Visions wasn’t simply one of the best records of 2012, it’s also one of the best records in 4AD’s revered canon – and that’s saying a lot. When you match Claire Boucher’s quirky, quixotic vocal style with hazy, hook-heavy electronic soundscapes, you end up with bewitching gold. But the one thing that stands out upon meeting the pixie noise princess isn’t her unique musical concepts; it’s actually her articulate intelligence. This is a girl who studied neuroscience and divides her reading time between Dostoevsky and Dune. And you can tell that her thought processes, whether she’s crafting her aesthetic as an artist or defending the credibility of pop music, aren’t just simply incisive, it’s actually informed with academic insight. Here’s our cozy conversation with the magical Grimes…
We’ve been following your tweets and you seem to be pretty enamoured with Singapore…
I don’t really think that people in the West necessarily know that all these are here. My brother actually lived here for a couple of years so he knows a lot about the city and he’s been taking us around to all the best places. I’m really interested in architecture and stuff and this place is just stunning.
You called Singapore “the ultimate surrealist yuppie town”…
(Laughs) Um, “surrealist yuppism” is my own theory and it’s my answer to the whole hipster thing. I’m not sure you’re interested in hearing about it.
Oh course we are!
Well people always call other people “hipsters” and I don’t mind the term but it implies that you’re doing something just because it looks cool. It almost has punk connotations, where it’s an anti-mainstream idea. And yuppy is sort of like hipster, where it’s a derogatory term, but I like it because it’s self-aware. But I don’t think it necessarily implies being obsessed with capitalism or anything, I just think it means that you’re interested in working really hard and that you don’t see achievement as a bad thing. And the surrealist part comes with the dystopian architecture… just with really efficient transport. (Laughs) It’s a surrealist yuppy city in that regard but I define surrealist yuppies as people who aren’t judgmental about mainstream things like pop music.
Which brings us nicely to your famous Tumblr post defending pop music! Were you surprised by all the negativity?
That’s really interesting because I came from a really radical noise-punk community and it’s a community that’s supposed to accept things. So it’s weird when that community then is reactionary against things that I perceive as potentially positive. I don’t think that something should be judged just because it has money behind it. Like, just because there’s money behind Beyoncé, and I fully realise that her art is kinda dependent on that, I don’t think that makes her art less credible. It’s just a different formula than Fugazi or something. (Laughs) They’re both really appealing and really awesome and they both have different takes on the music industry.
Why do you think that people who are supposedly so open-minded are in turn so close-minded to pop music?
It’s partially defensive. It’s really hard to be constantly competing with these massive, rich entities that control all the media. There is the major label system which is hard to compete with, so I understand why people can be upset. But I feel that everything should be taken for what it is and not for the context on which is exists. If something is good, it’s good. And that person you hate on a major label is probably very talented and they probably had to work very hard to get there.
Let’s move on to your music now. Your voice is so unique and it such a versatile instrument. How do you see your voice within the context your music?
I’m really into the kinda nasal, upper-register singing style, fused with electronic music. It’s influenced by k-pop and I just think it’s interesting especially since most of Western music is just into the American Idol style. My voice is the only physical instrument I’m using so all the heart and soul is in there, while all the cool stuff is in the beats. And I can use the digital stuff to flesh my vocals out so there’s a ton of stuff happening although it’s not in the usual topline kinda way.
Your lyrics are pretty abstract too…
Yeah, because when I made Visions, I was focused more on the performance and the expression. Most of it was recorded using the first take, and all the lyrics were stream of consciousness. I would try other takes afterwards, but it was never the same. The album is spontaneous and really free, and the lyrics are more about the emotions behind those vocal expressions, and shouldn’t be taken literally at all.
We also caught your gig in New York last October too and we were struck by how much your dancers added to the whole show. Do you prefer performing with them?
I couldn’t bring them here because of Visa issues, we hired new ones for each city, but yeah I really like my dancers because when there are other people onstage, it relieves a lot of the pressure. I think I perform better because I’m not so worried about all people looking at me. Working with dancers is really cool too because musicians think like musicians but dancers provide a completely different perspective. So whenever I jam with dancers, they’re always like, “Could you make that louder?” or “Could you make that faster?”, so they give me an idea of what the audience will dance or react to. I’m trying to work with dancers on my new stuff!
What do you do in your free time?
I paint a lot and I read of Russian literature and sci-fi stuff like Dune or Lord of the Rings. I watch TV a lot too! Stuff like Game of Thrones and The Wire.
Wow. Out of curiosity, who’s your favourite character from The Wire?
Omar! He’s like the Puck archetype from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that’s my favourite character from all of literature or fiction. He’s like the wholly cool archetype, who’s able to subvert authority by laughing at it. A lot of times that becomes people’s favourite character even though they’re not the main character. I just think that Omar is a really cool representation of that. And The Wire is just a really innovative show, in its depiction of poverty in America and Omar is a politically and culturally interesting figure. He exists outside of institutions and is like this voyeuristic figure that wanders around the battle zone that is Baltimore. And I’m fascinated by that.
Grimes performed at The Bee last Tuesday 12 March ’13. More on her at www.grimesmusic.com.