John Grant is not your run-of-the-mill singer-songwriter. He's a superstar overseas, but he's relatively unknown in the U.S., where he was born. He lives in Iceland and speaks four languages. He's openly gay. And he's HIV positive, as well as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.
Grant's journey from obscurity in Buchanan, Mich. to playing sold-out gigs at London's Royal Albert Hall started in the 1990s with his band The Czars, which released eight albums over 12 years. This was a big deal for Grant, who had come from a home where his parents were convinced he needed to be "fixed" because of his sexual orientation.
"When I was young, people were so disgusted by me," Grant says. "Before I even knew that I was gay ... everybody else had it figured out and, you know, they were letting you know."
Even as The Czars gained critical acclaim, Grant submerged self-hatred, dysfunctional relationships and anxiety in an oblivion of alcohol and drugs. "I spent a lot of time caring, and it drove me to really just try and annihilate my brain," he says. "I just felt that I was going to fall apart if I didn't learn to be myself."
The Czars split. Grant stopped drinking, and he stopped making music for a couple of years of recovery. He says he began to find the courage to bring out his whole self through his first two solo records. He sang about being HIV positive, and railed against a bad boyfriend.