Young Claire Boucher has a few things on her mind …
When a female icon emerges from the musical mire, the nonsensical tabloid bile that accompanies her growth is often laughable. So with this in mind, let’s dispel a prominent myth about Montreal’s Claire Boucher, 24, aka Grimes.
She isn’t a devil worshipper, as one garish music sheet prominently described her. Neither does she have an obsession with the occult that defines her as an artist and a person – there’s a hell of a lot more going on here. And thank fuck, because you don’t craft a whole aura around yourself, your music, image, videos, artwork and live show without having a tad more to your personality than the generic metal band, attention- grabbing tactic of satanic worship.
The hype circling Grimes is palpable, and while it’s a necessity to tie everything she does back to the wonderful music she’s made, most notably on recent record Visions, there is plenty to talk about beyond the music. It’s literally all a product of her own innate creativity.
Marrying her love of punk and sinister imagery on her illustrated album artwork, cartoon like skulls adorn the front cover of Visions. This is sublimely juxtaposed with music that in its immediacy is characterised by Boucher’s childlike, high-pitched effected voice. Beyond this is a selection of beautiful electronic lullabies that are warm, at times dark and totally captivating. Visions is an album that draws feverishly on the imagination with looping and effects creating an otherworldly listening experience, yet buried in the dreamlike sounds this is the capturing of a very real and very personal moment.
Oblivion, for example, is a stark recollection of a vicious assault, a connection you’re unlikely to deduce from its upbeat nature. And herein lies the continuing series of paradoxes which define Grimes’ character. Her mournful subject matter is often married to toe-tapping electronica, her breezy demeanor up against an image that borrows from the gothic, and a love of the extreme metal aesthetic alongside a stripped down, bare-your-soul solo live show. In other words, she’s a music journalist’s dream. Luckily the music brilliantly stands up to these extroverted external characteristics.
Through maintaining total control, a characteristic strangely absent in the make-up of most modern artists, Grimes has forged a path over four albums that has caught the attention of 4AD, a label versed in artistic freedom having released the likes of Zomby, Twin Shadow and Tune-Yards in recent times. In gravitating to big label status, it was 4AD’s commitment to changing absolutely nothing about Boucher’s music or image which led to her signing. It’s a home from home for an artist whose music needs to be exposed to a larger audience but doesn’t feel any pressure to get botox or something equally compromising … ahem …
With a move to Berlin on the horizon, almost certainly a positive step in facilitating even more creativity, the small scale of Grimes’ DIY recordings (her first album was only released on tape and Visions, her fourth effort, was recorded on GarageBand) means there is much room for expansion. Similarly, Boucher admits she learned to play live from … well, actually playing live. It’s an experience Crack was exposed to when witnessing her support slot for How To Dress Well at Thekla in Bristol six months previous, when she was clearly hampered by nerves. Almost certainly, Grimes circa 2012 is an entirely different animal. Controlling all elements of the live performance left her with a steep learning curve, but subsequent reports suggest she’s flourished.
An icon? Not yet. But certainly one of the most rounded, naturally developed and interesting artists in recent times.
You were born in Vancouver but you’ve moved to Montreal. What prompted the move?
I needed to get out of Vancouver. I grew up there, but it’s got a weird small town mentality in a lot of ways.
So what was your musical development between places?
Vancouver had much more in the way of punk shows, but then that disappeared and the city has got really expensive. There isn’t really any music to speak of there any more. Montreal is kind of the same thing, but much more on the electronic side. There were just parties all the time.
So was there quite a club scene there? In many ways you seem to straddle the rock scene alongside the world of electronic music.
There are a lot of noise producers in Montreal, but I guess the two scenes generally don’t like each other. They are kind of separate. I like noise and punk music more for the general aesthetic and approach, however, in terms of the music I am actually making I am influenced more by electronic and dance music.
In terms of imagery and your own personal image, if someone hadn’t listened to your record they might assume you were more into punk music. Is your image a conscious choice and has this transferred itself into the artwork on the new record?
I really love metal album covers, especially things like Cradle Of Filth and crazy metal t-shirts and images. I wanted to take that and run it through my own influences. Do you know Charles Burns?
Yes. My images on the album are like Charles Burns meets Cradle Of Filth t-shirts.
So who actually did the album cover?
Wow, so you are involved in the process at every level. You play, produce, sing – everything.
I try to. I also make the videos. Also, when we are booking shows I talk a lot with my manager and try and get opening bands in every city we really like. I don’t ever want it to be some random opener that sucks, that we don’t like at all. At a point you have to give up and let other people do things, but at the moment I want the Grimes experience to be as good as possible. I guess I’m a bit of a control freak in that respect.Grimes – Genesis
Is it important to you that when people go to a Grimes live show or listen to a Grimes record they see it as an overall experience rather than purely a musical thing.
If I’m making the music, it seems ludicrous to me that I wouldn’t also be making the video. It’s the counterpart, so if I were not heavily involved it wouldn’t be Grimes. When I make the music I take everything into account. The presentation of it is a huge thing for me as I’m really drawn to artists that have a strong visual aspect to their work. Take someone like MIA. I don’t love MIA, but I love how much control she has over her work. Everything about it is super MIA, and that’s great.
You’ve released four records in a couple of years and your debut came out on tape. There is obviously a strong DIY aesthetic to what you do.
I just started playing shows in lofts in Montreal that my friends ran. I released that first record and then immediately just did another one. I didn’t even think about it. Every couple of months we’d do a big push and play New York or LA and it all just kept rolling. It was like, ‘now I have a booking agent, now I have PR, now I’m working with 4AD.’ They were all stepping-stones along the way.
What was it about 4AD that made you choose them?
I think they were the only label that didn’t want me to change the record. Some labels actually said: “Can you make it more normal?!”
That’s so offensive.
4AD offer real freedom. It’s the most artistic freedom you can possibly be allowed. That is my number one priority by far. They’ve been very sympathetic to what I’ve done so far on the Arbutus label in Canada. They’ve been very accepting of my friends and my manager, as I’ve had the same manager since I was 14. It means I’ve managed to keep these relationships and still work with a bigger label.
How important was How To Dress Well in your development as an artist?
He’s the older, more experienced person who tells you the stuff you need to know. I owe him a lot.
You do everything onstage yourself? Has your live set up expanded as you’ve expanded as an artist?
I was put in a situation where I needed to get a lot better really fast. I was in way over my head, but it’s been kind of beneficial. Obviously when I started the Lykke Li tour I wasn’t remotely prepared to play those shows. I think that made me a professional musician. It was either respond right now or suffer huge humiliation.
How do you think people will judge the juxtaposition when listening to Visions. It’s got some beautiful ethereal songs and your brilliant voice, but then this extreme imagery. Is it designed to shock people at all? How do you feel it may be perceived?
I didn’t think it was weird until people started bringing it up. I think all the visual parts are really beautiful. It’s the kind of shit all my friends do. It’s the scene I’m part of I guess.
You obviously think quite hard about religion and the occult. What are your religious beliefs in the broadest sense?
I believe in aliens. I don’t believe in God per se. I have some conspiracy theories, but I don’t necessarily want to elaborate on them too much.
As a beat maker, who really inspires you in that world?
Richard D. James, Boards Of Canada, then Outkast, especially Big Boi.
And who are the most iconic women to you in music?
Beyonce, Fever Ray. Those are obvious. Enya.
There is a fair bit of attention on you at the moment? Is it intimidating? Or are you just walking around really excited?
Both. It’s definitely really exciting. Sometimes it’s really overwhelming, it depends on how much sleep I’ve had.
What are your future creative plans?
I’m going to be living in Berlin in June. The music scene is great for me there. Outside of Montreal most of the people I know socially live in Berlin. It’s as forward as you can get really.
Was there ever a game plan with Visions? It’s a very all-encompassing, beautiful album.
To say what I was going for is an hour-long answer. I wanted to make something that was technically pushing myself to the limit. It’s an expression of my feeling at the time. It’s a very emotional record.
Do you think there is the potential for you to become a real icon in modern music?
I don’t want to say and jinx anything, but obviously that would be sick! Even if everyone hates it, I still feel good about it!
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Catch Grimes at Simple Things Festival, Bristol On May 6th and Field Day, London on June 2nd.
Words: Hulio Bourgeois
Photos: Richmond Lam