You remember her. She sat in front of you in high school. You cheated off her. Felt lucky when you were paired up in groups. And even though you would never tell your friends, beneath the rainbow-dyed hair, big headphones, and strange band shirts, you were smitten.
Time passes. Now you find yourself catching up to stay cool, spending hours searching YouTube, trying to devour all the new stuff people are name dropping on blogs, at the bar, the office. Click. Click. What’s that? Double Click. It can’t be. It is. The dyed streaks are brighter, the hoodie and high tops are newer. That’s her in the video. She was Claire Boucher then. Now, she’s Grimes.
With a siren voice, a beat catalogue of early ‘90s hip-hop, and the look of a secret high school crush, Grimes hails from Montreal by way of Vancouver, British Columbia. The 23-year-old got her start with two indie LPs, the first being distributed as a free download and on cassette. Since then she has become something of a music blog darling. She describes those first two records as “practice,” and her newest, Visions, is clearly the result of hours of work put in at the gym. The album sounds like putting a stethoscope to a René Magritte painting, Grimes’ glassy falsetto shaking the foundation of the albums’ DJ Screw-shadowed soundscapes. Coupled with her gloom-infested lyrics, Visions sounds like a pitch-perfect marriage of heaven and hell, with tranny and thug appeal, not to mention thuggish trannies.
Last Friday, Grimes stopped by the city where she got her first big break. After featuring at last year’s Gorilla vs. Bear showcase at the Granada, things started to finally move in a big way. She returned for a free show in-store at Good Records before traveling to Denton to play at Dan’s Silverleaf. A star’s rise doesn’t come without a few stumbles along the way. At times during the set she was visibly angry at technical problems and battling a few health issues from heavy touring. After the gig she sat down with me to speak on the importance of keeping the “art” in recording artist and all things grimy.
FrontRow: I noticed you dropped the “f-bomb” a couple times. Did you have any miscues?
Grimes: I have a really sore throat and all those high notes. I get really upset when I can’t sing properly.
FR: What have been some of the good spots you’ve been to on tour?
Grimes: L.A. was probably the best. We had a crazy time there. The only bad show was Victoria. That was the second show.
FR: Why was that?
Grimes: That was, like, the second show. The first couple of shows were pretty rusty. Most of these shows I’m playing with a band. Like here I’m playing by myself, but usually I’m playing with a band.
FR: Do you have a preference?
Grimes: No, they’re equally good for different reasons. Sometimes it’s a bit harder with the band to also let them jam, to kind of let them do what they want, which can make it intense. Because sometimes they do something, and I’m like, “What the hell are you doing?” But other times it can be so much more rich.
FR: You played the Gorilla vs. Bear show here last year. Did you notice anything special about the Dallas fans?
Grimes: The fans here were very different than the fans at the other show. I don’t really have a feel for Dallas yet. I feel like both times I was in really different parts of the city so it’s hard to know. This was a really good show though. I really enjoyed this. I really like Texas. There’s great food here.
FR: I feel like you’re poised for a breakout year. When this happens what would you like to do with your fame?
Grimes: I know so many artists that I think are so f*cking sick that are my friends. I would really like to promote other music and help other people. Whenever people give me CDs I always listen to them. It’s really important for me to give back to the community. I need to think about it more but I feel very strongly about environmental sh*t. If I had money I would want to invest in something positive. I’ve never had any money.
FR: What was your upbringing like as far as first getting into music?
Grimes: Two-and-a-half, three years ago I moved to Montreal. One of my best friends from high school and a bunch of people our age also did that. Huge ex-pat community, with people from Halifax and Edmonton, you know, everywhere. My current manager started a label. I had some really sh*tty demos. I had been doing some backup vocals for people on my own time and he was like, “Come on the label.” In retrospect he was like, “That was the biggest risk ever. I didn’t even think you would ever make an album at all.” The first album we put out 30 tapes, and no one ever heard it. Except when Gorilla vs. Bear wrote about, and that’s when things sort of changed. The reason I came here today is because I adore Chris [Gorilla vs. Bear creator Chris Cantalini] and David [GVB writer David Bartholow], and I owe them so much. I will always play any show they want me to play.
FR: With social media, apps, and blogs, a lot of people stumble onto music randomly. Do you miss the time when people would search within a specific genre or make mixtapes for each other? Or do you think this new way of finding music is beneficial to artists?
Grimes: I do think it’s beneficial for artists, but I also think people still do that. The only way I find out about music is what people give me. I have a bunch of friends who search the blogs really heavily and do their research, and I’ll ask them.
FR: Regarding the videos, your style, the interpretive dance that I’ve seen in a couple of your shows, do you care a lot about the total package more than just the song?
Grimes: Definitely, that’s the fun part. The low pressure part of art, you know? No one is gonna evaluate me on it. I mean they do, but it’s not the same kind of thing. With music it’s, like, Pitchfork — you get a score and everyone talks about it. There’s all this stuff that goes along with it. But when I make videos and do all that kind of stuff, it’s fun. It’s just a thing that comes along with it. To me, it means a lot. But I think the way in which I’m evaluated, and the way in which the music industry works, it’s mostly about the music. If you have a video, that’s great, but you’re not expected to.
FR: You definitely have mad swag. How important are your outfits on stage?
Grimes: They are becoming increasingly important. I always cared about outfits, but now the shows are bigger and people know who I am. I used to just not try that hard. I’m trying to work on it.
FR: Your music obviously has a hip-hop influence. Which ones inspire you?
Grimes: Definitely the Dungeon Family Crew. And then, obviously, Outkast and Early Jedi Mind Tricks, although I just stumbled across a bunch homophobic stuff they said. That makes me really sad. So I can’t love them in their later years. Those are my two favorites right now. I really like ‘90s hip-hop, and I like Wu-Tang. But I really like Janelle Monae, that kind of stuff. I feel like there’s a lot of really good female rappers right now. I like the rap electric thing that’s happening. Like techno-rap. I think that’s sick.
FR: What kind of message do you hope to send to people that listen to your tunes?
Grimes: I don’t know. I think it’s pretty broad. I think there are a lot of interpretations that can be made. Like, on one hand, I feel like this is really a depressing album that you could listen to on headphones while you go to bed. It could be really emotional. But it’s also a party thing. It’s weird because when I record music, it’s really stressful and emotional and super cathartic. But when I play music, I’m always just like, “I want people to dance!”
FR: Interesting contrast.
Grimes: I view my life and my records astotally different things.
FR: Speaking of that dichotomy, what’s the difference between Grimes and Claire?
Grimes: Claire just has more sh*t to do. Grimes is really just me being exactly what I want. In real life, I have to do banking.
All photos by William Neal