Claire Boucher, aka Grimes is something of a mysterious figure in music. Her elf-like appearance and back story that often verges on the ridiculous (she once built a boat to sail down the Mississippi river only to have it, and her pet chickens, impounded by the Minnesota police) make for a persona that could easily provide a barrier for any potential listeners. Luckily her music is currently at its most accessible point, and any doubts about her sanity are laid to rest after a brief chat.
It’s been only two years since Boucher made her debut as Grimes, with her album Geidi Primes, but in that short time she has undergone a transformation that leaves her almost unrecognisable from her early self. “The first Grimes show was just this total noise, psychedelic, vocal jam. It was not in anyway anything like what I’m doing now.”
What she’s doing now is releasing her third album Visions, which to this point has garnered almost universal critical acclaim, including a tag of Best New Music on Pitchfork. It’s also seen her sign to a prestigious indie label in 4AD, a change that has forced Boucher to take a much more business-like approach to her career. “The music industry is more like elementary school than anything I’ve ever had to do. You get these report cards that are your reviews and record sales, and you get all this homework, like interviews, and assignments like choose 5 songs for Youtube or whatever.” “I realized it’s just a big game and you just have to play the game. People like Prince or Madonna have been playing the game really really hard.” She’s not letting all the hard work get her down though, even when she has to spend her time doing interviews with journos from an endless stream of music websites. “It’s definitely very exciting. I think I’m learning a lot about the record industry and just the way shit works. It’s nice to hang out with people who are cool and know about music.”
Grimes’ early albums were preceded by press releases that warned that Boucher had no musical training, not that it ever stopped anyone becoming a successful musician. Her first, mostly improvised performances provided a steep learning curve, not just about music but about performance. Boucher herself admits to not being a natural performer, and finding the early gigs, trying to win over new audiences, particularly stressful. “Most of the shows I played at that time were to twenty people or something, and they would all be like ‘what the hell is this?’ I’m glad that I did it, but I’m pretty glad I don’t have to do it anymore. You drive like 11 hours and play a show for like 8 people who are just there because they’re already there.”
Since then her live performances have improved exponentially, whilst retaining a sense of looseness that can often elude artists performing electronic music. “We spend a lot of time rehearsing, working out how to play songs live is fun, but definitely stressful and time consuming. The live show has changed a fair bit, it’s definitely a lot more technical than it used to be. I’m just trying to get better at singing and stuff like that.” Despite her continuing improvements in the live department, Boucher, currently 24, doesn’t intend on performing live forever. “By the time I’m like 28 or 30 I want to be stepping out of performance I think. It’s just incredibly nerve wracking. It’s really fun for that reason, but it’s also really emotionally difficult. I’d really like to just be more involved in the background.”
‘In the background’ could involve producing music videos, something that she has done with her singles ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Genesis’, and clearly enjoys. “Making the videos is the best part. The process of making them is just so fun because it’s like making reality TV or something. There’s something really magical about being with a bunch of people, going into environments and trying to make shit happen.”
Music-wise, Boucher sees herself reinventing her sound with every release, having already evolved from the sample-psych of her debut to the glossy electro-pop of Visions. “I really like the album as a format because you can release an album and it can be just one style, and then you can release another album and it can be another style.” But what style does Boucher envisage for her future releases, and how far does she feel she can stray from her established sound? “There definitely is a degree to which you have to maintain the core of an artist, or you risk alienating your audience. I couldn’t make, well I could, but it would be really bad of me to make a really harsh noise album.” Unfortunately, if you think that would sound as amazing as I think it would, my persistence didn’t pay off, “I would make a drone album or something but no one would want to listen to it.”
Predictably, Boucher’s plans for Grimes remain extremely uncertain, with her talking about working on other projects that aren’t ‘pop music’, using a different moniker. “Now is one of the most exciting times for musicians because all the rules have just been broken and they haven’t really been built up all that much. There’s not that much established stuff, there’s a lot of people trying a lot of different things.” “I’m so desperate to record right now but I have to finish touring first. There’s lots of music in my mind. I want to write a lot of different types of music, I want to see where it could go. I try to write music that can be used in a lot of different contexts.” Whatever she decides to do next, we as listeners can only brace ourselves for something completely unexpected... “I try to be as adventurous as I can with my song writing, I get bored really easily.”
Interview by Mike Harounoff, write up by Stan Morgan.