Getting hold of Grimes, the moniker for Canada’s queen of the loop and layer, Claire Boucher, is a tough feat these days. Currently at the height of her Visions tour, Grimes has never been in such demand. I was squeezed in between a show in London, a radio interview, sound check and a train to Manchester. Undoubtedly, 2012 is her year.

Boucher, 24, treats her escalating popularity and fame with that charmingly unassuming manner of hers. “Life feels the same, just more hectic. I think I’ve been forced to become a lot more sociable,” she says laughing. “Currently we are sharing a single hotel room with seven people!” This lack of privacy, however fun it may be on tour, sharing such an intense experience and seeing the world, does worry her. “It’s extremely emotionally and physically stressful and tends to eat into my ability to work creatively as I don’t get privacy.”

Luckily for Boucher though, the tour is all positive. “The shows have gone really well, and I’m seeing parts of the world I never thought I would see,” she says. While not a fan of touring (“It’s growing on me”), preferring the creative process than being on stage, Boucher has surely done enough of it in her two years since Grimes was born.

She’s played everywhere from wild homecoming gigs in Vancouver while on tour with Lykke Li last year, with her entire feuding family present and people she hadn’t seen in over five years jumping onto the stage and getting leapt on by bouncers. To a sunrise rave in the woods in a giant geodesic dome. “My dad was there. We slept on dog beds in the minivan, got up at 5am and played to 5,000 people on ecstasy.”

The strangest though, has to be a gig in Florida. “Jesus, I played for like four people and had a breakdown on stage. When I went outside, the house across the street was on fire. I think I caused the fire with my mind, or sensed the existence of it psychically, that being the cause of my earlier dismay.” This spiritual, hypnotic form of psychoanalysis of one early gig experience explains a lot about Boucher and the process the singer, songwriter, producer, artist and director, uses to reach her exceptional levels of all-round creative genius. Many of her best creative moments come out of this feeling of spirituality and physical or mental torment. There’s something beautiful about the way Boucher turns her pain into something constructive and positive. Her music is a blend of trauma and euphoria.

“This album is super cathartic, so most of the songs are about stuff I needed to confront,” Boucher says of Visions, her critically acclaimed fourth, and latest album. Through this self-therapy, she has turned some of her most tortured lyrics into potential party songs. Luckily for Boucher though, people are so enamoured with the sound of the multi-layered, high pitched pop music with all the shadows of her self-confessed goth and dark electronic influences, that the words sometimes get side-lined.

The lack of clarity in her lyrics though, is deliberate, due to their extreme personal nature. “‘Oblivion’ is about this serious assault I suffered a few years ago, and my subsequent inability to have a normal relationship. It seemed confronting it so publicly would be good. Or that turning pain into a productive and beautiful process could alleviate it. I’m not sure if these assumptions are correct, but it helped at the time anyhow,” says Boucher. Famed for her extreme measures during the making of Visions, her method allegedly consisted of nine days of solitude, some drug taking, no sleep, food, or light. Listening to the record, it paid off. Of this method, Boucher says, “The main thing is really that I need to be alone. I need to be able to forget about my existence as it is perceived by others, otherwise I get self conscious and scared.”

This process resulted in a sound that is a jaw dropping mix of psychedelic dance, early goth, and a heavy helping of pop (Korean and North American), crossed with a punk attitude, an ethereal grunge style, and a big sense of creativity. Claire’s journey has been an interesting one, and one that reflects the localised, home grown creative community, and illegal loft culture, of the world famous Montreal music scene which Grimes evolved from and is of such prominence.

From this community, the buzz around Ms. Boucher’s alter ego Grimes, (the origins of which are a close guarded secret, but rumoured to be named after artist Ken Grimes, famed for drawing aliens), has grown into a downright deafening, widespread, and well deserved, scream. From her first album Geidi Primes, released on a limited 30 cassette run and free download, to Visions, receiving world wide acclaim, Grimes has been cemented as a definitive artist and producer, both aurally and visually.

All this in only two years. Grimes has been hard at work, all the while lifting the lid on the scene from which she was born. Boucher initially moved from her hometown of Vancouver to Montreal in 2006 to study neurobiology and philosophy at McGill. “I didn’t mean to be a musician, it just happened, much later,” says Boucher of her musical awakening in 2010.

But once it occurred, thanks to her time hanging out at Lab Synthèse - a re-appropriated textile factory, where she was encouraged to produce her own tracks by her friend and now manager Sebastian Cowan, from Arbutus Records (she’s been signed by 4AD, but Arbutus, started up by friends of hers, still remain her Canadian label) - she moved to the Park-Ex neighbourhood of Montreal and met like-minded creatives like Doldrums, Majical Cloudz and Purity Ring, to name a few.

Boucher has some controversial words to say of her move from Vancouver. While she admits to enjoying the bands that played - Dandi Wind were a personal favourite - and venues like The Cobalt and The Emergency Room, that seems to be about it. “I hated Vancouver. Everything great about it has been destroyed by gentrification, which was accelerated intensely by the Olympics. I would say 90% of my friends from Vancouver ended up moving to Montreal also.” Harsh and generalising, words yes, but the move obviously paid off for her. By late 2010, Grimes was a solid fixture in Montreal’s loft culture, and two albums in - Geidi Primes and lo-fi R&B record Halfaxa (Darkbloom, a poppier EP which saw her grow technically, jointly produced with friend D’Eon, came later in 2011) - Boucher dropped out of McGill, and went full speed with her music and production. By early 2011, she had driven to SXSW, played 11 shows in three days, set the blogosphere alight, and has clearly never had to look back.

All different and brilliant in their own way, her four records capture the changes in her sound, influences and circumstance. (“It’s never not been changing. If it wasn’t a development process I would have no interest. For me it’s not necessarily about the result. The best part…is when I’m actually working on it.”) Geidi Primes, described as “sort of pre-influence” by Boucher, sees her channel traditional Chinese singers like Yao Lee, “I was listening to lots of Black Dice and stuff too. And with Halfaxa, I was really obsessed with Burial, and Salem too,” says Boucher. Darkbloom saw a huge leap from this into a poppier, self-produced sound, with her admitting to listening to “a lot of Rihanna and radio pop, as well as How To Dress Well, Babe Rainbow, and Justin Bieber.”

The list of influences for Visions is long and diverse, explaining its faceted pop glitch sound. From a self-confessed love of Enya (she once said that if Enya was younger, she’d be hipster music), to TLC, Aphex Twin, Marilyn Manson and Mariah, it was made during “an intensive obsession with Outkast…Also Korean pop music.” Her biggest, most long running though, is Prince. “He’s huge for me. One of my biggest influences,” says Boucher. This love for Prince is easily heard on “Colour of Moonlight” paying homage to her favourite song of all time, “When Doves Cry.”

It has to be stated that Grimes is not just a musician, she’s an artiste: an audio, visual package, based on treating the mind to compositions it can hear, and see. Not only is all her artwork and production her own, but directing her videos is also one of her penchants. She co-directed ‘Oblivion’ with friend Emily Kai Bock, but that wasn’t her first time directing. She directed and edited her videos for ‘Vanessa,’ the catchy single taken from Darkbloom, which triggered her growth in popularity, and also the forthcoming ‘Be a Body.’ “I really like directing. When I’m done with music, I would like to direct films,” says Boucher.

This love for creation also spills out into her Grimes merchandise, with a new line of vulva-inspired rings, “ ’cuz T-shirts are overpriced and everyone has one.” A collaboration with Montreal’s Morgan Black, the rings come in three different colours, and are less about the design, rather than the philosophy behind them. “We can support local designers and give people something more unique.  We don’t really care about making a profit…but we like working with our friends, and wanted to make a statement.” Don’t get excited though, this doesn’t mean she’s making a foray into fashion, sadly, as the former seamstress not only has a dislike toward selling things, but also described her time in fashion as “utter hell.”

This level of input into everything Grimes puts out could hint at an inner control freak in Boucher. Everything she does is manifested by her own hand, her own vision. “I would never relinquish any creative control,” she says. And why should she? It’s worked for her so far. She does, however, play with other musicians, harping back to the creative community she so cherishes. “When I play with others, I view it as more of a collaborative thing. I just let them improvise over what I already have,” says Boucher.

It’s refreshing to hear Claire talking about Grimes. So often artists overthink every statement they make, carefully crafting their musical rep like hyped up political candidates. But with Claire, it’s obvious, through her vulnerability-laced assurance and confidence, that her artistic vision is clear and the ‘movement’ around it is natural and raw. That’s why people have been so receptive. Even when thrust onto a bigger stage, she remains true to the underground scene she came from, something we hope stays the same as her popularity grows. Her performances retain the haunting nature they have always had, with just her and some mood lighting, surrounded by her tools, creating her renowned intense atmosphere and stage presence.

Speaking of her first television appearance on Jools Holland while in London, Boucher laughs. “I did enjoy it, but it was very surreal. I was so scared. I was having insane hot flashes, my mouth was twitching, I was sweating so much. I was losing my mind.” This is something she’s going to have to get used to though, being on that bigger stage. As it’s only going to get bigger.

With a summer filled with festivals and gigs almost every night, Grimes has also managed to squeeze in a cross-Canada tour, with none other than Diplo and Skrillex. “When my manager told me we had a tour offer, I literally said, as a joke, ‘absolutely no more touring unless it’s a Skrillex tour,’” she says laughing. The Full Flex Express tour will see the trio, (and others, including Pretty Lights, Tokimonsta and KOAN Sound), tour countrywide, on a train, with dates in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. “I’m insanely excited. I am a huge huge huge fan of both Diplo and Skrillex… it’s something that I would never have imagined I would be able to do. I am beyond stoked.” And so are we.

Catch the Full Flex Express tour from the 13th to the 22nd July.

Photography by Fiona Garden

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