Life and Grimes

By Scott Kara

Canadian pop pixie Grimes brings her dark dance music to New Zealand next week. She talks to Scott Kara.

Pop pixie Grimes is in New Zealand next week to play shows in Wellington and Auckland. Photo / Supplied
Pop pixie Grimes is in New Zealand next week to play shows in Wellington and Auckland. Photo / Supplied

She's a weird one, this Canadian girl who goes by the name of Grimes. One of her favourite bands is Skinny Puppy, an industrial band from her hometown of Vancouver who had their heyday when the 24-year-old was still a toddler.

But then she adores arse-shaking Prince songs and is even influenced by the, er, wistful strains of Enya. Though don't let the latter put you off because there is real bite and intensity to Grimes' strange brew of synth pop, ethereal electronica and avant garde dance music.

"I was a goth in high school," she deadpans. "Well, I was identified as a goth because I wore black and stuff. So I was into Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson and Smashing Pumpkins when I was 13, and then when I was 16 I got into Skinny Puppy and Cocteau Twins. And all my friends were into Skinny Puppy."

However, perhaps what's most odd about Grimes - real name Claire Boucher - is what happens when she records an album. She cuts herself off from society "and administrative environments" in order to create.

"I didn't leave the house, I didn't want to see anyone," she says about recording latest album Visions which was released earlier this year. "I kind of just need to get away from people and life if I'm going to make art."

So do you start talking to yourself?

"Oh yeah, I talk to myself, for sure," she laughs down the phone from Ottawa. "I just really like to remove all stimulation, and I don't need to work like that but that's how I like to work."

She started making a name for herself following a move to Montreal, and developed the idea behind Grimes when immersed in the city's art and music scene.

In two years she's released three full-length recordings (the first was on cassette tape, because, well, it's arty and DIY) and this year she made the breakthrough from quirky underground star to one of the next big things with Visions.

When TimeOut talks to Boucher she is about to start a tour with top of the pops dubstep star Skrillex. And when she comes to New Zealand for the first time next week she plays the 1200-capacity Powerstation, a venue that was quickly upgraded from the much smaller Kings Arms.

She makes dark and dancey music, or what she calls "depressing dance music". "I think dancing is really important, at least it is for me," she says.

It's deeply personal too, though her lyrics are abstract and the meanings of the songs are also disguised by her vocal style which almost sounds like another language, in the same way Bjork does, and it is similar in style to Alison Shaw from underrated British shoegaze goth band Cranes (if you like Grimes then check out Cranes' Starblood on YouTube).

"I really like to smudge the lyrics a little bit because I don't want them to be too literal, but I also like them to be meaningful to me because I have to deal with those songs, like, forever."

There's Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus), which resembles an arse-shaking Prince jam before it escalates to a higher plain ("It's about being up all night and that sinister feeling you get when the light starts to enter the room"), the tribal industrial dance of Nightmusic, and the playful boppy glitch-meets-cooing serenade of Oblivion is exotic catchy pop.

Her evolution from the rough and ready recordings of her early material ("it was pretty messy") to the accomplished, rich sound of Visions is astounding considering the short space of time.

"I'm more confident I guess. And everything is just more structured and there is more intention behind everything. When I started it was just fun, and I was screwing round, but now it's more serious I guess."

And this confidence also translates to her music career in general: "I think about things a lot more, and I think about what I want to say, because I always used to freak out in interviews and stuff."

She says choosing music over her other interests, such as film-making and art, had as much to do with budgetary reasons as it did with her creativity.

"I would definitely make more films if I could afford it," she laughs. "I have always painted quite furiously, but I just felt like it was an art form that I couldn't really take to a place where it hadn't already been. So I thought, 'What can I really do that would be radical?'. And for me music is much more emotionally present than a lot of other art forms. Music is a lot more visceral."

And besides, she still gets to indulge her love of film, though she settles for making music videos where the budgets aren't so big. Her funny, daring, and beautifully simple idea for the clip to Oblivion was to go along to small and parochial sporting fixtures and film the crowds.

"It was very documentarian, or something," she says. "We didn't have a budget or anything so we just chose locations almost based on lighting - like at a football stadium there is really good lighting. So everything was bound by necessity.

"And I've always been very alienated from sports culture because I'm a hipster," she says with another laugh, "and it's so different from the life I lead. But it's something that I think is really cool. So I've been really getting in to sports lately. I mean the LA Lakers have such good style. It's elegant and excessive style. You know what I mean?"

Who: Grimes (real name Claire Boucher)
What: Electronic industrial dance dream pop pixie from Canada
Where and when: San Francisco Bath House, Wellington, Dec 13; Powerstation, Auckland, Dec 14.
Listen to: Visions, out now

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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