Grimes is tired, distracted… knackered, even.
On the phone from Atlanta, Georgia – itself thousands of miles away from home – Claire Boucher struggles to piece together what she wants to say. Words float around in the ether, with the Canadian artist fleetingly able to grab hold of the right word, phrase, sentence to counterpoint her feelings, emotions.
Perhaps that’s appropriate. Her new album ‘Visions’ seems to shift between emotional directness and something ethereal, adopting the tones and feeling of house music without the pulse. While some aspects of the album rely on pure sound, the feeling remains that each element is carefully, deliberately placed – such as title itself. “I guess the simplest way to answer that would be to say that I just felt it’s a direct reference to forward thinking, and also really looking to the past at the same time in a cohesive single word” she says, before immediately pulling down the shutters: “I could talk for hours but I won’t. It’s complicated.”
Such is the way with Grimes. ‘Visions’ is an album that shifts through several gears, often flirting with one position before suddenly evolving with just a few notes. Recorded alone, at home in her room Claire Boucher seemingly used quite basic equipment. “Embarrassingly, I recorded the entire album on Garageband. I really want to establish that I no longer use Garageband” she grimaces. “It’s just mostly because I’m using hardware, but Garageband is actually stupid, I know it is. It really can’t do anything, there’s like one type of reverb, y’know? There’s not a lot of stuff in Garageband that’s good. It’s good for recording something like a 4-track, but….”
Written and recorded in one solitary, three week blast ‘Visions’ is a sustained assault. Her fourth album to date, Claire Boucher seemed to use the sessions to purge herself – removing both artistic and personal baggage. “I just wanted this album to be a means of clearing my mental slate. Overriding everything I’d done previously, too” she says. “This is a pretty good representation of the beginning of the future.”
It seems that what Claire Boucher need to achieve this was – finally – some sense of stability. “A big thing about this album was the kind of like… I would be at home, and need to get the fuck out of there and then I’d be on tour and I wouldn’t have any sense of home, and think: this is a disaster, I need to go home. And then it wouldn’t feel like home anymore and then I would go on tour and then it’d be the same thing” she insists. “I was stuck in this horrible cycle of not living anywhere, just not having any concrete sense of well-being or stability or home. That was really interesting, but that fuelled a lot of the emotional momentum of the album.”
Continuing, she grasps towards one word: “It was just like…consistency. Yeah, consistency, something consistent for three weeks. All I really want to do is be in a room and record music and I’ve spent my whole life trying to make that happen, but it only ever happens a couple of weeks at a time.”
Buoyed by a hazy, gauze of synth sound ‘Visions’ is conversely the product of a fevered imagination. “I use loops all the time, but for me… I’m pretty ADD, I always try and make something happening every second, I don’t want it to be repetitive. I like music that can be like that but I don’t think I would do that” she says.
Partly informed by dance music, ‘Visions’ isn’t exactly club friendly. Adopting the textures and tones of House music, this is sheer House impressionism: a hazy, dotted, image which acts both as a marker and a representation. Ultimately, though, at her core Grimes remains a pop artist. “Everything I do is always like some kind of word and then pop, because I definitely make pop music. I might make gothic pop music or science fiction pop music or noise pop or something like that, but at the core it’s always pop music. I’m defined by songwriting and catchiness and stuff”.
As ethereal as the production often is, ‘Visions’ always presents you with something which has the appearance of truth. Perhaps an emotional truth rather than a literal truth, but each song is powered by something extremely personal, such as ‘Oblivion’. “I won’t go into it too much, but I was the victim of a pretty serious assault when I was eighteen” she says, quietly. “That song is about the way in which you deal with the public, being in the public…just a feeling of what utterly horrible emptiness you have when you’re trying to re-communicate with humans again after dealing with something like that. Just that psychological state; that state of mind you get in when…when you’re trying to mediate with the world, but everything is taken by this thing that happened”. Reflecting, she says: “It’s a really fucked up song, it’s really funny that it became a single.”
For an artist so careful with her words on record, Claire Boucher has become associated with some unwelcome soundbites. An interview last year saw Grimes attached to the tag post-internet, a phrase which has become something of a bind. Sighing, the Canadian artist begins to explain: “I was trying to refer to, specifically, what I think is a biological difference between people who were born in the late ‘80s – people who experienced adolescence with the internet – and those who did not.”
“In short, I think if you grew up with the internet, when you’re halfway through forming when you’re like 11, 12 or 13, it’ll define you for the rest of your life; define the way you approach the world. I had internet in my house, maybe when I was like 9 or 10. I feel like that was the sort of, my generation was the first generation to actually go though their childhood with the internet. That had a huge impact on the way we consumed and produced art. A lot of people would say it’s a negative impact and I agree in ways. There’s been a huge falloff on people reading and being able to concentrate for long periods of time. I also think that lack of concentration can yield a lot of cool stuff. It’s definitely created this super intense…like the way I produce music, every single album I make is a completely different genre. I’m just not interested in doing the same thing twice. A lot of musicians I know, their ability to reinvent there selves is like super intense, because they grew up consuming art at such a massive rate.”
Finishing with a flourish, Grimes emphasises the role of adolescence in her own creative growth: “Whatever you’re doing in those formative years of adolescence will influence you for the rest of your life, and I spent most of that time researching music. So that’s so deeply embedded in my brain and in the way that I do things. I never actually played music before, but I was so obsessed with music always, learning as much about it as I could. That’s what I think post-internet is.”
A product of the Napster revolution, ironically Grimes is now so busy that she doesn’t have time to keep on top of her lust for listening. “I’m on tour all the time and don’t have the internet” she says, embarrassed. “So the only music I learn about is the music my friends give me.”
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‘Visions’ is out now.