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Self-Liberating: an interview with Grimes part 2


Read part 1 of the Interview here.

You said you sometimes invent fake bands—with real members other than yourself?

Certainly. Just like I invite the dancers onstage, I sometimes invite musicians to perform with me live. But I always take care not to tell them what to do. I try to make sure that there is a basis for everyone involved so that a live show can be built on the concept of improvisation. I encourage them to contribute something unexpected. I want them to do whatever they want. That’s why I picked them. I want to see what happens, not know in advance.

In another interview you’ve mentioned Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier and Werner Herzog as influences. How does that fit into the equation?

Film is probably my favorite medium. If I had more time and money, I probably would work more with film because emotionally it’s so much more effective than music. In a good film music is just a part of the whole. Music is an aspect. I regard film as a total medium that incorporates all other art forms in essential ways. Tarkovsky is probably my favorite filmmaker, because sinister things in his movies are always so subtle. Take Solaris—or even better, Stalker. Stalker to me is just such a cool movie. It’s almost like a horror movie in the traditional sense because it’s so goddamn scary. It’s fascinating to see that Tarkovsky doesn’t need a mon- ster or a bloody zombie to create that atmosphere of horror. It’s a totally intellectual kind of horror, but it affects you emotionally. It’s extremely thought-out. But it’s also astoundingly simple.

What about Solaris?

It’s so scary how Kris Kelvin is confronted with his most traumatic memories at the space station. That’s true horror. I don’t see how it can be taken any further. I discovered Tarkovsky because I studied Russian in college and had this intense desire to watch Russian films. I like his total approach to film as art, especially when it comes to music.

And how does that relate to what you do?

When I compose I consciously try not to overly reference the pop world. You can evoke a spiritual level within your music when you allow yourself to be inspired by other things—Hildegard von Bingen for instance. All the layering of vocals in my music comes from the experience of listening to her liturgical songs. When I pile up twenty vocal layers it’s reminiscent, at least for me, of medieval or Renaissance chorales. I try to incorporate these elements into the concept of pop music to find some kind of new middle ground.

In terms of method it’s a kind of copy-and-paste, no?

I’m not sure I’d call it that. Listening to a choir or devotional music is extremely emotional for me, and I try to figure out why it touches me the way it does. If I can see a pattern in the music, I try to make it work for me too. But I want to get back to Tarkovsky briefly. I know lots of people my age who say that his films are too long, too slow and too intense. They don’t want to be lulled into his contemplative pace, and it’s hard to accept a movie that’s three- and-a-half hours long these days. But I can absolutely imagine taking abstract elements from Tarkovsky and implanting them into my music.

Nobody objects to the time commitment when it comes to The Lord of the Rings.

[laughing] That’s true. I actually watched all three parts again pretty recently.

On the big screen or your iPhone? Alec Empire recently told me how fascinating it’s been for him to watch the trilogy on the tiny iPhone screen with earplugs.

Actually, I don’t have an iPhone. My friend has a big TV. It’s a twelve-hour endeavor. But for me it’s not a contradiction to con- sume both high culture and Harry Potter or some Japanese mangas. Pop art still appeals to me the most. I guess it has to do with the way I grew up in the 2000s. I like to see a film like Kill Bill as much as I do like watching Solaris. Both experiences are potentially inspiring. Or take dancing: lots of people say that dancing is just a waste of time, but to me it marks a key difference between animals and human beings. It takes a high level of intelligence to interpret music, especially as something you can dance to. It’s spiritual. It’s liberating. If someone can make you dance to their music, it’s a pretty amazing skill. Same goes for all the pop art that touches you emotionally in a split second. I can’t see anything negative in that. I sometimes get the impression that people mistrust their feelings. I try not to do that, just like I try and trust simple ideas and things that are stripped down to the bare essentials. I think it’s a sign of having mastered something.

Are you referring to your own music?

Actually, I would say it’s true of the last Katy Perry record. There are so many people who call her songs easy and so cheap, but to use elements of pop that so many people have used before and still make such an amazing record—that’s awesome. I mean, her songwriting is really on parade, as is the production. A million people are trying to make pop songs all the time, and you’ll listen to all sorts of failed attempts on the radio every day. To succeed in a medium that everyone is working in is a huge achievement, if you ask me. It takes a lot of intelligence and talent for sure.

Did you always dance to your own music on stage?

That’s a damn good question. Let me think. I used to dance for another group when they were giving concerts, so dancing onstage was already natural for me when I started doing my own shit. But I think that for the first few gigs I had to focus so much more on my musical performance that I probably didn’t feel laid-back enough to do it. But this changed and nowadays it feels totally natural for me.

You studied ballet for a couple of years. Did that make a difference for you at all?

More off stage than anywhere else. I love to dance socially. A lot of my friends make dance music and whenever they play, I dance. Before I had my ear problem I spent a lot of time in studios where they were recording, I’d be dancing to the monitor sound from around the mixing desk. At the DIY venues and in Montreal in general we used to dance all the time. Dancing with friends should not be underestimated.

You’re staying in Vancouver at the moment, far away from Montreal and its big music scene. How has being away from that affected you?

I will be spending the afternoon looking for a house, a cabin in the woods to seclude myself from the civilized world for a little while. I’m going back to recording soon, so it’s time to get away from people again. As I said before, making music is a solitary act for me. Other people just become intruders. That’s why I’m looking for a really remote place to spend the winter. I am really looking forward to staying far away, deep in the woods, snowed in. The more time you spend away from people the less you hear them commenting. It’s as simple as that. When I’m alone I can refocus. I haven’t really been alone in the past year, and I’m just not made to work on new music after a show in my hotel room. I’m fully aware of the fact that you can go crazy when you’re all alone. I like to think of it as crazy in a good way, though. More manic, really.

Is it at all typically Canadian to need to escape to the woods?

Actually, most of my friends think that I’m crazy. My parents are pretty concerned, too. So, no, it’s not very typical I’d say. But it’s interesting here because Canada is just a big white wasteland in winter.

Dan Snaith said that Canada’s icy winters are inspiring.

My grandparents lived in the mountains of British Columbia. I spent a lot of my childhood there, but the last six years I lived in Montreal. Now, being back in Vancouver, I’ve only started to realize what I’ve been missing in Montreal. I totally forgot how big an emotional impact the woods must have made on me. Ancient forests were, like, my natural surroundings until I turned eighteen and left B.C. for the big city. Being back here, everything feels so calming. I’m much more relaxed these days.

The way you talk about the woods reminds me of Twin Peaks.

The northern landscape is just so big and violent. Of course, Twin Peaks took place just south of the border. B.C. is the perfect environment to shoot films like that or the Twilight series because it’s so scary here with the dark forests and thick fog and shadowy mountains . . . so sinister and beautiful at the same time. When you walk in the forest at night it’s an almost spiritual scariness. It feels haunted. I think the woods are haunted.


Yeah, and movies exploit that really well. Space too. It’s just like the tagline from Alien: “In space no one can hear you scream.” When I go to New York and end up in the Bronx at night, it can be scary too. But it’s different if you’re afraid of getting mugged or if you’re afraid of mass murderers. It’s Silence of the Lambs scary. A friend of mine lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, right on the Mexican border. That’s what you’d call a dangerous town because of all the random drug murders. But I find the psychological threat of Twin Peaks so much scarier than the real, physical one. It’s not a coincidence that Vancouver had a massive industrial Goth scene in the eighties—the most prominent band being Skinny Puppy. The intense, emotional music from B.C. derives from a very specific temperament. ~


A slightly edited version of this interview appears in the latest issue of Electronic Beats Magazine.

Photo: Luci Lux

Published January 04, 2013. Words by Max Dax.