It wasn’t so long ago that Claire Boucher — a.k.a. Grimes — released a miniscule run of 30 cassettes for her breezy electro-goth debut Geidi Primes. Just over a year ago, the Vancouver-born, but then Montreal-based artist played to a modest crowd at the Astoria with the help of local jack-of-most-trades, Cameron Reed.
“Cam set up my first show in Vancouver, which was really nice of him,” Boucher recalls of the de facto show promoter, who also crafts glitchy atmospherics under the banner Babe Rainbow. On the line from her parents’ place in town, Boucher reflects on how far she’s come. “I think it was last Christmas—sometime back in the day before I was a real musician, or something.”
Since then, the “realness” of Boucher’s career has undeniably rocketed skyward. For starters, she recently signed with the esteemed English imprint 4AD. Though she’ll stay on Montreal’s Arbutus Records within Canada, the international distribution deal places her in the past and present ranks of St. Vincent and the Cocteau Twins. Boucher’s also coming off a well-received tour with Lykke Li, and her upcoming record, Visions, is enjoying critical adoration from all corners of the indie music blogosphere. And with good reason. The album’s airtight production allows Boucher’s signature falsetto to soar over each curious arrangement of vintage hip-hop loops, dancing Casio synths, occasional Nintendo chimes, and ever-breathy harmonies. As her third solo release, Visions marks a graduation from bedroom composing into the world of avant-pop tastemaking. It’s realer than real, you might say.
Since her return to Lotusland in November, Grimes has immersed herself in the sushi and musical scenery she left behind in 2006. Reached a few days before playing a collaborative DJ set with Reed at the Waldorf, Boucher reflected on the hippy vibes, potential alien correspondence and chemically-induced all-nighters she’s experienced on the West Coast.
“We did a bunch of Dexedrine and drank a bunch of gin and made the sleaziest pop song of all time,” Boucher recalls of a very recent collaboration with Blood Diamonds’ Mike Tucker. The resulting track, “Phone Sex,” will be released later this year.
“It’s like a K-pop version of ‘We Found Love’ by Rihanna,” Grimes says, adding that the all-night creative burst escalated into absurdity pretty quickly: “It’s kinda psychedelic and has really weird lyrics that maybe imply an incestuous relationship, or something.”
It’s with this tongue-in-cheek deadpan that Boucher seems to chide all of her accomplishments and tastes. Whether we’re discussing a teenage obsession with Tool or her skyscraping vocal range, Boucher bookends her replies in self-deprecating humour.
“I think people think I’m much more serious than I am,” she muses. “Most of the music I’ve ever made, I’ve been so baked when I made it. Like, really stoned.”
Perhaps for similar self-preserving reasons, Boucher doesn’t get too personal in her song lyrics. While a spare few phrases can be deciphered, most Grimes songs are comprised of wordless flowing vocal hooks.
“I just don’t listen to lyrics much myself,” she explains.
Instead, Boucher finds herself emulating TLC and Mariah Carey-style R&B singing techniques (“Maybe that’s totally taboo or not cool, but the idea of combining R&B and goth is like everything I could ever want,” the vocalist gushes), but without the straightforward romantic plotlines. “I don’t want to evoke anything super specific,” she says. “If I’m writing about something sensitive to myself, I don’t want it to be cheesy, or something. I feel like being abstract is a little more tasteful and less embarrassing.”
Without earthly lyrics to pin down, Grimes tunes are repeatedly branded “ethereal” and “spacey”—the latter being a descriptor Boucher both enjoys and embraces. “I’m really into sci-fi; I’m really into space,” the musician exults. “I believe in aliens.”
One might even guess her otherworldly style of art-pop is an attempt to connect with other planets. “Circumambient” begins with spacey digital transmission, and album closer “know the way” offers another round of buoyant, celestial echoes.
“I would send this record to aliens,” she says. “But I don’t know if I was trying to speak to aliens on this record.”
Conversely, Boucher says Vancouver has also brought out her grounded, nature-loving side. “It’s a little weird but kind of refreshing,” she says of the familiar landscape. “I think I’ve become more of a hippy since I’ve returned. I’m appreciating nature I think for the first time.”
In her formative years, Boucher says she wasn’t too concerned with Vancouver’s natural assets. “I feel like I never looked at the mountains and felt like ‘those are really beautiful’ or anything. As a kid, I was just like ‘oh, I hate my parents’ or something.”
If you missed Grimes’ DJ set at the Waldorf in January, fret not. Before she embarks on a solid year of touring, Grimes will headline the Fortune Sound Club later this month. But when asked if the West Coast will be her creative destination once the promotion cycle for Visions winds down, Boucher was quick to suggest otherwise.
“I think I want to move to Berlin or Shanghai,” she says, describing the former as “the Montreal of Europe.” The German capital has swiftly become a mecca for creative Canadian ex-pats looking to escape the real estate market: “Super cheap equals a lot of art,” Boucher says, “because people can actually do shit and not work all the time.”
Though 2012 looks to be booked solid, it’s only a matter of time before we see Grimes’ next vision. Or something.
Grimes kicks off a world tour at Fortune Sound Club on February 18.