Enya Meets Kraftwerk in Outer Space

Text by J. Poet
Photography by Aaron Sterns

Grimes is the queen of the mash-up, an artist with an omnivorous musical appetite and an ability to make coherent, futuristic pop out of the most unlikely elements. On Visions, her latest album, she blends a kitchen sink of musical styles, everything from Korean pop to old fashioned R&B, dub step to punk. The mix is dense and otherworldly, with an idiosyncratic sonic texture, often supplied by multi-layered vocals that produce a dizzying, psychedelic effect.

Claire Boucher, the 23-year-old woman behind Grimes, has been quoted as describing herself as a post-Internet musician, although she disputes the use of both terms.
“I’m not really a musician,” she says from her home in Montreal. “I’m mostly a producer/songwriter. As far as my music being post-Internet, I don’t call it that. It’s something I may have mentioned in passing that got blown out of proportion. I think all music now falls into that category. It refers to how people today are consuming music in a new way.”
Boucher was born in Vancouver and moved to Montreal in 2006. She fell in with a group of artists and musicians and started making music in her bedroom using a laptop computer and Apple’s GarageBand.

“I’d never liked any music before a friend made me a tape with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ song ‘Black Tongue’ on it. That song changed my life. As silly as it sounds, it was the first time I had encountered any alternative music that I thought was cool and was being made by a girl. I just remember my brain completely opening up.”
About two years ago, Boucher locked herself in her apartment and started composing. Since 2010, she’s released four albums. Geidi Primes (2010), her debut as Grimes, was a limited cassette—only 30 copies were made—and a free download. Halfaxa (2010) was given away free on the website of Arbutus Records, a collective Boucher is a member of, and Darkbloom (2012) was a split EP with house producer d’Eon. The video she created and produced for Darkbloom’s “Vanessa” went viral in Canada and led to Visions, which she put together by retreating into her apartment and working feverishly until she was satisfied with the result. “I’m completely content making art in a vacuum and making things I feel good about,” she says of the self-imposed exile that produced Visions. “I don’t really play keyboards, my voice is my main instrument.”

Boucher discovered the unique qualities of her singing voice in high school. She was good at mimicking the sound of pop singers and celebrities and eventually developed the freeform style that’s the defining characteristic of her albums. Her voice, when you can hear it clearly, is perfectly suited for pop music. She has a smooth, bell-like tone that’s both girlish and womanly — an understated presence that instantly pulls you into her sonic universe. The lyrics, however, are mostly indecipherable. Her multi-tracked harmonies are remarkable, but processed to sound like another instrumental voice in the mix, adding to the overall ambiance of the tracks. “Except for my voice, I would say the computer is probably what I use the most,” she says.

While Visions shows a quantum leap in Boucher’s songwriting and production skills, she says she has no specific goals for her music or career. “There is no ultimate direction for me,” she remarks. “I just want to keep getting better and keep bringing more into every record. The hardest thing I have to face is dealing with reactions from other people. Almost anything you say can get misinterpreted.”