Telekom Electronic Beats

The Visions & The Voice: an interview with Grimes


It’s rare that I get a chance to interview artists that I truly love. Not just bands who’ve put out a popular track, or someone famous, but people who create sounds that move me, that become part of my internal discography. Claire Boucher, the 23 year-old Montréalité who has been producing music as Grimes, has created one of the best pop records I’ve ever heard. That’s a pretty strong statement, but Visions is an album that can back it up. Equal parts moody introspection and danceability, it straddles the perfect line between legitimate oddness and aural appeal; in short, it’s a pure pleasure to listen to, over and over again. I sat down with the charming, wonderfully unpretentious Claire a couple weeks ago.

First of all, are you actually playing here in Berlin? Because I haven’t heard a thing.
I’m playing here in May. I’m on a promo trip right now. It’s a little weird to do an interview tour. I have a British label and I don’t live in Europe, so they had to bring me here and make me do everything all in one week.

Sounds really hectic.
No, it’s fine, it’s not bad. It’s like, I say a lot of stupid things so I feel like I’m giving a bad impression of myself.

No, I think straight-forwardness is a way more interesting than rehearsed answers. I’ve done so many interviews where it just feels like “Our manager told us to say this.” So you’re not playing shows during this tour?
I’m playing in London and in Paris, which is cool because I’ve never been in Paris before. I was supposed to play Berlin, but I’ve been kind of having a nervous breakdown about all the work, so we canceled that one. So I’m just talking about the album while I’m here.

The album was so different than what I excepted first of all. What was inspiring you while you created it?
That’s a pretty loaded question. *laughs*

I suppose it is; let’s break it down a bit. What were you dreaming about while you were making the album?
I wasn’t sleeping very much. The whole album is like…an amphetamine drug binge in the dark.

It felt calmer than that.
I was crying the entire time. But I like that, I feel like the more depressed I am, the better the music that I’ll make.

So chaos and depression fuel you.
Yeah, and it’s funny because to me it’s a really depressing album but I think it comes off as really happy.

I don’t think it was happy at all.

The lyrics and the overall tone of it was very…I don’t want to say dark because I’m sick of that word. It was bleak, off-kilter somehow.
I like that, I like that you think it’s bleak because it’s very bleak to me.

Something in the vibe of each song connected to form this blanket of heaviness, masquerading as pop songs.
Well, I like really depressing dance music. There’s something about the revelry of dance. At the end of the day going out and doing drugs, going to parties…there’s this weird emptiness to it.

Clubbing is such a depressing thing when you really think about it.
I feel like so much of what people reach for are things that can happen in that context. I go out to parties, to raves and clubs. That’s my recreational thing, but at the same time I find that to be a really sort of terrible experience a lot of time.

It seems like a death in a way.
It’s weird because I fucking love dancing and I love making people dance. I love playing parties. That’s probably the best thing. There’s something that feels really good about being able connect with an audience. I feel this album was really informed by just playing so many party-like environments. I had to really change the way my music sounded to make it fit into that context a lot more, which I think is one of the reasons why it has such a dance vibe. But I didn’t do that because I wanted to appease people. But the first time people danced on my show it was really rewarding. I think I was kind of seeking that feeling, that dream again.

What have you been dreaming about lately?
I dunno. I mostly just have nightmares.

About what?
Usually about the holocaust. I have a lot of pregnancy dreams. That would be the worst, being pregnant. You know dreams where the situation is really getting outta control and you realize you can’t control the situation anymore – I just have that, all the time. School shootings, but in fantastical water parks.

Maybe you should smoke more weed before you go to sleep. Though it sounds like you’re more productive when you’re ‘up’…
No, I’m quitting weed. It doesn’t make me sleep, it makes me really crazy. When I smoke it I get really hyper and weird. I become so introspective that when I think about what I do for a living I’ll totally have a panic attack. I’m like “Oh my god, I sing songs…. What the fuck am I doing?” It’s crazy!

It sort of feels like you’ve take advantage of life in a certain way, like you’re fucking the natural order. I think you would feel like “Yeahhhh, fuck you, world!”
Well, I do feel like that, kind of. I would rather fucking die than have a normal job again. Especially now that I haven’t had to work for a year, the thought of going back to a regular life…even though what I’m doing now is obviously really difficult and lonely and weird, I just don’t want to end up like my parents. Why would you work at a job that sucks, to pay rent, just to have a place to live so you can work a job? That thought horrifies me so much. I think you shouldn’t have to work. Everyone spends eight hours a day with something they don’t wanna do, thats terrible. That’s like a nightmare. I’ve done a few things that I didn’t necessarily wanna do but I needed the money, but at the end of the day who cares? It doesn’t matter that much.

Definitely there should be a change in the structure of the world, and I really feel like it’s sort of leading up to that. Both in the economy and…
The music industry?

That, and…it just feels like there’s a shift in the way that the world is working lately.
I feel like our generation is trying to figure out where it stands. I think a lot of shit is probably gonna change in the next ten years pretty drastically. It’s hard to fight against the baby boomers, though. There’s a lot of them.

I guess moving to Berlin was another form of escapism as well for me.
Berlin is like, I dunno….I like it here.

It’s amazing, its so much easier here than in New York, and that in itself is a trap because you get here and everything is just so lined up for you. And it makes you a bit complacent.
Well maybe, I guess it depends. When shit is too easy, that can be a problem.
Most of the best things in life suck a lot. The things I look back on with the fondest memories, I also have this sort of knowledge in the back of my head saying “you were having a terrible time while that was actually happening”. If you don’t suffer then you’re not getting anything.

So did you suffer for this album?
Yeah, but it was good suffering. The album is like a representation of everything shitty that ever happened to me. I feel like this last year was just me being “okay, everything you’ve been traumatized by you’re gonna get the fuck over, and you’re not gonna fucking cry about this bullshit anymore and it’s gonna go away.” New life, blank slate.

What particular trauma was ‘Be A Body’ about?
That’s one of the only happy songs on the album. It’s about physical existence, and sex, and being alive. I’m really opposed to phones, I’m opposed to checking my email. I just think it’s really unflattering that everyone’s always on their computer. ‘Be A Body’ is about physical, sensual existence and about having physical pain and pleasure. It’s about existence. As pretentious as it is, it’s based on a Thomas Aquinas quote where he was trying to talk about how in Medieval Christian thought everyone was super into ‘fuck my life, my physical body is a horrible thing and a representation of sin’, and there’s a passage where Aquinas said “Be a body” and i just thought it was so sick, so bad-ass that he would just say that, just give that straight-up imperative. He was a hip guy.

So it’s a celebratory song.
Yes, but it’s also an assault. It’s me being aggressive.

Do you think that’s going to be more of a fixture in your music from here on?
I think my music is becoming a lot more aggressive. I’m going more in that direction. This was the second-to-last song I wrote on the album, and it also was one of the only songs on the album that I didn’t write in a single day. I think that’s a good thing, to not just make something and let it go.

Visions is out February 21st on 4AD. You can stream the full album via NPR here.

Published February 13, 2012. Words by Daniel Jones.