It’s hard to imagine Grimes has a real name - can you imagine the little pixie being Claire Boucher to anyone? Grimes is many things, including a serious musician and a Belieber, as it turns out. The two can co-exist, who would have thought?
Due in Australia next week for Meredith Music Festival and a series of headline shows, Grimes took time to talk to us from a cabin in the woods. It’s not as spooky as it sounds though, things actually got unashamedly juvenile.
Hannah Joyner: Hey Claire!
Grimes: Hi, how are you?
HJ: Great! I didn’t know whether to call you Grimes, or Miss Grimes or something.
HJ: So you’re coming to Australia for Meredith Music Festival - you must have played dozens of festivals already, but are you excited?
G: I actually am pretty excited. My Dad is really obsessed with Australia, like he always wanted to go when I was a kid, so it seems like, I don’t know, a thing that needs to happen in my life. I heard Meredith is just awesome, plus outdoor festivals are my favourite kind.
HJ: Cool! Well formalities out of the way, I’ve watched more than a few interviews with you and noticed that you’re totally unashamed to like mainstream pop musicians like Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber. Actually, did you catch their collaboration the other Christmas on Mariah’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’?
G: I actually kind of hate it.
HJ: [surprised] No!
G: [laughs] Sorry, that’s such a strong thing to say. It’s just, Mariah’s version is just so good and it was obviously a money grab. I feel like it was a cheesy thing for Justin, the stuff on his album is better. And Mariah, I don’t know, I just feel like that song is sacred.
HJ: It’s a perfect song. Have you ever thought of doing a Christmas song?
G: I’m kind of anti-Christmas, so no. Well, not ‘anti’ Christmas, but in high school I was anti-Christmas cause it was always this big thing in my family. I technically celebrate Kwanzaa ‘cause my mum’s friend celebrated Kwanzaa, so I would always just do that.
HJ: You should make a Kwanzaa song… do they have songs?
G: Yeah! They have a ton of songs. [laughs] I won’t go on a big tirade about Kwanzaa, but it’s about anti-materialism and making the holidays more about music and stuff.
HJ: Oh good. And not just because that leads back into talking about music. So Grimes is tied up in the Seapunk and WitchHouse genres - do you pay much attention to any of that? The new genre labels I mean.
G: Sort of, it’s an interesting thing, but I’m not a Seapunk, I’ll put that out there. I don’t have a problem with it, it’s just a very particular scene and I think I’m doing something different. When WitchHouse happened I was like, that’s actually really kind of cool because it’s a logical extension of all the kids who were teenagers in like 2001. All the big musicians back then were like Marilyn Manson and Outkast and stuff, so making like trap, rap beats that are really goth is the logical step for people of my generation. Actually, my album Halifax was an attempt at a WitchHouse album. I still wouldn’t define myself as WitchHouse but I think it’s a very applicable sub-genre. Only because I never really got into like chillwave or some of the other ones, that’s not really my thing. Making a weird super niche genre is kind of a cool idea though.
HJ: You’ve kind of touched on what I wanted to ask you next. In your interview with Nardwaur, you mentioned you are the ‘future of music.’ You seem to have a very clear idea, or vision of your music, so could you elaborate a bit more on being the ‘future of music’?
G: Well, I like the idea of controlling everything. That doesn’t really happen where an artist does everything, like directs their own videos and produces all their own music and writes it all. So that’s a huge part of it for me. What I was referring to though was more pure musical stuff probably, in that interview. I feel like I have a lot of ideas, like the idea of WitchHouse, which I think really needs to get done. I don’t know, my mandate is to just take all of these genres, the one’s that people think really shouldn’t be together, or that aren’t cool, and just find the parts that are cool because I think it will lead to a more interesting and original thing. Doing the opposite of what everyone else thinks is cool is probably the right thing.
HJ: Do you think it’s inevitable for you then, to never find mainstream popularity? Or was that even ever important to you?
G: Well you know, I don’t really care, I just want to make the art that I feel proud of. I don’t care if it ever gets really big or if it stays small. Even if I upset people that want me to do one thing specifically. The thing I really care about the most is the satisfaction I get from accomplishing something that I think is really good. Which is the best part of the job, or this whole thing, it’s what’s happening in the studio. I do care about critical success, it’s awesome, it has changed my life to have critical success. You know, I can afford to live in a house and eat good food. I think it is important for me to really try and not think about that stuff though.
HJ: Actually, that reminds me of something else you mentioned in the Nardwaur interview. It seemed like an unserious thing to you, but you mentioned you started a cult with your friend based around bureaucracy, which means everyone is too busy with paperwork to get anything done.
G: [laughs] It’s kind of a joke, but my friend Duffy is sort of insane, he used to dance for me. So he invented this cult, I mean, it’s not a real cult, but it is, though I think everyone kind of sees it as a joke. We have rituals and things.
HJ: [laughs] I think there’s more to it though. What I meant before was that it’s important for artists such as yourself to avoid getting tied up in the bureaucracy of mainstream music. The situations that hinder your independence and creativity. Mainstream popularity can kind of suffocate creativity… I don’t know, do you get where I’m going?
G: Yeah. I mean, I’m not sure if it necessarily does but I have some friends on bigger labels who have problems when they want to put something out and their label isn’t okay with it. My label is sort of indie so I don’t have that problem. Though sometimes I’ll be working on something, and I can’t just drop a song or put it out. Even today, I shot the video for ‘Be A Body’ and I was just lining up the footage with my friend’s song and thinking, ‘I really should just use this footage for this song.’ I couldn’t because it’s an old song of his and it wouldn’t have made sense in the press cycle. That was definitely one of those moments of going ‘I wish I could just make art!’ because it would have been awesome to make that music video but instead his song won’t have a video because of all this stupid bureaucracy. Something I have to fight is that the more success I get, I guess the more censors there have to be and certain things like that.
HJ: That does sound annoying. I guess a lot of people confuse censorship with just a musician’s aesthetic appearance. Like people would see your videos and think your ‘look’ is what makes you the artist you are. So your ‘Genesis’ video for example, people must think you are way left of centre. By the way, was that inspired by Sailor Moon?
G: A little bit! Mainly Tarantino though.
HJ: Oh, Kill Bill, of course.
G: Yeah, like Gogo Yubari, I was definitely the archetype of the violent Japanese schoolgirl. It is such an iconic image. I just thought it would be sick to dress up and have a bunch of weapons. A little bit of Sailor Moon in there too though definitely. For the costumes I went to a lot of anime and cosplay stores.
HJ: That’s so awesome. I feel sad to bring the conversation back to more serious stuff, but I’m interested in how music spreads, especially with hipsters and there being music that is ‘cool.’ I’m so glad to hear you say in interviews that your first crush was Travis Barker from Blink 182, because you recognise that bands like that were just a gateway to other punk music. Do you feel that Grimes is a gateway into any other kinds of music?
G: Oh I hope so. I feel like I might not be big enough, like to know Grimes you kind of have to be a little bit into weird music in the first place, maybe [laughs]. That would be the ideal though, to be a Blink 182 or Marilyn Manson where you’re obviously flirting with mainstream success but you’re still accessing a lineage of music that is weirder, or more underground. Blink 182 though, they were definitely a gateway band into punk and hardcore. When you mention them people are always like ‘What? No’ but it’s like, ‘Come on dude you didn’t just wake up one day and start listening to New Order when you were five years old.’
HJ: [laughs] Exactly, I was 13 when ‘All The Small Things’ came out, and everyone in the year was into that song, what are people talking about?
G: I know, I’ve been getting into a lot of arguments recently because I’m really getting into the new Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift records.
HJ: [excited girlish noise] Taylor Swift!
G: I know, Taylor is so awesome, I might get to meet her in a week! I don’t know for sure yet though. Every time I mention I like her or Justin on Twitter though I lose like 20 followers, it’s ridiculous. There’s so much hate for something that is successful, or something that appears to be marketed at a younger audience. As if it couldn’t be good music because of the way it’s marketed. It sucks because those records are actually awesome and if you don’t want to listen to it because you think you are too cool then it’s your loss, I guess. I get so angry about people like that and that kind of stuff.
HJ: Oh don’t worry, they’re the kind of people that turn into crazed postal workers wearing their mums lipstick because they never accepted themselves.
G: [laughs] I don’t know, I mean Taylor Swift is really talented, more than Justin Bieber I would say. She writes all her own music.
HJ: Yeah, she completely stole my heart. Did you see her perform at the Grammy’s?
G: The time when she changed costume in the middle of the song?
HJ: Not that time, the one where the stage was made up to be a saloon and she’s holding a banjo… though I don’t think she played it.
G: I wish she played instruments!
HJ: Yeah! At the end of the song she got a standing ovation, and she was just so genuinely grateful. You could see on her face, it was so sweet.
G: Yeah, whenever I see footage of her shows she is so stoked at the end, you can tell she loves it. I mean, she is super famous but it’s so refreshing because she always seems so surprised, it’s just nice.
HJ: Do you ever feel pressured to be like that at shows? Like to finish and look out at the audience like ‘Oh! Thankyou so much, I love all of you!’
G: Nah, I usually just run off stage… [laughs] because I get nervous. Actually I started bowing, I don’t know why. It was probably in Japan, they are always bowing so I guess I got into it there. It seems like such a humble way to get out of things or say thank you. It is a good solution to a lot of social problems. So on the last tour I would finish and kind of bow and then run off thinking ‘why are you doing this?’ It is so nerdy.
HJ: It’s weird how these things start. For no reason I started putting my thumbs up as a way to say ‘yeah!’ or ‘I’m on to it.’ All the time, even to shop keepers.
G: [laughs] It’s funny to get into little habits like that, it is so dorky, like stuff a Dad would do.
HJ: Speaking of nerdy. We kind of touched on Mariah Carey before, but have you seen the footage of Nicky Minaj going crazy at her on American Idol?
G: No! I need to see that, I’ve been so out of the loop, what happened?
HJ: Well, not to spoil it, but Nicky rants for ages and death threats are thrown around. Pretty epic stuff.
G: Well it’s kind of awesome though. [laughs] I need to look this up.
HJ: Definitely. Now I heard that for Visions you were in your room for a long period of time by yourself. What drives you to be so intense about the recording process?
G: Well, it’s a few things. At the time I had tours booked so I just had that month period and knew if I didn’t do it then I wouldn’t make a record for a really long time. I had also been researching a lot of medieval cloisters and philosophers and art from the period. I guess I just wanted to do something really extreme. I had kind of done shorter things like that in the past, like fasting and stuff like that for artistic purposes. It worked really well. I’m actually kind of doing that right now. I’m in BC, in the woods, in a cabin. I have no access to anything really and I’m recording. You can just get so much done when there’s no internet and no one to talk to. You lose track of time and just work and work. I feel you develop a deeper understanding of the thing that you’re working on.
HJ: Whoa, that sounds scary to me. I mean I totally applaud you for taking it to that extreme. I read interviews where you talk about where you sing and imagine you’re a medieval princess. It makes me think, ‘how is she so confident to talk like that?’ It sounds like psychosis to me. You don’t seem like you’ve lost your mind though so I’m quite encouraged now.
G: Well, I think if you can compartmentalise… I mean, I have to do a lot of compartmentalising in my life. The music is one thing and the music is a very spiritual, abstract and anti-logical endeavour. Then on the other hand I’m just coming in to this and I have to be a business person, running the business that is Grimes. That includes doing interviews and directing music videos and the art direction and all this other stuff that is totally different from the creative process. I’ve just had to separate doing the creative and crazy things from the logical things. They’re both wrapped up in the same world but they use different parts of the brain. I don’t know, there are boundaries and limits to psychological things.
HJ: Yeah, for sure. Gosh, I hate to wrap it up there. Thanks for talking to me. We got to talk about Mariah and Taylor Swift, which was the important stuff I guess.
G: [laughs] Yeah, it’s been good! Bye!
Grimes plays Meredith Music Festival, as well as the following solo shows:
Wednesday 5 December - Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Thursday 6 December – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Saturday 8 December - The Zoo, Brisbane
Monday 10 December - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Tuesday 11 December - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
WORDS: Hannah Joyner