Grimes on not being a pop star and ignoring the press
Photo By John Londono
Claire Boucher is in every sense a product of buzz. Two years ago Grimes (Boucher's stage name), though already active and putting out material, didn't quite hold the same resonance that it does today. She signed to 4AD records and proliferated quickly through blog endorsements without all that much to back it up--virally manifesting into a dubious micro fame that demanded further investigation. But it was okay.
The release of Visions not only lived up to its hype, but also asserted the staying power of the endearingly awkward, synth-driven trip that is Grimes. Though even more intriguing than the music, is the candid, sci-fi loving thinker behind it all. Gimme Noise caught up with Grimes approaching her show at the Varsity Theater (with one-time Minneapolitan Elite Gymnastics) this Monday.
Note: Due to hearing loss and tinnitus Grimes canceled weekend tour dates in Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. As of now the Minneapolis show is still on.
Gimme Noise: The past year has been huge for you in the realm of your career. How has undergoing such monumental change affected your personal outlook on music?
Claire Boucher: I have a much better understanding of the industry that I really had no understanding of before doing this so, uh, that's been the biggest difference in how I perceive music in general. Overall I haven't really changed anything. I really go out of my way to avoid changing too much with media about me or shit like that. I don't wanna change my outlook on things too much. I don't wanna get cynical.
GN: Inevitably, though, you've had to leave a lot behind (e.g. family, friends, home). Does this ever take a toll?
CB: Um it would for a while but then I kinda started to... I don't know, like, it's really hard for me to not be happy about this. Regardless of the things that may be negative about it it's something that most people don't get to do and it's pretty awesome. Now I'm actually at the luxury of bringing people on tour who I like. So it's not that lonely or weird. I can still be around my best friends.
GN: Your album Visions is one born out of considerable torment and personal struggle. Has there been catharsis through its success or even just its completion? I'd like to hear your thoughts on that experience.
CB: Just it's completion, really. Everything that I do artistically, anything that has to do with like promo or touring or that kind of thing... its very unrelated for me with the personal side. I don't know. I just don't associate actually working on stuff with anything that happens after the fact. That's the kind of thing that can make it worse or pollute it or make it weird.
GN: Have you adopted this mindset from the beginning?
CB: Yeah. Separating them is pretty easy.
GN: How singular do you think that pain or struggle from that relationship was to the musical product you produced on Visions?
CB: I mean it totally depends. This album was very helpful but I don't think that art necessarily needs to be motivated by things that are depressing or painful.
GN: You recently tweeted that you find it insulting that so many people ask to produce your music. What is it that frustrates you so much? Do you feel like you aren't taken seriously as a producer?
CB: I think I'm taken seriously when people realize that I produce my own music. But I feel like people assume often that I don't. That's something that's really annoying to me because I constantly have to deal with people who want to produce for me or direct my videos or stuff like that. I don't know, it just couldn't be. My projects couldn't be my projects if I didn't actually do them. That's just my thing, I guess. It can be really annoying sometimes. But, again, I also expect people to do that.
GN: Frustrations aside, will you collaborate in the future? Any names topping that list?
CB: Collaborating is something that I'm interested in its just like: there's something specifically insulting about someone offering to produce your music as if you're incapable of doing so yourself. But it's something that could be neat. I also don't want to get pinned as a just a singer. I think a lot of times collaboration suggestions, it's always just someone who wants me to sing on their track or whatever. But I'd love to produce for other people. I'd like to produce for rap music because it's not necessarily vocally melodic so it can go in a lot of different directions. You can take vocal aspects from rap music and pretty much do anything with it and that's awesome. Mykki Blanco would be awesome.
GN: That's a route that's inherently different than what we know of Grimes. Are you striving to test your comfort zone?
CB: Maybe. I mean, I don't really have a comfort zone. Maybe I do but I'm definitely not uncomfortable with the thought of doing other things.
GN: So, your line of "Pussy Rings" (Pretty literal--Google it if you must) garnered a lot of attention, much of it pretty irreverent. Where do you think everyone missed the mark?
CB: I think that stuff just went wrong in a lot of ways. I mean there was no press release or anything. I think that people thought that I designed everything and I didn't. My friend Morgan Black did so that was kind of shitty because he did a lot of work and I don't want to be necessarily seen for that. I wasn't trying to make a scene or be or sensationalist. I'm actually shocked that it was a scene at all because I didn't think it would be a big deal. I never really read much of the stuff so I don't know exactly what people got wrong. Everything I did see was very childish and sensationalist. I was trying to support local artists and make something that was not typical.
GN: You claim that you don't read anything written about you. Is that honestly true?
CB: I really don't, not really. I mean, once in awhile someone will send me something and, you know, I'll read it. I'll read my Pitchfork review.
GN: Nothing else? You won't read this interview? You're telling me that the impudence (regarding Grimes) of outlets like Hipster Runoff is totally beyond your radar?
CB: Actually, I stopped reading stuff about me when he started writing about me. When it happened I was like "ahhhh" and it was so emotionally disturbing to me but then I just realized that this shit's gonna happen whether I like it or not. I don't take it to heart when I can just ignore it.
GN: It's not like anyone really takes him seriously anyway.
CB: Yeah, totally. You can control your image up to a point. You can make your art or whatever and you can write your press release and you can put it out. But that's all you can do; the way that it gets interpreted after that is just unchangeable. There's no point in stressing over it I don't think.
GN: You have a kind of complicated relationship with your current place. Do you want to be a pop star or not?
CB: I mean, I DON'T want to be a pop star. My relationship to pop music is very adversary to pop music or pop stars. But I feel that what I find interesting artistically--as like an art project--is something that encompasses an entire career. Beyonce is interesting because her entire career and the way that her personality is and, like, every aspect of what she does, feeds into the art project that is Beyonce. I think that's a really interesting thing to do. That's what I've been trying to do with Grimes, just control every aspect of it. It's not that I'm uncomfortable in the public eye. I'm just not the kind of person who would go put on a crazy show naturally. I'm a person who would write songs or whatever. But, it's cool that that stuff is happening because it's pushed me out of my comfort zone in that regard. It's good to do things like that.
GN: Along the line of encompassing a career, I'm interested in your remarks regarding the visual aesthetic of the "art project" that is Grimes. Talk to me about your mental/career relationship with editorial fashion.
CB: I don't really control my press. I just do what I'm told to do (laughs). I love doing photo shoots and all but I don't know why Grimes ended up being so fashion oriented; it's just this weird, spooky thing that happened. Though, since it's happened I've kind of embraced it. I think being able to be accepted in a world like the fashion industry, yet not comply by its rules is a pretty interesting thing. It's a lot easier to crash the party once you've been invited to the party. If I have a voice to speak through these outlets and change the way things are traditionally done within these realms that are actually pretty influential, well, it's pretty awesome in my mind. I can hate on the fashion industry, or rather, aspects of the fashion industry that I don't like and just not have anything to do with it. Or I can work within it and not prescribe to it. I've never even considered watching my weight. I think that being vocal about that kind of stuff and still be accepted is a lot more symbolic than not engaging with it at all.
GN: You've got a pedestal of sorts. You can communicate something different.
CB: Yeah, and there are things in the industry that are really cool. Clothes are very practical and fashion is seen as something that is sort of a daily thing. I think the idea of utilizing a human body as canvas is actually awesome. I don't think that's necessarily or inherently a shallow thing at all.
CB: I mean often times it is. I definitely recognize that but I also think, often, that fashion culture can be misrepresented. There are lots of people doing interesting things within it.
GN: Now, being from Minneapolis, my interview prep led me to a local article about your failed houseboat endeavor down the Mississipi.
CB: Yeah everything in that article is completely wrong. They only interviewed the police.
GN: Nobody contacted you?
CB: Well, I mean, sort of. The cop they interviewed fucking arrested me, took my passport and like smashed glass all over. It was nothing like how that story was told. I also didn't have a copy of Huck Finn or a typewriter or a sewing machine on the boat. That whole thing is just total bullshit. It's just not how the article makes it out to be.
GN: That must have been frustrating.
CB: Sorry, I don't mean to be aggressive about it. I just get asked about that at least once a day and it just totally sucks
GN: I don't think it's aggressive if you feel misrepresented.
CB: Yeah, definitely.
GN: On a lighter note, what do you most hope to accomplish in the next year, touring aside?
CB: I just want to make a good record, a record that's even better than Visions. I want to get back to work as soon as possible. That's my favorite thing about this whole damn thing.
Grimes plays the Varsity Theater on Monday, October 22 with Elite Gymnastics and Myths. Doors are at 7 p.m., and showtime is at 8. Tickets can be purchased here. Stay tuned to Gimme Noise for any news of a cancellation.
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