On a sunny Sunday evening at Truck Festival 2011, a barrel-chested man with huge bear-like arms saunters onto the Bella Union stage to close the festival. Dressed rather unremarkably in a baggy, plain black t-shirt, loose fitting jeans and grey beanie hat, he murmurs in a low American drawl, "Thank you. I love you all... and I'm willing to come down there and prove it to every single last one of you." This isn't the only time this charismatic figure has the crowd in stitches, and they lapped it up throughout the set, hanging onto every last word. This is the first time I saw John Grant. Whilst it is easy to find jollity and humour in Grant's music, 2010's The Queen of Denmark was something of a comeback, in fact it completely saved him from musical purgatory.

His band The Czars had broken up, and with no other musical projects on the horizon, Grant found himself in a wasteland of opportunity. That was until Midlake offered their help, their friendship and even their homes to Grant in order to get him back on the right tracks. The Queen of Denmark was quickly heralded as a modern classic of brilliantly written songs, given a contemporary soft-rock backing from Midlake and contained something which so many artists try and fail to accomplish; it mixed vicious wit with crushing self-reflection. Not many albums can genuinely make you laugh and cry, but The Queen of Denmark is one of those rare few.

Now back with his second album as a solo artist, Grant's fury has not faded. He is just as brutal with his own reflection, but he is also turning his ire onto the rest of the world, and still reserves the right to make you cackle out loud. Pale Green Ghosts sees Grant replace the acoustic and slide guitars of Midlake with Depeche Mode inspired synths which push the album into more daring, often stark territory.

Hello John, where are you at the moment and what have you been up to recently?

I'm currently staying in Shoreditch, I've been doing promo for the new album, so that means interviews all day long. I've just come back from Berlin pretty much doing to the same thing, and before that I was in Iceland.


Do you find doing the whole promo spiel quite draining?

It's ok. I sort of enjoy it actually. I suppose sometimes you can get quite tired, but, you know, it's relatively easy. I like talking to people about my music, so it isn't so bad.


With The Queen of Denmark, you were very much at a crossroads in your career, between giving up The Czars and music in general and getting back on the wagon with a little help from Midlake. Has this record been your own thing, or has it been just a collaborative as the last?

I've been working with Biggi Veira from Gus Gus and I asked him whether he wanted to help me make sounds for this record, so he engineered the whole album but I also worked with some other musicians in Iceland for the more acoustic based songs. I guess it has been just as collaborative, because I really wanted someone to help me with the electronic sounds and lay down some of the fat beats which I didn't necessarily know how to do on my own.


The sound on this new album is so different to that on The Queen of Denmark. What inspired you to go down that more synth based route?

Well, I've always wanted to do that. The Queen of Denmark would have been like that if I'd had my brothers with me at the time. That's always been my favourite music. I can never really get enough of the Moog sound and those analogue synthesizers. I love all that synth-dance music and all the John Carpenter stuff and those old horror soundtracks, it's always been a big part of my life. This album is a step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned, that's not to say I won't do any acoustic stuff anymore, but this definitely has to be a big part for me. It feels extremely natural to take this route.


Fans who would have seen you perform live over the past few years will recognise songs such as 'You Don't Have To', or perhaps they won't as it now sounds completely different on record. Were songs like that written with the complete replacement of the piano for synths in mind?

I would say it's about half and half. Some of them do start as complete synth tracks, but I always have to begin at the piano because that's the only instrument that I know how to play.


What is Pale Green Ghosts a reference to?

Pale Green Ghosts refers to these trees along this particular stretch of highway I mention in the song, which I remember driving up and down late at night. It refers to a time in my life when I felt my most content. I would be driving along this stretch of road with the windows down in late spring / early summer and these Russian olive trees would line the sections of the highway and, towards the end of May, they would begin to bloom these little yellow flowers and give off the most amazing scent. It was a romantic time in my life, back in '87 when I heard Sinnead O' Connor for the first time and all I had was an AM radio which I would tune to a station which just played the sound of the oceans lapping upon the shore. It's an image which has stayed with me for decades, and I wanted to write about that moment in time. When you're younger and you desperately want to get away from where you live and become something else, but the song 'Pale Green Ghosts' is written from the perspective of someone who did that twenty years ago and realises home wasn't that bad and you should be careful what you wish for. Life is about learning a lot of difficult lessons.


Your lyrics always portray a very naked sense of self, sometimes it can be quite emotionally difficult to listen to. Do you find it hard immortalising such brutally honest reflections of your own life?

Sometimes, but most of the time it's a relief. For me it's all about wanting to be understood. I'm not sure I know who I want to understand me; perhaps that person is also me. Or at least I would like to feel there have been times in my life where I have been able to very succinctly and very specifically express how I feel. I suppose that's what I'm constantly trying to do in songs with varying degrees of success. With Pale Green Ghosts, that was an experience from a long time ago, but it's not been until now that I have been able to express those feelings.


How does it feel, when playing live, that certain lines can induce mass laughter? Even though the line is essentially a humorous one, it is often masking a much sadder emotion.

It doesn't feel too weird, because that's kind of the way I feel about it. Maybe I didn't feel that way when those things were happening to me, but comedy has always been a huge influence in my life. Having a sense of humour has helped me get through those tougher times. It's actually one of the reasons why I feel a close connection with the British, because they get me and I get them. It's an important part of the music for me and it's not so much about the way I want the audience to react, it's just easier for me to tell my stories that way, it makes it more palatable. That comic relief is probably necessary in order to listen to all of the shit that I'm talking about.


To reference an acronym you use on the new album; if you are the GMF, who is the WMF?

Well, that's me too. I'm the Greatest Mother Fucker because I feel like the Worst Mother Fucker. I got tired to hearing people saying, "You're too hard on yourself, man, you don't love yourself enough." OK, so the first 20 years of my life you're constantly telling me what a piece of shit I am, just some stupid faggot who should just kill himself and go to hell anyway. But now, in my twenties, it's all sunshine, lollipops and I'm meant to go on Oprah Winfrey and learn about the secret and love myself and go get on a unicorn and ride off into the sunset. So it's partly a knee jerk reaction to tell those people that they need to fuck off. But GMF is also about that fact that there are a huge amount of people in the world who need to love themselves a little less.


Do these kind of people trouble you; and how does this anger translate onto record?

The way culture is going in the West it seems like the self and the ego is the most important thing and that it must be fully realised no matter what the cost. In some ways, I am the greatest mother fucker that you're ever going to meet. In the context of some relationships, you should feel like they couldn't do any better than you and that doesn't necessarily need to translate into being arrogant or being an asshole. Sometimes you need to give yourself the benefit of the doubt and say, yes I am very much someone worth knowing and I have something to contribute. I might not be perfect, I am a flawed human, but I have worth as well and that's something I've never been very good at. Writing music doesn't rectify that, but it can help.


Pale Green Ghosts is out on March 11th via Bella Union. You can visit John Grant by heading here.