One might reasonably hesitate when asked to name the perfect song-- it’s a fairly imposing question with no definitive answer. But Claire Boucher--otherwise known in the indie scene as Montreal singer/songwriter/producer Grimes--is quick to name her unabashed favorite as Prince’s 1984 magnum opus, “When Doves Cry.”
A fitting choice for the 24-year-old artist, as her description of the R&B icon’s musicality coincidentally describes her own: Just as Prince relied on equal parts innovation and melody before her, Boucher follows suit with her dreamy, falsetto-laden synthpop-- a breathtakingly unique sound in the vast sea of electronic music today. This affirmation comes fairly recently, though, as the first two Grimes LP’s, 2010′s Halfaxa and Geidi Primes, felt more like casual experiments than proper albums. Her latest, the 4AD/Arbitus-released Visions, seeks to build upon her past releases with steadfast, accessible synth-pop.
Since the beginning, developing concise ideas about her music and art has been a necessity to Boucher, as she’s determined to maintain total control over her Grimes project; ranging from her own album artwork, to every one of her music videos. Slowly but surely, she has been settling for an arduous, but rewarding, process. And while 2012 is looking to be a breakout year — garnering critical acclaim for Visions, as well as coming off of a string of opening gigs for Lykki Li and Washed Out — fame is hardly Boucher’s central pursuit.
We recently sat down with Grimes, en route on her first headlining tour, to get inside the mind of this promising, eccentric musician.
Do you prefer Claire or Grimes?
CB: Claire is probably better. [laughs]
So you’ve just started your first headlining tour; how’s it been so far?
CB: It’s been becoming increasingly better. We’re just figuring out just how to get our shit together, basically. Seattle was really good, but someone stole my shoes. Now I have to wear my winter boots in California.
“I quit my job, I’m a professional musician, I’m going to write a record and a lot of people are going to hear it…”
What has the transition been, if any, from your earlier work to Visions?
CB: The new record was me actually understanding what it means to be a producer, and to know what’s up. Halfaxa and Geidi Primes were like--I don’t denounce them, but they were kind of accidental; I’d be like, “I wonder what this does,” and press a button. And there weren’t any lyrics or anything like that, and (Visions) was more like, “I quit my job, I’m a professional musician, I’m going to write a record and a lot of people are going to hear it,” and I wanted it to be really good and cohesive. And before I did it, I had a really clear idea on how I wanted it to be and how I was going to execute that, so it just seemed much more to me like a record than a random collection of songs. With Geidi Primes, I made some songs and at one point I was just like, “I think I have enough songs, so it’s probably a record now,” so it was a very different process. [laughs]
You’ve listed some of your influences as Aphex Twin, Mariah Carey, Outkast; what elements from those artists do you look to incorporate into your music?
CB: When I listen to music, I listen to the things I can learn from. With Outkast and Aphex Twin for instance, I’m very interested in the instrumentation, the production style. And Aphex Twin is sort of like a classic of mine. Outkast would be like incorporating Aphex Twin into hip-hop production, or like IDM style into hip-hop production. And I think that’s really cool and something I’ve always been interested in, and sort of taking that idea and expanding on it. And as a vocalist, I’ve always loved Mariah Carey, and also Enya. And with those artists, I see a lot of things that suck about them, but Enya I really took the production technique of tons and tons of super-tight vocal takes and vocal layers just to create that thickness. And I’d definitely say there’s a lot of R&B edge to a lot of the vocal styles on (Visions), and if you asked me to cite where everything’s from, that’s more of a Mariah thing, with all these sort of elements from different sources. That’s not how I think about it when I’m making it, but in retrospect, when I’m looking at what I’ve done, just sort of basing my influences on music I listen to a lot.
I was excited to see Aphex Twin amongst those.
CB: Oh yeah, Aphex Twin was some of the first alternative music I ever listened to, definitely very informative.
Do you have an influence, musical or otherwise, that got you performing?
CB: I really started making music because 85-90% of my friends were just musicians. And all I really did socially was go to shows, hang out with people who were producing stuff, or hang out with people who were constantly talking about music. And I’ve always been really into new music, but when I moved to Montreal, it was like the only thing that anyone did. And my best friends ran this club and I would do the door, and I would help out and stuff, and eventually I just started to try and make music because I wanted to try it, and it was a good environment to try it in because I had a bunch of people that I could ask how to do stuff.
“I consider myself a visual artist, and I have an idea in my head on how everything should be. Like, I don’t see it stopping at mp3.”
What advantages, or disadvantages, do you have being a musician who’s also a total artist?
CB: The only real disadvantages are…sometimes I suffer from exhaustion. [laughs] For me, I really just need to totally control everything, approve everything, and I’m the only person so I have to do all the interviews and blah blah blah. So pretty much the only thing I really do is that stuff, but the advantages are that I have total control over everything that I’m doing, and I wouldn’t be able to consider it Grimes if I wasn’t doing it. So if someone made me a music video, it wouldn’t be Grimes, y’know? And I consider myself a visual artist, and I have an idea in my head on how everything should be. Like, I don’t see it stopping at mp3. Anything released as Grimes is coming from me, and I will work with people for sure, especially with DOP’s because I don’t have a camera, but I just want to be the person who totally dictates everything, so it’s like a brand. And I wouldn’t want something else that was not cohesive with the whole project.
How do you feel about mainstream stardom? Is it something you’re looking to embrace, reject?
CB: I mean, at the end of the day, the most important thing to me is not so much exposure as it is respect and being considered important, or interesting, rather than just being super popular or something. I don’t have a problem with mainstream music or if there was any possibility of mainstream popularity. I’d think that’d be really cool assuming that I can retain complete, creative control, which isn’t always the case. I feel like once you get super big like that, there’d be a lot of issues. I think it’s good to make a mark on culture; that’s what I want to do, that’s what I’m trying to do, so I’m ok with people paying attention to the project. That being said, I would never change the project, and y’know, there are some downsides, like if I say something stupid and there’s some sort of backlash or whatever. [laughs]. Yeah, it’s like, I stopped reading the internet, so if people hate me, I just don’t know about it. [laughs]
“The most important thing to me is not so much exposure as it is respect and being considered important, or interesting…”
What’s your idea of a perfect song, electronic or otherwise?
CB: Should I say a song that exists that I think is the perfect song?
Sure, if you have one!
CB: Probably my favorite song in the whole world is “When Doves Cry” by Prince. It’s like really experimental and weird and emotional and really beautiful, but also really…groovy, it has this amazing groove. But it’s also really slow, and you can dance to it, or like cry through it, and it just hits every facet of human emotion. And it’s also just fucking sick, it’s just a sick song. It’s just the best song I can think of.
If there was a right answer to that question, that’d probably be it.
CB: [laughs] Cool.
WITH BORN GOLD, BIRTHDAYS