Progress Report: Claire Boucher — aka Grimes –talks about the magic and madness behind her forthcoming new album, Visions.
The term “otherworldly” gets tossed around an awful lot these days, but there really are few other words to aptly describe Claire Boucher and her work. Releasing music under the moniker of Grimes for the past two years, Boucher has developed her own distinct musical language — a mostly electronic vocabulary built around Boucher’s whimsical falsetto and propensity for kooky turns of phrase and live shows that incorporate elements of performance art. Her last two albums — Geidi Primes and Halfaxa — seemed to engender an immediate and almost cultish sort of fandom, so it’s not surprising that the new Grimes record is shaping up to be one of 2012’s most anticipated records.
STEREOGUM: Hey Claire!
STEREOGUM: What part of the world are you in right now?
BOUCHER: I’m in Seattle. I just finished a tour with Austra.
STEREOGUM: How was the tour?
BOUCHER: It was amazing.
STEREOGUM: So what happens now, do you keep touring?
BOUCHER: I have three months off from touring, thank God. So I plan on doing productive stuff instead of sitting in a car.
STEREOGUM: I’ve been listening to your new record, Visions, a lot and it’s really beautiful. How was the process of making the record for you?
BOUCHER: It was pretty hard in a lot of ways. Extremely fun, but I was touring a lot and had set some deadlines for when it needed to be done. So then I’m out on tour I had, like, a month to finish the record — a month before my deadline to the label — and hadn’t really done anything! I found recording the record to be a really interesting experience because I basically didn’t tell anyone I was back home at all. I blacked out my windows—I didn’t even go out to buy groceries—and I stayed in my room and wrote music for a month straight. I barely saw daylight and I was basically fasting the entire time. I approached it mentally as if I was in a cloister or something … but I ended up going a little crazy. I started getting tired and the monotony of it started making me crazy so I started taking tons of amphetamines. Eventually spiraled into this everyday thing of being like, “Ahhh, It’s a masterpiece!” and a few minutes later “Ah, I hate myself!” But yeah, I finished it and met my deadline and that was good. When I finished it I was really happy.
STEREOGUM: I know a lot of people who like to work that way—who get the most creative results by imposing a very strict way of working on themselves. It’s not an easy thing to do, particularly the way you did it!
BOUCHER: It is hard to do, but I feel like it’s an incredibly productive way to make art. I also find that specifically fasting and not seeing or talking to people, those two things seem to really do something to your brain. It adds a sense of clarity, there’s nothing in you or around you. Just this blankness. The urge and need to fill it out is more intense.
STEREOGUM: Well now that you’ve had a chance to return to the world for a little while and step away from that experience, how do you feel about the finished record?
BOUCHER: I like it, which is more than I can say for most art that I make after it’s done. Actually I am kind of bored of it now since I finished it two months ago. I cycle through things quickly. I think it’s the first musical craft I’ve made. Everything is intentional and really about something. I had a crazy year so it’s more emotionally informed than I’d say than my other records are. Music used to be something I did on the side but now music is my whole existence, so everything is way more loaded.
STEREOGUM: Knowing the context of how it was made, it seems the natural thing for most people in those circumstances would be to take the music to a really dark crazy place. The record maybe feels a little crazy, but it doesn’t feel dark.
BOUCHER: Well, I feel like it’s partially that when you start taking amphetamines…. You just naturally start making pop music. Also, I do tend to work in opposites — like in the summer I tend to make really depressing music and in the winter I make really happy music. I was really depressed for most of the time when I was making the record but I think that makes it happy. You always want what you can’t have.
STEREOGUM: I get that. I feel like I have the opposite kind of seasonal affective disorder — I get happier in winter.
BOUCHER: Yeah, I hate the heat and the sun.
STEREOGUM: The last year has been crazy for you. Were you surprised by all the press attention?
BOUCHER: Yeah, I’m still not used to it. When someone knows who I am at a venue before I’ve actually played, I’m shocked. It’s pretty weird just because it wasn’t in the life plan set of goals I had for myself … but when I was a kid I always fantasized obsessively about being a musician and it was something I’d always wanted to do … it’s just that I thought I’d do something else. It’s more weird that the lifestyle you have as a musician is really inconsistent and strange, a lot of my relationships have sort of fallen apart since I’m on tour all the time. I don’t really have a home or pay rent anymore; I’m just in the car — which is also great. Every day is like a year, which I love. I really don’t want to die so I like when my life feels really long.
STEREOGUM: It’s fascinating to see your songs presented in a live setting, especially given your work as a visual artist. Do you feel like the ideal scenario is for all of those things to somehow exist together—the music, the performance, and the visual art?
BOUCHER: I don’t know, I feel like I approach all the mediums very differently. The live show for me is my most social experience. To have some sort of experience with people that is communal and sort of Dionysian is amazing. Something that is not regular life, like here’s going to be a half an hour where we’re not sitting in this shitty car or office and doing all this crap. Just an experience that’s really pleasurable. I always choose the songs that feel the best to play that I have adapted to a live setting. If people can dance — and are willing to do so — that’s the pinnacle for me. As for recording music, I could never do that with anyone else. I need to do it alone and it needs to be perfect. Same thing with art, it’s like the most anal retentive process – which is the exact opposite of playing live. I get really pissy if people are trying to talk to me while I’m doing it. In a live setting it’s great when there’s a strong visual presentation but I feel like that’s very secondary to it being – like I would rather feel good about it and be barefoot than be wearing really cool shoes and be feeling awkward about it. Like, “Ah, these heels are too high I can’t do anything.” It’s more important that it feel good rather than necessarily look good.
STEREOGUM: I think there are more and more people that are interesting in having an experience at shows that isn’t just standing and watching with your arms crossed and quietly nodding your head. It’s about having some sort of experience with the performer … to feel a part of it, not just a witness to it.
BOUCHER: I feel like a lot of my favorite shows that I’ve seen lately have been primarily noise bands because they’re not necessarily trying to play this perfect pop song and have everyone know the words. It’s more like, “I am going to assault or embrace these people with this enhanced drone. So everybody is kind of on the same level I’m just providing these people with an experience” and the ego isn’t there that’s normally there in a performance. I mean, I love Michael Jackson and often the ego can be the best part of art, but you know what I mean? Like, I saw the guy from Black Dice open for Animal Collective and it was such a good show. It wasn’t songs at all, just loud sounds … but people hated it and were leaving and I was like, “What the hell? This is so good!”
STEREOGUM: Has your way of working on and recording music changed a lot since you started?
BOUCHER: It’s more like I know what I’m doing now. I’ve talked to a lot of people and been in the room with people recording and have a better idea of it. Now it’s more coherent and hi-fi, which I want. In my opinion it’s not hi-fi enough on this record, but I have a really crappy microphone and I use Garage Band. I’ve yet to put some money into my gear, I suppose. It’s a record where I’m like “Oh that would sound good, I’m going to do that.” Whereas before I had all of these ideas and I would try to realize them and the failure would sometimes be great but it would feel like I didn’t really get it where I wanted it to go. That still happens, but now I am getting better at the whole, “I have this idea in my head so how do I make it happen” thing.
STEREOGUM: The record comes out in January will you spend much of the next year performing?
BOUCHER: Yeah, I hope so. I think if I do a headlining tour I’ll need to up my game a little bit. Ideally I’d get to tour it a bunch. I really want to go to Europe. I want to go the Vatican, but I guess that’s probably not going to be a stop on the tour.
STEREOGUM: You should just show up and try to perform there until someone makes you stop.
BOUCHER: I could see myself being detained there for doing something inappropriate.
STEREOGUM: Are you working on accompanying visuals for the new shows?
BOUCHER: I was thinking of getting a bunch of drummers for it. I want something really really heavy and imposing and loud. I feel like if I’m not sweaty by the end of the a show it feels like a failure at this point.
STEREOGUM: Do you like performing with other people?
BOUCHER: Yeah, I prefer that actually. I hate working with other people in recording, but as performing goes I think it’s a lot better. I’m not like jamming at the space with the guys. I’ve played with a drummer and on this tour I have my friend dancing with me on stage. I feel like when there’s another visual object for the crowd to look at, my stress is reduced and I can dance a lot more. I stop worrying about the vocals being good. When people are not focusing as much on me I can fuck off little more, which I think makes for a better performance. I’ve given up on trying to do everything perfectly on stage, which has really improved my live show.
STEREOGUM: I think the new record is really beautiful and it really presents a logical move forward for you.
BOUCHER: I hope so! [background noise] There’s a bunch of people in front of me having their photo taken here in the hotel lobby and I’m just, like, standing behind them.
STEREOGUM: You should slip into the picture. They won’t mind.
BOUCHER: Ha! I’m not so sure about that.
Visions is out 1/31 on Arbutus Records.