iceland for our honeymoon!  Can you tell me one thing we must see / do while we are there, and how to order a beer in Icelandic?
You must see Jesus Christ Superstar because i myself is playing Jesus and Mínus are playing the music. You must make love at least 3 times a day and go to a restaurant and order some fresh fish. Go to the bars and drink and get to know the people. Take long walks by the seaside. How to order beer in Icelandic is "Ég ætla að fá einn bjór,takk" 

Finally, what can we expect from Minus in 2008?Will we see you in the UK this year?
An amazing live show and a new album here are our tour dates:

Mar 20 2008  Monto Water Rats, London
Mar 21 2008  Leadmill, Sheffield
Mar 22 2008  tbc,
Mar 23 2008  King Tuts, Glasgow
Mar 25 2008  Academy 2, Newcastle
Mar 26 2008  Roadhouse, Manchester
Mar 27 2008  Rock City, Nottingham
Mar 28 2008  Barfly, London
Apr 4   2008  Organ, Reykjavik