A Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay – Interview with John Ian


Q&A with John Ian

PART 1, June 1st 2018

Q: You recently decided to come out as trans as an artist. What made you take this step?

A: I had been thinking about it for a while. Probably for the passed two or three years … but I guess the time wasn’t right until now. It’s something that can’t really be explained rationally. After enjoying more than 10 years of “stealthy” peace and quiet as a passable male, unrecognized as someone who wasn’t born as a boy, it started feeling like something was missing. An important piece of the puzzle. So, yeah, coming out as trans felt like the right thing to do at this point in my life and it’s been liberating.

Q: And you weren’t worried about negative reactions or consequences?

A: Well, to be honest a certain amount of worry always remains because all of us have had our fair share of negativity, aggression or even hate to deal with at some point of the journey. But in general I still believe that the more positive you are, the more positive people’s reactions will be. The thing is, men and women and people come in all different sorts of shapes. Some of us don’t fall into any of the existing categories and don’t want to, either. But we’re all on this crazy ride together and it’s important that all of us have a voice and can add our own unique perspective to the big picture. It’s exciting to have that big mix of different perspectives in art, music, literature — views, colors, shapes, sounds, bodies, voices. Telling the human race’s story mostly from one perspective, let’s say a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon heterosexual male perspective, doesn’t paint a very interesting or realistic picture.

Q: So, John, when did you start writing songs? Was that after you transitioned?

A: No, I started as a teenager but it was something I didn’t even tell people for a long time. I felt very insecure about it and it was a very personal thing, too. I always wanted to have a band and perform live but never felt comfortable doing that as a “girl” … it is very hard to put yourself out there when you feel so incredibly miserable inside your own body. So it took years until I finally started presenting my music to the public and it remained a difficult thing for ages.

Q: What made it so difficult for you?

A: Mostly low self-esteem, doubts but also physical limitations and health issues. After starting hormone therapy it took quite a while for my voice to recover and for me to find my own way of using that technically limited voice that felt like it was broken beyond repair.

Q: Just the other day I heard someone comment on your voice and say it’s beautiful. So…

A: Thanks. Due to my special situation it definitely means a lot to me when people say that. And actually, most musicians I really like a lot were not born with the perfect voice, either.

Q: Speaking of musicians you like … Bruce Springsteen was a huge influence, right?

A: Yes. He was basically the reason I started writing songs on the guitar. He showed me that it is possible to create some very powerful and beautiful music with pretty simple means, not a lot of complicated chords. That has always appealed to me. And then of course some of his songs have helped me through the darkest times of my life. And his incredible energy and passion on stage have been a constant source of inspiration and … I don’t know, rejuvenation or something. It is hard to describe. Very powerful stuff. And forever linked to my life, my journey and my own music.

Q: I just saw one of your Instagram pictures with the caption “A Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay”. What’s that about?

A: It’s a reference to the TV series “Schitt’s Creek” that I like a lot. There’s a scene where two of the characters have a conversation and one of them explains his being pansexual, saying that he likes red wine and white wine and the occasional rosé and that he’s also tried a Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay. In other words: he likes the wine, not the label. I really liked that scene a lot and in general the show deals with gender roles and being queer in a very refreshing way. And it is super funny!

Q: Do you have any plans for the near future?

A: I have a lot of catching up to do and sometimes I don’t know where to start. I’m working on new songs, another collection of Short Songs and some other stuff, too. I have two live performances coming up this month and will hopefully start performing live on a more regular basis in the near future. I have a couple of ideas for different projects, so definitely something’s gonna happen. In the meantime I guess I can use all the support I can get and would like to thank people for their interest in my music.

To be continued…

PART 2, September 23rd 2018


Q: Here we are again, almost 4 months later… How are you doing?

A: Pretty well. It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride. More ups than downs, though. Not too many people have been coming to my shows so far but the feedback has been great and that’s the most important thing. The rest just takes time, I guess.

Q: Maybe you can give us a quick update about what’s been going on since June?

A: Well, I recorded and released my new collection of short songs Out Of Tune and I’m working on some other full-length songs, too. I’m planning to record those professionally but due to my financial situation it will be a long-term project, I’m afraid. I’ve performed live quite a bit and now I’m heading to Toronto for the Folk Music Ontario Conference.

Q: Oh, that’s exciting. Are you performing there?

A: Yes, I will be part of two private showcase events … three 15 minute performances … those happen in the middle of the night on Friday and Saturday. And on Sunday after the conference I will play a full show in Toronto in the evening.

Q: So, are you happy with the way things are going? You seem happy…

A: Well, like I said … ups and downs. I know I have less experience than other performers my age and I need to catch up and I am more than willing to do the work that needs to be done but sometimes it feels like I can’t wait another day. Because I’ve already waited most of my life, you know? I feel very restless some days.

Q: Because you want more?

A: Yes, I guess. I don’t know, I feel this urge … it’s kind of new to me. I definitely want to do more, write more, play more. It’s hard to find a balance between the job I need to do to pay the bills and the job I really wanna do. And I’m also sick of being invisible.

Q: Like you say in the song (*Invisible on From A Different Angle)…

A: Yes … “once again they chose that other guy, once again it wasn’t my turn”…

Q: I would like to talk about one song that, for me, stands out on the new album, not just because it is the longest of those short tracks but because it describes the feelings of a young transman. How personal is the song Cyclone?

A: Well, people always seem to take everything you write literally. Now of course there’s a lot of me in every song I write but that doesn’t mean I feel or felt exactly that way or that the things I write about actually happened to me. It’s really funny sometimes, how people react to some of my songs…

Q: I like how the song ends with that question “This vacuum-sealed misery, can it be outgrown?” and the upbeat little solo part seems to answer that question. Without any words.

A: Yes, that was my intention. I didn’t want the whole song to sound too depressing. Ok, for sure the journey is a tough one but then it’s like that line in Good Luck, Good Night: “Now I may be wrong but I think I can see the sun rising”. It is a journey towards the positive. I believe that all struggles to reach some sort of transformation, with the intention of becoming a better version of yourself, will always lead to a positive outcome in the end.

Q: Unfortunately the time‘s up already but I would love to talk more about your songs next time. And until we meet again I would like to wish you good luck with all your projects. I think Out Of Tune is a great album that more people should hear.

A: Thank you so much. And thanks to all the wonderful people who support my music. You’re few but you’re amazing!

To be continued…