In the midst of her current US tour and the ever-growing media hype surrounding her, we managed to secure some cross-Atlantic talk-time with Canadian-born sci-pop siren Claire Boucher (24), otherwise known as Grimes. From her hotel room somewhere in Alabama, we talk about her latest record ‘Visions’, getting anointed by Pitchfork and being a girl in the music business.
You were born in Vancouver but lived in Montreal for the last five years – what’s the music scene like over there?
It’s very party-oriented and very open. A lot happens after midnight. Montreal’s musicians are the ones who have influenced me the most. My relation to live music is completely based on them. Noise/electro is quite a big thing there. Even though I would describe my own music as pop, it has to be seen considering this background.
How did you get into making music? Did you start at an early age?
I only started a few years ago, mainly because all my friends were doing it too. Music is a confidence thing. Anyone can do music.
Anyone? I think some of our readers might find that a bit hard to believe…
I really don’t think it’s that difficult. Most people are able to do creative stuff; many are just psychologically blocked. If you think you can’t do something, then you are probably not going to be able to do it. Music is something that’s really intrinsic in humans and most people understand it really well. Even without having any training.
But how did you start out? Bedroom- production style with a computer?
Pretty much. I didn’t play an instrument and didn’t have a music education. I only had this shitty keyboard that my parents bought me for Christmas when I was in 10th grade. I had never touched it. I just started recording stuff with this and my com- puter, all by myself in my bedroom, yes.
It’s a long way from playing around in your room at home to getting signed by a label. How did that happen?
It was all very informal. A friend of mine started a label, Arbutus Records, and told me I should do something. It was a safety thing, before doing the records I already knew I had a label, so I didn’t have to worry about anything. But actually I thought only the people in the Montreal scene would get to hear it and no one else, but I guess I was wrong!
So what happened?
All of a sudden there was this internet buzz, completely out of the blue. I had already forgotten about my album when this huge American blog wrote about my stuff. I started getting a lot of offers for shows and then it just all built up. Last March I quit my job to concentrate fully on the music.
What were you doing before?
I worked for a radio station. But not as a presenter, I have a horrible lisp, they would never let me say anything on air. I did fundraising for them. And at the same time I was studying.
How did you get in touch with 4AD, your current label?
When did you write the songs for ‘Visions’?
I think it’s the first record that I took seriously. Before I was just screwing around, but now my approach was different, with a real understanding behind it. I need to feel free, without any pressure. Usually I start with the percussions and then I add everything else. For this record I did everything in three weeks. I recorded everything in my room, I don’t like studios.
Three weeks? That’s a very short time.
Well, I didn’t really do anything else in those three weeks. And I had done a lot of thinking before, I knew what I wanted to do. I was touring a lot and in the car I would have a lot of time to think. There was a process before that led up to it and I was really ready for it. First I did everything completely alone. And then during the mastering process I had the chance to sit next to the guy and give my input. Tell him to turn the bass up a little and things like that. Not many artists get that opportunity.
‘Visions’ got a really good review on Pitchfork. How important is that to you?
It’s definitely important because they have a lot of power. I respect them a lot. But I don’t want to let that kind of thing affect me too much – they can destroy people just as quickly as they build them up. I don’t really read reviews, I prefer not to know, actually.
Your style has been labelled many things but you’ve described it as sci-fi pop…
Yeah I like science fiction. I really like Ghost in the Shell. The anime is cool, I don’t know.The classics and all,the posters…
What music do you listen to personally?
I’ve always liked R‘n’B, hip-hop, main- stream pop. Outkast is cool, especially ‘Stankonia’. I had a huge hip-hop phase but that’s kind of over now. I pretty much listen to everything, except for classic rock and country music. I’m a bit biased when it comes to female artists I guess, I just prefer the sound of the female voice. Now I’m on the road all the time, I listen to what my band listens to, lots of dif- ferent stuff, I don’t even know what it’s called.
You used to be completely alone on stage and now play with a band. What do you prefer?
Usually I play by myself, but on this tour I have a band. I’m not sure what I like best. It’s easier to travel when you play by yourself, and cheaper too. But it’s nice sometimes to have other people on stage. I think it doesn’t really matter. Maybe I sound better with a band, but on the other hand I think it’s really cool to play alone and show that I’m capable of doing eve- rything on my own. I don’t want to be depend- ent on a band.
Do you feel like it’s harder for a girl in the music business?
It depends. Of course the business is very male. But then being a pretty girl can also make things easier, the combination of girl and pop is easy to market. Sometimes it’s a bit annoy- ing how magazines want to spin your story, for example some presented me as some fashion person, which I am absolutely not. And when I play gigs it happens a lot that I get the ques- tion: ‘Is there a guy I can talk to?’ Especially the sound engineers don’t take girls seriously. They prefer to talk to my manager, just because he’s male. No offense, but he is not the one who has the knowledge to tell the sound guy what to do. But they just refuse to talk to me sometimes. Female sound engineers are the best, they have to be better than everyone else to be accepted.
So it’s really easier as a pretty girl? Some feminists might criticise that statement.
They can criticise that statement as long as they want, but it doesn’t change the fact. It’s totally stupid and of course I don’t see it as a good thing. But this is the way the world works. People are driven by hormones. I’m pretty sure that if you start making statistic research on this in the music business, you could prove it’s true. I don’t agree with how it works, but I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t there.
Your website describes you as a ‘cultural curator’…
I am good at music but I think I’m even better at knowing what is good at what time. For example my music would never have worked three years ago, when indie rock was everywhere. You have to learn to read culture.
This interview will appear in our orange edition – what’s orange music for you?
That’s difficult. Drum ‘n’ Bass is kind of orange for me. Not a lot of things are orange actually. Rather amber. The colour hasn’t crossed my path very much.
What are you going to do for the rest of the day?
I need to get some more sleep; I was up really late last night because I didn’t know there’d be an interview in the morning. And then we’ll drive to Atlanta where I’ll have my next gig.‘Visions’ was released on 4AD on 12th March