Claire Boucher’s electronic bohemia is colored black. There is no golden-hearted hooker and wistful romance, no Moulin Rouge can-cans. Just Harkonnens and darkness. Boucher, aka Grimes, stepped into music just three years ago and came of age in the Montreal DIY loft scene. She’s now calling from her parents’ home in Vancouver. Wipe your mind of all images of Mom doing your laundry and making you a wholesome egg-and-bacon breakfast while you loaf about and watch cable. Boucher’s home away from home is a dank basement without sunlight. But she has all the creature comfort she needs: a mattress on the floor.
“I like the basement here because it’s dark. It’s perpetually night. There are no windows. I don’t like daylight. I just—it’s unproductive.” In self-imposed exile in a similar land-of-always-night, her newest album, Visions, was born. “I blacked out the windows and did tons of amphetamines and stayed up for three weeks and didn’t eat anything. I definitely can’t make music in the daytime.”
There’s a subtle beauty to Grimes’s tracks. Lyrically, Visions is a thunderous bastion of glossolalia, an echo chamber of angelic babbling. Grimes’s vocals are silky, her pop gothic. “This record is a sci-fi record—a sci-fi R&B record,” she jokes. But the jest rings true. An elfin crust-punk with a dignified stage presence, Grimes personifies her sound as a retro-future science fiction villain. “I like the bad guys!” she laughs. Her previous album was explicitly named for Dune’s post-industrial waste planet, Giedi Prime, from Frank Herbert’s iconic novel Dune (and an added “s” had the album title rhyme with Grimes). The theme continues on Visions, with beats equally as Bell Biv DeVoe as the lyrics are Mordor.
While channeling crystal-worshipping New Age synths on “Genesis” and industrial thumps with “Colour Of Moonlight,” Grimes throws a bone to a well-known Pokémon tune on “Vowels = Space And Time.” “I always thought Jigglypuff’s song was so beautiful and kind of iconic,” she says.
Although this is her third solo album, Grimes only entered the world of music in 2009 when she learned to record samples of herself attempting different instruments. She started mixing them on GarageBand and hasn’t stopped since.
Dismissed from McGill University for truancy, the 23-year-old’s hobbies in the past few years have been anything but pedestrian (or legal). In 2009 she drifted down the Mississippi River on a poorly constructed shantyboat stacked with potatoes and live chickens. In 2011 she and fellow Montrealer d’Eon spent a week playing shows and doing acid in Mexico City: “The promoters were these really cool, really amazing crew of super intellectual lesbians who had this insane hairless dog, and they did acid all the time,” Boucher says. “Every day we would wake up and come downstairs, and they’d have filled this bowl of weed for us. We’d smoke and go to the Museum Of Natural History.”
In the interim, Grimes played a pivotal role in organizing illegal loft shows in Montreal. The space was soon laden with about $6,000 in fines and forced to shut its doors. The collective of people who ran the art space didn’t try to reinstate it after the closure. “It wasn’t worth it especially because the fines were mostly from the bar, and if you can’t have the bar, then you can’t make up the fines,” Boucher says. “It just became economically not viable at a certain point.”
Many of the artists exiled from the art space, including Grimes, found a home on local label Arbutus. After two successful albums on Arbutus (and a split EP with d’Eon released on Hippos In Tanks), Boucher soon received calls from other labels looking to sign her. She declines to speak too in-depth about the negotiations, but she mentions that “there was a lot of drama” in the process of leaving Arbutus, which has released Visions in Canada. “There were a lot of tears to leave the label that basically built my career,” she says. This winter, though, she settled on 4AD for the non-Canadian release, and she says the label is “chill with a whole bunch of stuff that most labels aren’t chill with.” It’s a natural fit, as Boucher’s Tank-Girl-in-space act fits perfectly into a catalog defined by the Cocteau Twins’ quirk
and the Breeders’ sugar-sweet vocal charm.
In just a few months, Boucher’s daily routine has changed immensely. Her art and photographs have made her an ideal postergirl for DIY counterculture, and the fashion community has embraced her look of combat boots, flowing skirts and a strategically shaved head. The doe-eyed pixie was featured on Style.com and was seen traipsing about Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week. Boucher welcomes the new experiences,
but they’ve made some hurdles higher and harder to leap. “You know, there’s all this bureaucracy now,” she says. “I am not responsible for my own shit anymore.”
Boucher prefers shows happening at “3 in the morning at some crazy place” to performances at established venues, but that was before she had a booking agent. Now, Boucher is adjusting to life as a touring artist. She’s lost the autonomy to book shows on a whim and much of the social atmosphere that comes with independent booking. But she is both a producer and a musician, and to continue forward, some sacrifices are necessary. “I’m trying to organize what I want as a career, which is sort of hard to figure out,” she says. “Not that this is a career, but whatever the fuck it is.”