Grimes for The New York Times Style Magazine
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The Montreal-based singer/songwriter Grimes (nee Claire Boucher) broke through at SXSW with her ethereal mix of goth, pop and metal — “post-Internet” music, she once called it.
Last month, Grimes set off across the United States and Canada, playing shows with the bands Myths and Elite Gymnastics.
Asked & Answered
It’s hard to believe that the first time we saw the 24 year-old Canadian singer/songwriter Grimes (nee Claire Boucher) was at SXSW just earlier this year. Her music — a mash-up of pop, goth and metal set to the sound of drum machines and keyboards — has raged and spread like wildfire since then. Now in the middle of her second sold-out tour with the bands Myths and Elite Gymnastics, she’ll play four shows in New York City, starting on Oct. 25 at the Music Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Here, she talks to T about the Montreal music scene and her unconventional recording methods. (She laid down her fourth release, “Visions,” earlier this year.) “The further I am from what other people are thinking, the better my writing will be,” she says.
Q.How is the tour going? Are you guys a bit crazed?
A.Crazed might be an accurate description. But it’s been awesome so far. It’s the only tour I’ve been on where I’m not the only girl. It’s actually all girls except for Elite Gymnastics.
You guys are all friends from Canada, is that right?
I know Myths from Vancouver and I actually met Elite Gymnastics in the States, but he’s also, technically, from Vancouver. So that’s kind of a weird coincidence that every band on this tour is from Vancouver.
How are you coping with all this media attention? The magazine covers, the TV show gigs?
Sometimes it’s intense, obviously, but I make a living off the art that I make, which is the best thing I could possibly hope for in my life, so I feel good.
When you’re not touring and not recording, is it back to normal, everyday life?
The thing is, I really like working. If I sit around too much, I get really bad anxiety. So if I have any time off, I’ll be recording anyway.
I read that you live next door to your manager and other artists whom you collaborate with often. Is that true?
Yeah, that’s kind of how it works in Montreal. There’s this one block that’s quite cheap and everyone lives there. The apartment building I lived in is filled with people I know so it’s almost like a university dorm room. I don’t think I know anyone who has a steady job in Montreal. There used to be a lot of industry in Montreal and now there’s not, so it’s really easy to get huge, empty spaces where you can practice and make music or make art for very, very cheap.
I hear you take a very different approach to recording.
I just like to get obsessive about it. I need to be alone, and I tend to need to be in my own space. The last album was a little more extreme than I usually am.
You fast and you don’t talk to anyone and just pound it out, is that right? For how long?
I think it was around 14 days of that. It was really intense. I was insane by the end of it, but very productive.
Did you sleep at all?
Yeah, I slept. I kind of went into that with the idea that I would hopefully go insane a little bit. I wanted to go into some kind of sensory deprivation chamber — i.e. my room and just not see anyone or anything.
Is there a track that expresses the highest level of insanity?’
The moment of highest insanity would probably have been around the “Circumambient” period. I just played a loop of the chorus for, like, eight hours or something and paced and smoked. I just remember listening to that song for a really long period of time. I remember I kept going through this phase of hating myself and then of having these delusions of grandeur, back and forth, in this really weird way. It was kind of fun. I like being removed from other people, because the further I am from what other people are thinking, the better my writing will be. And then the videos are my equivalent of having a band, because it’s the only time that I am really creative in a social way — at least concerning Grimes stuff. It’s like the same thing when you’re playing live — you’re taking something that’s so incredibly personal and weird and removed and trying to put it into a very social, communal, vaguely celebratory place. The way in which my music is actually executed and the way in which it’s received is totally different from how it’s actually made.
How do you prepare for live shows?
It’s very important for me to stretch and sing so that I feel accustomed to singing by the time I’m on the stage. I recently quit drinking — I decided to never drink again and it’s been interesting performing sober because it’s a totally different experience. But I think a better one.
May I ask why you quit drinking?
I just felt unhealthy. And I need to not lose my voice. It’s not like a “sober” tour by any means. It’s like an “I’m pointedly not drinking alcohol” tour.
You were a ballerina for 11 years and then you got really into graphic design and then you went to school for electro-acoustics. I wonder how that turned into a music career?
All of my friends were musicians. When I started making music, I was one of the only people in the social group who wasn’t actively trying to be a musician. So, in many ways, even when I wasn’t a musician, I was still really, really obsessed with music. It seemed kind of inevitable that I would eventually start doing it. I just had some kind of mental blocks. Before I tried it, it seemed really hard and once I tried it I realized it wasn’t very hard.
You once described your sound as “post-Internet.” Can you expand on this?
Neurologically, until you’re about 12 or 13 years old, your brain is very plastic, which means that the neural pathways that you’re carving are kind of endless and you’re not really specializing in anything but you’re learning really fast. And then around the time you hit puberty, you begin to develop muscle memory in the pathways you’re using most frequently and really hone your skills. Historically people ride bikes and whatever — and those are skills you’ll have for the rest of your life. So what’s interesting about my generation and people younger than me, is that when I was 12 or 13, we just got Napster and we just got the Internet and the thing that I learned to do, or the sort of overwhelming craft in my life at the time besides ballet, was learning how to research really well. Especially in my relationship with music. It wasn’t like, “Oh I love punk music, I love country music.” It was very single oriented, it was very Napster oriented, where I wanted as much music as I could get. There was just so much stuff out there and it wasn’t about the process my parents had of going to the record store and falling in love with that record and becoming really well acquainted with that record. For me, it was more about constantly stimulating my brain with new stuff. I think that there is no way that that couldn’t influence the way you develop as a person, artistically. I mean it just physically would never have been possible for anyone really older than me to have that kind of experience and I think that one of the reasons music seems to be changing so drastically right now is that you have people coming of age who are the first generation of people that have this experience and we’re technically, biologically, different. From a neurological standpoint.
You’ve also become a darling of the fashion world. Did you catch any shows this spring 2013 season?
The only show I went to was Jeremy Scott, which was awesome because he was one of the first designers I was ever aware of, period. But my favorite designer right now is Iris van Herpen, who is a Dutch designer. She apprenticed with Alexander McQueen and everything is very architectural and beautiful and complex.There’s a really awesome documentary about her on YouTube, and she’s superbright and supersharp and superyoung and really talented.
What do you wear on stage?
I usually just wear T-shirts and jeans. I just can’t perform well unless I’m wearing jeans. That’s why I wore the kimono on “Fallon” because it’s the fanciest thing that’s still basically a bathrobe.
What’s your next stop on tour?
We’re going to Baltimore. It’s kind of like Montreal, at least from my experience with it. It’s very cheap so there’s lots of kind of cool stuff happening and a lot of people without jobs doing awesome stuff.