One of the most interesting and innovative figures to come out of Canada in recent years, Clair Boucher AKA Grimes, set the blogosphere on fire with her 2012 album Visions. Its du jour mix of new wave, electronica and her signature vocal flexibility revealed a true post-internet multi-talent. Lachlan McPhee speaks to Grimes about the album, her visual art and the scene in her current home-base, Montreal.
You recently curated an exhibition of your visual works in New York and played at South By Southwest. Tell us about the curation process for the exhibition and what you thought of SXSW.
The curation process was pretty easy, because I’m not super-involved in the visual art world, and I don’t really know that many artists, but there are some people who are like the best. The people I chose, two of them were roommates and the first time I met them I was staying at their house; and I walked into their house, and it was just insane, it was this giant loft and there were just murals everywhere. It was probably the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen. So when it was time to choose artists it was like ‘well, these guys obviously’. But yeah, it was pretty good; I haven’t really done anything like that in the art world before, so it was new to me, but it was cool.
SXSW was kinda insane, I’d already done two festivals beforehand and I was already really sick by the time I got there. I didn’t sleep for almost nine days, so…
Did you meet the artists in Montreal?
Two of them are from Toronto, and one of them is from LA.
So you grew up in Vancouver and then moved to Montreal which is where you got involved in music and parties; what was the scene in Montreal like when you were coming up?
That was probably the peak of the Montreal scene, when I started making music; the first year of that. The police have cracked down a lot in the last year.
Right, because a lot of the scene was based around these underground parties in warehouses and people’s lofts and stuff, mostly DIY?
Yeah. That’s what’s great about Montreal, there were just no limits to the way that the parties could be. You could have a party that just went all night, you know, people could bring in their own alcohol, people could do whatever they wanted, and entry would never be more than $5. It was always just a huge free-for-all, and sometimes there’d be like eight bands playing.
There was just no limit, anyone who wanted to play could play. So it was just a super-exciting time, everyone was involved, everyone was going to shows all the time, everyone was enthusiastic about the scene. It was very supportive. At the beginning, I didn’t want to play shows, and I didn’t even want to make music but friends just pressured me into it, so it was more than being supportive, they were like ‘you have to make music!’. It’s really cool.
How much does the music pollinate your visual art and vice-versa?
I kinda see all the art I do in whatever medium as being all Grimes. I just want it all to be one thing, and it’s all related, because it’s all the same person. There’s no overriding artist statement or sentiment with what I do, because my inspirations are constantly changing. Everything can fall under the Grimes format. And I use a lot of my visual art as album covers, or promo material – well, not promo material because I hate the word ‘promo’. But the music goes along with all the other stuff.
Tell us a little bit about the EP that’s just come out, a collaboration project between yourself and a guy called Tim Lafontaine?
The project I do with him is just a live project, so the EP he’s putting out is his music using a bunch of vocal samples that I provided. It’s more just like he’s working with the stuff. I didn’t really do anything on that EP. We collaborate when we play live, but we’ve never really recorded anything together
You’ve talked before about being exposed to vast amounts of different music growing up, as a product of living in the internet age where anything you want is pretty easily accessible for cheap or free; and I think Visions manages to exhibit a whole bunch of different sounds, from classical to new wave to 90’s electronica and European pop, without sounding anchor-less or disjointed.
The way I digest and manifest my influences is really weird, like when I was making the album I just sort of made it, and then after the fact I was able to go back and pinpoint the way certain things came out in the music. At the time I was listening to a lot of Aphex Twin and stuff like that, but I wasn’t trying to make any particular sound. When I make music I don’t think about that, I just make whatever feels the best and whatever sounds the best. I can definitely see my influences in it after the fact but it’s never a conscious process in that way.
I think it ended up being really homogenous because I just did it in such a short time period. I was just like in a phase, and made it in about three weeks. It just seemed so cohesive at the time and I became so obsessed and involved with it during that time. I literally locked myself in a room and it came together perfectly. I made the intro and the outro first, and then I knew how I wanted the album to be straight away.
Having said that you pretty much locked yourself in a room to make the album, is writing something that you force yourself to do, or is it very much an urge that pops up which has to be satisfied?
It really has to be the right feeling. It can’t be too logical or conscious, I have to be in the right mood. In that regard, I think I avoid having anything too influenced by something or pushed in a certain direction, because it’s always going to go in whatever direction that feels good.
And the way you record avoids the pressure associated with renting studio time and telling yourself that you’re here paying for time, so you need to make music. You’ve got this unlimited time to play with sounds and ideas…
I think that’s kind of at the heart of it, like I would literally play with sounds for hours, just slowly tweak it. Not having to worry about other people hearing it until it’s completely done, and not worrying about time or money are really important to my process. I could never record an album in a studio. We’re already talking about the next album and everyone’s saying ‘you need to go to a studio!’, but with the amount of money I would need to spend to get the time that I need to make another album, I could just buy great gear and make an album in my room. I’d rather buy gear and do it myself.
You’ve got a fair whack of material under your belt, including three albums, an EP and remix work. How much of what you do is directly within a laptop and how much do you use analog gear?
I record everything through hardware; like every drum hit is me actually hitting a key on a keyboard with a drum preset, so it’s all analog at that stage, but I usually tweak it a lot. There’s no MIDI or anything, I don’t use anything like that within the computer, although I’d like to learn how to do that. I need to get Ableton. I’m using Logic right now and it’s much more of a recording program than Ableton.
So how much of the record is sample-based?
Except for the song Nightmusic, I didn’t use samples for this album. I usually make everything myself. I would use samples but I’m always scared someone will pick up on it and I’ll have to pay for it.
You could just do the Gold Panda thing and take micro-samples, and nobody will know where they came from?
Yeah, but if they did find out… I’d be worried that I’d use a sample and then the song would get really big and I’d have to give them like a million dollars
How much of your life does Grimes take up?
Um, I pretty much only do Grimes stuff, like when we finish this phone call I’m going to get right back to recording. I mean, all this stuff, the touring and everything is great; it’s my favourite thing to do, but when I’m not doing that, when I’ve got free time, I’m socialising, sleeping or working on music. I love doing this, but if I have free time I’m working on art. It doesn’t feel like work, I mean, there’s no distinction between Grimes and who I am, I just don’t want to use my name, because I think it sounds lame. I mean, Claire Boucher?
Are you coming out to Australia off the back of the album anytime soon?
We’re coming out in November or December, I think.
Clubs or festivals?
Mostly festivals but we might be doing some side-shows. It’s not really settled yet. There’s a few different ways that we could do it and we’re just trying to figure it out at the moment.
Thanks for chatting with us; we’ll see you later this year!
Cool, yeah! I’m definitely looking forward to it.
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