You can experience Grimes, but you don't experience Claire Boucher. The Canadian artist has built a musical persona for herself that excels in dreamy soundscapes and melodies impossible to get out of your head. But we’ve tried to understand Claire a little, and here you’ll find her thoughts. Yes, about the end of the world, too.
A few weeks ago I got a song stuck in my head. No, more than stuck. It was like someone lightly scored my skull and cut open a little window, then, gently but firmly, ran a small copper pipe through my brain tissue until it nestled deep in my cerebral cortex. Then they poured industrial strength glue down it. Then, and only then, they played the song, and as soon as it finished, they slammed my skull-door shut and quickly concreted it up.
I couldn't get it out of my head for days. Everywhere I went it I felt it pounding away, dancing provocatively behind my eyes. It got to the point that, if it hadn't been such a good song, it would've become very annoying.
It's still there now. I've just learned to cope with it, much like you would with a pacemaker or an eye-patch; except obviously it's much more enjoyable than having a dangerously irregular heart-beat.
The song is “Genesis” by Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, an impish electro-pop artist hailing from Montreal. You should put it on. Now. Go on. Give it a listen. Ha! Now you've got it cemented into your cranium, just like me. Seriously, it must be the catchiest thing since Íker Casillas, an irresistible slice of wistful, ethereal electro-pop. A bit like what La Roux would've sounded like if she'd decided to sound, you know, good. Or CocoRosie if they added a bit of bounce to their winsome weirdness.
It's cherry-picked from Grimes' third album “Visions,” the first to be released on the 4AD label. It's guaranteed to win her a whole host of new fans, and a number of them will be able to catch her in a few months, when she embarks on her first full-length European tour, culminating in a must-see slot at this year's San Miguel Primavera Sound festival.
She laid the groundwork recently on a brief promotional trip across the continent. We called her in London, which was suffering a sudden cold snap that had left locals, like myself, locked up in their bedrooms, desperately trying to wring as much warmth from their bedclothes as possible...
Hi, how are you doing?
I'm OK. I'm wrapped up in a duvet, shivering.
Yeah, me too actually!
So you've been in Europe the last few days, what have you been up to?
Some wandering around, a lot of dinners, a lot of interviews and stuff.
Have you been to Europe before?
Briefly. Very briefly. This'll be the longest time I've spent in Europe.
Where's been your favourite place so far?
I dunno, I haven't really seen London that much on this trip. I like London, I like Berlin. Amsterdam was really cool but I didn't really get to leave the hotel. But the hotel was pretty cool ( laughs).
Let's start off with a boring but important question: what musicians inspired you to first start making music?
First? I guess, maybe, Panda Bear and Animal Collective, stuff like that. Pretty different music from what I listen to now. At the time I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I see how Animal Collective does this, I'm going to try and do the same thing’. It's not necessarily a type of music, more the way which it's made, which made everything seem kind of possible. Or something. If that makes any sense.
Is there anyone who influences or inspires you at the moment?
I'm really getting into Nine Inch Nails right now. Again [laughs].
Are there any artists that you get sick of being compared to?
Definitely Kate Bush. I never listened to Kate Bush and I don't really like it. I just think it's laziness on the journalist's part, just like ‘Oh, they're both girls and they both sort of make pop music so we're gonna compare them’. Or Björk. I don't think I sound in any way like Björk. I also never really listened to her that much.
I guess it's easy when you've got a female singer with a high-pitched voice to use Björk and Kate Bush as reference points.
I'd say your singing style is quite different to both of theirs, though. In particular, it's often quite hard to decipher the lyrics. Is that intentional?
Oh yeah. They're definitely about ‘things’, but I don't really want anyone to actually hear them all that much. I sit and write them just for myself so I have something that the song is about and it means something to me, but I don't want it to be super-clear or anything.
Do you pay much attention to other people's lyrics?
Never. Maybe some rap or, like, Joanna Newsom or something, but in general it's the last thing that I think about.
What's been the lowest point of your career so far?
Eeeeeee.... Probably just whenever there's a really shitty show or a photo shoot where you have to do something that you really don't wanna do. Those are always the worst things. Other than that it doesn't really get that bad.
What sort of things have you been asked to do on photo shoots?
Just like, wear something really revealing and you're like ‘I really don't wanna wear this’ and everyone's like ‘you have to wear it’ and then you have to wear it. That sucks.
Moving away from the lowest points, what have been your favourite moments?
South by South-West last year was pretty crazy. Stuff on the Lykke Li tour was pretty crazy. Any show that's really triumphant is a pretty high point.
What's your set up when you play live?
It's just me usually. Occasionally I'll play with drummers. I feel that drums are really good because it's pretty easy for anyone to learn the drums pretty fast, and I can still play the show without a drummer. That's probably the kind of musician I play with the most, but usually it's just me and I use a bunch of loop pedals and samplers and stuff.
Do you feel comfortable bearing the focus of an audience's attention like that?
Um... no, but, you know, it works [laughs].
Did you find the transition difficult? How long after you started making music did you start playing gigs?
Probably about a year. Although the first year of my music-making, you know, I'd do it like a couple of times a month or something. It was a pretty hard transition— I'd say I'm only just getting used to it now.
Did you find your popularity grew quite quickly, or did it take a lot of hard work?
Well, both. It's definitely been, like, really fast for us, compared to how I started, but it's also been insanely difficult [laughs]. It's definitely kind of both. I was able to not work another job pretty early on in my music career, but I have to work pretty round-the-clock on Grimes. It's pretty much the only thing I do.
“Vowels = Space And Time”
Do you find the publicity side of things – interviews, photo shoots— to be a distraction?
It's definitely a distraction, but I see the benefits of it. It's like, I'll do this stuff now and it might be kind of hard, but it'll be much better in the long run. And if I do it now I won't have to do it later [laughs].
If your music hadn't taken off, what do you think you'd be doing right now?
Probably working in a lab or something.
In a lab?
Yeah. Trying to work on a master's degree or something.
What was your discipline?
I was really interested in neuroscience. Definitely, if I wasn't doing this I'd be pursuing that.
Is it something you could see yourself returning to in future?
Yes, definitely. When I'm in, like, my thirties, I'm definitely not going to be touring. I'll be trying to work on something academic.
Do you still keep up with developments in neuroscience?
[laughs] No, I don't have time, to be honest!
Your new album's slightly less diverse, slightly more focused, and slightly more serious than your previous albums. Did you have a specific vision in mind when you made it?
I think it's more that I made it all at once. Most of it was done in the same three-week period. Even songs that existed before, I mostly re-recorded them during that time. Everything was just super-condensed. I think the songs are more similar to each other because they were all produced at the same time.
You've recorded three albums in a relatively short period of time— does writing music come quite easy to you?
Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of, like, ‘oh this sucks, I hate myself’, but then you wake up in the morning and listen to it again and you're like “oh yeah, this is pretty good.” I wouldn't say it's easy, but it's definitely something I can do a lot of. It takes a lot out of me, but I can do a lot of it.
Do you tend to favour a certain mood when you record? I read that the first time you started making music you'd been taking speed all night, is that a method you still subscribe to?
Yeah. I mean on this album, for sure, I did that a fair bit. But, I mean, I don't need that to make music, it's just that I had a deadline so... I don't know. Mood-wise? I guess it's pretty diverse. It's sort of like sad dance music [laughs].
It seems there's a lot of melancholy electronic music about at the moment, do you feel you're tapping into that?
I don't think I could name any artists right now [laughs]. I don't know.
Planningtorock is what sprang to mind, I suppose, that sort of mournful, yet upbeat sound...
Yeah, well I do like her I guess. But I don't wanna, like, check the Internet or anything. I'm sort of away from that stuff at the moment.
Does that mean you're quite detached from current affairs generally or just music stuff?
I just don't have time to go on the Internet. People tell me stuff, so I know stuff, but I'm pretty busy [laughs].
Obviously the one thing you can't avoid at the moment is the current financial collapse across the globe...
Yeah, for sure.
Have you got a plan for if it all goes completely tits-up?
I don't know. When I used to live somewhere, I'd always keep a ton of beans and stuff. I'm a little stressed-out about the fact I'm just, like, out in the world with not a lot of stuff [laughs]. But, um, ideally I'd just try and get to Canada... although I dunno, I guess Canada would be invaded if there was a huge collapse, so it's hard to say.
You need a bunker I guess.
Yeah, I do kind of have a bunker; my grandparents live on the side of this mountain and they grow all their own food and stuff. But I think they would definitely just get invaded immediately. People would just come and take over their farm.
It'd be like (Cormac McCarthy's) “The Road”. Where do your politics lie generally?
I don't wanna say I'm super-liberal, but I think the world is completely fucked and I'm totally not OK with most of the stuff that's going on. I feel like our absolute number-one priority right now should be sustainability. Prioritising anything over the health of the planet just seems ridiculous, because we're all just gonna die of cancer. Everyone is dying of cancer right now because of the way we live. We should just stop oil production immediately. Like, fuck, I don't need to be touring, I don't need to be taking aeroplanes. I don't know, I think we need a Green dictatorship. A worldwide Green dictatorship.
Do you get guilty? Obviously you need to fly a lot if you're touring, does that affect you?
Not too much, because I feel like it's not making a big difference. A way bigger problem is just the mass amount of oranges that are getting flown into Canada every day, you know what I mean? One person taking an aeroplane: not the end of the world. Also, there's a pretty big difference between working – I feel like I'm doing a lot – versus just going around on vacations and stuff. Every aeroplane I take is pretty necessary. It's the kind of thing where you can feel guilty about it all you want, but it's not going to change anything, and if you don't do it it's also not going to change anything, except it makes your life shittier. So you might as well just do it. I carry around a fork and a knife, I don't like to use plastic forks and knives. I try to be conscious about that kind of thing, but there's a limit, you know? I know people who just don't do anything, have a shitty time and always feel bad because they're worried about that kind of stuff. I feel like you just have to pick and choose what your battles are.
Can you see yourself combining your political beliefs with your music at any point? Do you support the Occupy movement, for instance?
Um, I have a lot of issues with the Occupy movement. I think the idea in general is good, but there's just so much bullshit often involved. I still support it at the end of the day, but I would never have, like, a political song. I'll be vocal about my ideas, but I'm not gonna put it into my music.
Have you been to any of the Occupy sites?
Yeah. I dunno... it's just a lot of decisions end up being badly-made, so that it ends up being incredibly alienating and not that productive. I feel like they're just sort of alienating the people that they're trying to, in a sense, win over. I'm definitely like, “yeah, a lot of the things you're complaining about, I really feel,” and that's important to me, but then there's just no regulation of drug use and there are people doing stupid shit. At the end of the day, my parents are really opposed to it, and those are the kind of people they should really be trying to win over. Not that my parents are in the 1%, but, you know, my Mom has a law degree or whatever. They need those people on their side.
One last thing; where does the name Grimes come from?
Oh, I can't say.
You can't say?
No ( laughs).
Damn! How infuriating is that? I didn't even really want to know, but now I REALLY want to know. Perhaps that's how Grimes' appeal is set to spread – unlike most artists these days, who lay everything, figuratively and literally, bare, Grimes always keeps something to herself. The unintelligible lyrics, the battling against sleazy photo shoots, the name itself, everything's geared to leave a little mystery. You experience Grimes, but you don't experience Claire Boucher.
It's probably a wise move, and just having Grimes in our lives is enough anyway. You don't need to know her deepest thoughts or what she looks like in a g-string. But you may have to invest in a pick-axe and some gelignite to get her damn songs out of your head...