It’s after midnight in Toronto by the time I get Grimes on the phone.
Sequestered in a cabin somewhere in the mountains of Vancouver, she’d gone to bed at noon earlier that day after a typical all-nighter and only woke up two hours ago. After the delay connecting (via her manager—Grimes is notoriously sans cell phone, so her manager was at the cabin for the evening’s press calls), we quickly ditch shoddy cell signals for Skype, and any of my own sleepy skepticism of a conversation with a delinquent, nocturnal, forest-dwelling artist is gone fast.
“I can only work after nightfall, so there’s not really any point in trying to get up at a regular time,” she says brightly. “When I get up at ten in the morning, I waste the entire day as far as working on music. Which is what I’m supposed to be doing right now.”
Since releasing her third album Visions at the beginning of the year, 24-year-old Claire Boucher’s profile has quickly surpassed the curiosity that her previous releases—2010’s Geidi Primes and Halfaxa—had garnered, a buzz built as much on a definitive 2011 SXSW showcase and subsequent Lykke Li tour as it was on her new-girl novelty and cool-by-Montreal-association. Having made the move from her raised-strict, rebelled-hard hometown of Vancouver to attend McGill University, it was there, only within the last few years, that Boucher started making music of her own. This past summer, she toured Canada on a train with Skrillex and Diplo (“It was not a Pitchfork scene”) and was invited to perform with Richie Hawtin, who she calls a personal icon, in Ibiza.
It’s now late November, a day before she’s set to head to New Zealand, and her family is visiting the mountain retreat where she’s otherwise been holed up writing and recording new material. She tells me the isolation is lending a moodiness to the work, that it’s one of the scariest places naturally in the world and that X-Files and Twilight have both filmed there. She likens it to her marathon recording session for Visions, where she locked herself in her Montreal bedroom and stayed awake not talking to anyone for days, only this time, she won’t have to re-do vocal takes on account of buses outside her window. She doesn’t yet know when this new stuff will come out or how. She just knows that it has to be perfect.
“I think I kind of broke through last night,” she says after detailing some vocal production techniques she’s been agonizing over. As an untrained musician, most everything she learns is through trial and error, but not without research assistance; an avid reader, Grimes looks to the internet for ideas, but prefers to find and read as many books as she can on a subject. One of her current fixations is dubstep production, which she talks about excitedly (and maybe a bit defensively). Honing her studio skills is something she’s very serious about. “Being a really good producer is something I didn’t go into this being good at,” she says. “It seems like the bigger challenge. Wearing makeup and being a frontperson is something that I can do with minimal effort. Or I can sing, that’s fine, whatever. If I was known as a producer, that would feel like a real victory.”
The process of unravelling Grimes hasn’t been as clear-cut for the rest of us. Early impressions reveal a highly stylized but undefined persona; the music at first is much the same. With an admitted technical naivety, infinite musical and cultural reference points, a half-elvin, half-hipster image, and a skittish, restless, personality, the young Grimes easily became just so internet—a trend or a novelty.
That assessment isn’t altogether inaccurate—Boucher herself created the term “post-internet” during her neuroscience days at McGill, and has applied it as a self-descriptor. It’s a theory that posits that “people who have grown up with the internet developed completely unique neural pathways that have contributed to the disintegration of genre distinctions and the way that you listen to music and everything.” The term, of course, got picked up and used ad naseum—almost mockingly.
Visions has hooks on the surface, but difficult vocals and dark corners. It sounds both accidental and elaborate. Everything sounds like something you’ve heard before, but together, not like anything else. “I think people don’t really get it at all,” she laughs at the question of whether she feels understood. “I don’t mind. My relationship with pop music and with other types of music and with the way I present emotional and linguistic stuff in music is really complex. On the surface it comes off as a totally different thing than what I’m actually doing,” she says, off-handedly summing up the divide. “I think a lot of people seem to think that I’m a bit of an airhead Tumblr kid.”
Just in September, she tweeted, “I am a producer. I find it insulting when guys constantly ask to produce for me. I think I do my job fine, thanks”; typically straight-up Grimes. The more known she becomes, the less trouble she has being taken seriously in her working sphere, and a general public assumption that she’s just a meme doesn’t bother her; she’s rather rage against the common disrespect a girl pushing buttons gets.
i am a producer.i find it insulting when guys constantly ask to produce for me.i think i do my job fine, thanks.
— Grimes(@Grimezsz) September 4, 2012
“When I was a teenager, my favourite artists were Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor and Skinny Puppy. People who are very involved in the production in their music and also have strong visual aesthetics,” she says. “Aside from maybe the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, there weren’t a lot of female standards. That was something that discouraged me from going into music. The minute I learned to produce and learned it wasn’t that hard was when I started working on music. It was about having the right kind of psychological encouragement. Even existing and presenting as something that’s possible is important.”
Claire Boucher’s truths are simple; they just get filtered and fragmented into complexities in her work. Her assured ambition may be no match for her modern advantage, but it’s only as accidental as anything ever can be.
“I’m almost succeeding if people don’t realize how much input I have into it. If I can engage and compete or be part of the world that Sky Ferreria and Lana Del Rey and Azealia Banks are in, that’s this pop world that’s about the front person and everything associated with that,” she says. “Even when I was going into it, I remember shooting ‘Oblivion’ and being like, ‘I can either try to make something that is going to be difficult, or I can kind of flirt with this world to the point where it’s unclear as to what side I’m taking.’ And I think that’s part of it.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2012/January 2013 issue of AUX Magazine. Download and subscribe for free in the App Store.