Grimes on drugs, religion and the secret behind her unusual name
Grimes, the stage name for Canadian Queen of the loop and layer Claire Boucher, had more buzz around her at SXSW this year than any other female artist. She played tons of shows and confirmed her place as a talented song-writer with a widely appealing record. Visions, released this month in the UK, is a strange listen at first, with its angelic, lispy vocals over industrial, psychedelic beats and otherworldly samples, but quickly rewards over time. I caught up with Grimes in Austin to find out where her music is coming from.
The looping effect that has become so popular recently, particularly in Montreal, was chosen by Boucher at the very beginning because "it was just easy". "I was listening to a lot of Animal Collective when I started", she says, "and format-wise it's so simple, you take a loop and sing over it. Chorus, verse, chorus, verse. It's the simplest possible way to make a song."
Visions is in fact Boucher's third album. The first two, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa, were slightly less accessible and since then she has become more accomplished technically.
Though she says the format is easy, her writing and recording methods are quite extraordinary. She says she needs drugs (mainly amphetamines), fasting, solitude and darkness to make music. At one point she stayed up for three days. "I like pushing the physical and mental limits", she explains. "I need to be able to work for 20 or 30 horns in one go in complete darkness, alone with just the computer glow. It's very intense and simultaneously torturous and beautiful."Source 1, 2, 3
The new Queen of Pop. So happy to be seeing her 2 more times this week before she is playing stadiums.
She was inspired by The Hunger Artist by Kafka and Hildegard of Bingen, the Christian mystic, to try fasting to achieve lucidity. Though raised a Catholic, she is not religious but "obsessed with the concept; it's really strange to me, really interesting. I feel like there's something going but I'm not sure what it is. Music is a religion to me and my friends. If you look at the way people behave at shows, icons are now musicians, they are the people that we worship."
Fantasy by Mariah Carey and Prince's When Doves Cry were the two songs that made her fall in love with music, but these days her taste is a little more edgy: along with Mariah Carey, her dream festival headliners are Marilyn Manson and an industrial band called Gatekeeper.
I manage to winkle out of her why she has called herself "Grimes", of all things. At first she says "it's a secret and I'm never going to tell because it's actually really embarrassing." It's not. She named herself after Ken Grimes, the "outsider" artist famous for drawing aliens.
It's tricky to decipher how autobiographical Visions is; the lyrics are opaque and ethereal. But, in fact, they are more personal that you'd think. "It's actually very confrontational and cathartic. My songs are about f—ed up stuff". She mentions one in particular – Oblivions – which is about a "really bad assault experience that really f—ed with my head for a long time". Like many artists, she makes music for "medicating purposes… it makes me feel better."
Creative control is important to her. She does all her own artwork and directs the music videos with friends she has chosen carefully. Boucher comes across remarkably and impressively self-assured, confident in her art and clear about exactly what she wants. Although her live shows can be scatty (because of the technology she uses), she's definitely one to see live. I imagine this is the beginning of a fascinating career.
Cute @ SXSW
The Tale of Grimes' Insane 2009 Houseboat Adventure
Claire Boucher and William Gratz had their sights set on the southern reaches of the Mississippi River when they packed their chickens, a sewing machine and 20 pounds of potatoes into a houseboat they crafted from scratch.
Calling themselves Veruschka and Zelda Xox, river names worthy of the grand adventure they envisioned, the young couple pushed off from the riverbank in north Minneapolis the first week of June.
But their journey ended only a few miles downstream after engine trouble and a three-week tangle with the cops. The Minneapolis park police trailed them from river bank to river bank, as Boucher and Gratz tried to get their boat in working order, often tying up to trees and hopping ashore to gather supplies from Craigslist and hardware stores.
Now their vessel, the "Velvet Glove Cast in Iron," is marooned in the Minneapolis impound lot. The chickens were seized by animal control, and Boucher, 21, and Gratz, 23, have abandoned their hope of reliving the enduring tradition of river lore.
"Even though it's sad this happened, it's still an adventure," Boucher said.
The trouble began, as it often does, with a sudden twist of fate and an encounter with the law.
Boucher, who's from Vancouver, B.C., and Gratz, from Tennessee, met at school in Montreal. The idea for the river journey was hatched last fall. After months of Internet research, they made the 25-hour trip to Bemidji, Minn., where a friend allowed them to build the boat on his property. For more than a month, they toiled over the engineering of the 20-foot boat to make sure it floated. They installed accordion folding doors, glass windows, pink shutters and painted murals in black, white and red paint of fantastical creatures on the sides. Strangers gave them bikes, a mattress and the sewing machine (powered by on-board batteries). They got a copy of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which neither of them had read.
"I always wanted to live on a boat," Boucher said. "We both wanted to go south and live on it when we got to New Orleans."
They hauled it to north Minneapolis and shoved off from land the first week of June. Moments later, their engine began to sputter and gurgle. They made it to the other side of the river and tied the boat to a tree, determined to repair the motor and be on their way again in a few days.
They were awakened one morning by Minneapolis park police officer Rob Mooney tapping the side of their boat with a stick. Mooney gave them until the next Tuesday to gather life jackets, paddles and other supplies, despite a Minneapolis park ordinance forbidding boats from tying up to any tree, shrub or post in a park without a permit. The officer said the couple never told him about their engine trouble.
"I love the idea of the Tom Sawyer adventure," Mooney said. "The problem is it's not 1883. You can't do that anymore. You have to follow the rules."
When Mooney returned a week later and saw Boucher and Gratz's chickens grazing and signs of camping, they were given citations for camping and alcohol consumption in the park and told to move along.
"We were just trying to get our act together so we could get out of the Twin Cities," Gratz said. "We didn't want to float down the river out of control."
The next leg of their journey was much more precarious. After entering the channel without a working motor, they began to drift toward rocks jutting out of the water. Surrounded by caution signs, they frantically pushed away from the danger using sticks. They reached an island north of the Lowry Bridge.
The island seemed to be a haven for canoes and other boats, they said, so they set up camp and made plans to resume their search for a working motor over the next week. Swimming was the only way to reach the river bank, so several times a day they would jump in the water and bring back tools wrapped in plastic bags.
Fate of the journey uncertain
The tranquility of the island didn't last long. This time, the Hennepin County Sheriff Office's water patrol showed up and told all of the boaters to by that evening in advance of the Lowry Bridge demolition on Sunday. Another boat towed the Velvet Glove Cast in Iron to Boom Island, where the final showdown would take place.
Mooney said when he spotted the houseboat there, he'd had enough.
"I personally allowed them for a couple weeks to try to solve the problem on their own," he said. "It was clear that they couldn't get it done."
The city loaded the houseboat onto a flatbed trailer and took it away.
On Thursday, Boucher and Gratz took a city bus to the impound lot to retrieve whatever they could carry from the boat. They searched for a jar of wild rice so they could make dinner for the strangers who are letting the couple stay with them for a few nights.
The couple say they can't afford to fix the minor damage from the towing or have the boat hauled back to the river. They're planning to continue their trip south by bus. The chickens can't be reclaimed without a Minneapolis address and permit, so they will be sent to a chicken farm. Its fate uncertain, the Velvet Glove Cast in Iron rests next to burned-up and smashed car carcasses.
Boucher and Gratz still have a few people rooting for them.
"I would love for them to go," Mooney said. "I hope they do it."
And for those of you who are not familiar, please see below for the video/song/everything of the year.