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