Metamorphosis of the Girl Next Door

Text by Charlotte M. Davey

Photography by Tommy Chase Lucas

"Hi, is that Grimes?"

"Oh, you mean Claire? This is her mum. I'll just get her."

This is how our interview with Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, begins. The Canadian-born singer has just finished her fourth album, Visions, due for release in March. The past two years have been busy; she's released three albums, Halfaxa, Darkbloom (with d'Eeon), and Geidi Primes; toured with Lykke Li; and played at Pop Montreal. Halfaxa, particularly, earned her significant notice. But Visions is the first album that feels complete. "I know more about production now so there are more 'soundscapes'," she says. "The other albums were much more experimental."

The result is a richer sound with tighter beats, the experimental approach and trademark vocal now contained within a pop framework. The album's first single, "Oblivion", has already received substantial praise for its seamless mix of a catchy tune with ghost-child vocals.

It was Darkbloom's "Vanessa" that first put Grimes on the map. A move into a lighter, prime-time sound, it featured layered haunting yet playful vocals, its slicker sound pointing the way to an album such as Visions. "It's the only instrument I have," she says of her voice. "I want it to be emotional."

Grimes' influences range from fellow underground musicians Purity Ring to pop princess Mariah Carey. Currently on her stereo is a lot of contemporary Japanese music, and she can only understand the emotional content through vocal expression. "That's what I want my music to be like, open to interpretation. I think my lyrics are more important now. No, wait. I don't care about lyrics!" she jokes, excitably.

It is hard to believe that the siren voice on "Oblivion" comes from a small girl with big features who employs "super" regularly as an adjective. It's hard to believe, too, that Grimes inadvertently fell into the music business. Her much-publicised lack of classical training has meant that her evolution as a performer has been documented on stage "I'm getting better at stage performances now, but if I was just with my friends and they said 'sing us a tune', I'd be like… awkward!" When asked about her transformation from girl-next-door to pop star she states, after a series of giggles: "When I first started playing, I wore shorts and T-shirts because I only had shorts and T-shirts. But it's really fun to dress up and I find it easier to play if the show has this visual aspect." With her short fringe now platinum blonde and the sides of her head shaved, she resembles a glamorous alien. A mood amplified by her new-found penchant for flowing dresses and statement jewellery.

The stylised, futuristic yet mythical creature she now resembles reflects her music perfectly, and also signals that, in tandem with the new album, Grimes has become the artist she intended to be. "I didn't have much control over my image in the past," she states, citing the video for "Vanessa" as an example. "It's pretty safe,  but I mean, me dancing around in a pink dress? That's not exactly what I am, but it was a lot of fun to make." Perhaps her need to carve out her own niche derives from the constant comparisons to other female singers. "Every interviewer compares me to Kate Bush or Björk, like they don't know how to talk about an experimental female artist. I don't think I'm actually like them at all. I think I'm more contemporary, more relevant."

Boucher accepts that said comparisons are because she's a solo artist, even though she operates the guise of a "band" called Grimes. Originally just her and GarageBand software, Grimes has always been the product of her singular vision, something she would never change. "Grimes would never have another member." So why a separate band name? Put simply, she thinks her name is "boring" - the name, like her career, was born out of serendipity. "I didn't really think about it, it was just my MySpace name and I didn't want to change it. There is a significance," she confides, "but it's a secret." §

Grimes' new album Visions is out on March 12 on Arbutus / 4AD.

  • Grimes