The Swarm

December 03, 2012

Firsts: Grimes...

Chris Dart

Grimes isn’t really a musician. Not exactly. That’s not to take anything away from her musical talent – her breakout third album Visions has made multiple “best of 2012” lists – but music is just one of the things that Grimes, known to a select few as Claire Boucher, does to occupy her time.

In an alternate universe, Grimes is probably drawing covers for Marvel, or directing big-budget sci-fi epics – and don’t count her out yet on either count; if she turned into some version of Lady Gaga with authentic indie/avant-garde cred, we’re cool with that, too. The Vancouver-born, Montreal-based genre-bending synthpop wizard was a visual artist long before she even looked at a keyboard – in fact, she created the cover art for Visions – and says that she was making comic books “before I did anything else.” She only started making music because it seemed “easy.” She also directs her own music videos, a move she says came as much out of her dissatisfaction at working with other directors as anything else.

Indeed, in addition to being an artist, director, singer and producer, Grimes is also a full-time iconoclast. She introduced the world to Brooke Candy, the California-based rapper/stripper who’s become an Internet sensation since starring in Grimes’ video for “Genesis,” has been experimenting with fashion since elementary school, and once tried experiment with “alternative ways of living” by setting up house in a boat sailing down the Mississippi. (She claims the online accounts of the houseboat episode are completely false. Read on.)

Here, Grimes breaks down her most significant “firsts” – in the process, her irreverent voice becomes clear as she succinctly explains how she got to be the consummate, compelling multimedia savant she is today.

The Daily Swarm: What was the first piece of art that made you want to make art?

Grimes: Probably a comic book, likely Spawn. I made comics before I did anything else.

The Daily Swarm: What was the first record you ever bought? And what was your first download?

Grimes: Bought? Either Stankonia by Outkast, or Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. As for first download, I think it was a Muse record! LOL!

The Daily Swarm: What was the first book you read that you felt reflected or expanded your worldview?

Grimes: Lord of the Rings.

The Daily Swarm: What was the first anime you ever watched?

Grimes: Probably My Neighbor Totoro. My first visit to Japan was a revelation, that’s for sure.

The Daily Swarm: What was the first sci-fi/fantasy film that had a profound effect on you?

Grimes: The Fifth Element or Dune – two of my favourite childhood movies.

The Daily Swarm: Describe the first Grimes show.

Grimes: It was bad. I think I vomited.

The Daily Swarm: What was the first hip-hop record you ever heard?

Grimes: Probably Biggie or Outkast. I was really into hip-hop in elementary school.

The Daily Swarm: What was your first impression of the Arbutus folks when you met them?

Grimes: Well, they weren’t the Arbutus folks then. I met the founding crewmember on the first day of high school because we were both like, I don’t know, weird raver goths. Heh.

The Daily Swarm: How did you first meet Brooke Candy?

Grimes: I met her at a Grimes afterparty. I was captivated by her beauty.

The Daily Swarm: Tell me about the first time you ever heard Skinny Puppy?

Grimes: I heard Skinny Puppy probably in grade eight or so, and I became obsessed immediately.

The Daily Swarm: What did you think when you first learned that key Skinny Puppy collaborator Dave Ogilvie produced ‘Call Me Maybe’?

Grimes: Finding out that Dave Ogilvie produced “Call Me Maybe” was a beautiful moment.

The Daily Swarm: When did you first start to develop your own sense of style? Did you even know it was a style? What did it incorporate?

Grimes: Probably in grade one. I went to a school with uniforms: it was the bane of my existence at the time, so I started cutting holes in my shirts and drawing tribal tattoos in sharpie on my arms because I thought it looked cool.

The Daily Swarm: When did you first get the idea to go the Mississippi in a houseboat? What did you learn from the experience? And what was your first clue that said boat wasn’t going to make it to New Orleans?

Grimes: Nothing you’ve read about that story online is true. There was no Huck Finn crap: I was trying to live on a boat because I was interested in alternative ways of living, and I didn’t like paying rent. It’s legal to live on a boat as long as you use an anchor and aren’t tied to shore. I had a full boating license, the boat was insured and licensed, my friend was a mechanic, and everything was in full working condition. The police attacked us at five in the morning, smashed the windows and told us they didn’t give a shit about our safety. They were just going to fuck us over because they “Didn’t like the way we looked.” So no, I was not planning to sail to New Orleans, because I’m not an idiot. I’ve been operating heavy machinery, including boats, since I was five years old.


The Daily Swarm: What was it like the first time you played in Montreal after having opened for Lykke Li on tour?

Grimes: Hmmm… I’m not sure. I think I might have played an afterparty after that tour. We always do after parties after tours end.

The Daily Swarm: What did you think the first time someone compared you to Kate Bush? And when did someone first make what you felt was a relevant comparison?

Grimes: I think I was compared to Kate Bush in the first article ever about Grimes which was probably a Weird Canada review, which is a cool independent website that reviews Canadian underground music. In retrospect, I do feel like its a pretty relevant comparison; at first, I was put off because every experimental female musician ever has been compared to Kate Bush or Björk. I guess I felt like it was kind of lazy journalism on some occasions, but I don’t know… At least Kate Bush and I are both producers who flirt with pop sonics and make vocal-heavy, beat-heavy weirdo music.

The Daily Swarm: Why did you decide to release your first album on tape?

Grimes: Because I had found like 200 tapes and a tape copier in the alley behind my house.

The Daily Swarm: What was the first computer you ever owned?

Grimes: I think my dad had a desktop computer at our house when I was in, like, grade three, but I personally got a laptop in 2006 or 2007. I ended up destroying it accidentally, but I think Doldrums was able to make a record on it, still.

The Daily Swarm: What was the first thing Diplo ever said to you? What was touring with him and Skrillex like?

Grimes: Um, I think he said I had a “pretty voice” or something to that effect. Then he asked me what my goals in life were. That tour was awesome – one of the best experiences of my life.

The Daily Swarm: What was your response when Skrillex first asked you to go on tour with him?

Grimes: I cried. He’s one of my top ten, all-time favorite producers.

The Daily Swarm: When did you first think about directing your own video? What was it actually like directing your first video?

Grimes: I started doing it because I kept having to work with directors who tried to make me do things I felt really uncomfortable doing. Everyone was really pushing the “be sexy” angle at first, or were cruel to the crew, or just didn’t really have good ideas. I started doing it out of necessity, but then I realized I loved it and it was really fun. The first video I directed was for the song “Vanessa.” I realized that directing is really easy: it’s just about eliciting the best performance possible from the cast, which basically means getting them to be as comfortable as possible. I don’t get directors who yell at everybody – videos are better when everyone’s in a good mood.

The Daily Swarm: What was your first Tweet?

Grimes: I’m not sure. Probably my friend D’Eon wrote something because he set up my Twitter account. I subsequently did not check my Twitter for about a year.

The Daily Swarm: When and why did you first decide to call yourself Grimes?

Grimes: It’s a secret.

The Daily Swarm: Why did you first start making music?

Grimes: Because I realized it was easy.

The Daily Swarm: When did you first think you might need to drop out of McGill University to do music full time?

Grimes: I was kicked out, so I pursued music full time because it was my only choice at that point.

The Daily Swarm: Tell me about the first time you went into a recording studio.

Grimes: I’ve never been in a studio.

The Daily Swarm: What was your first synthesizer?

Grimes: Ha, ha! Oh Jesus, I have no idea… Like a cheap Yamaha. I still have it. I got it for Christmas when I was in high school, and made the first two Grimes records with it.

The Daily Swarm: What was it like to start writing new material after the success of Visions? How was it different, and the same?

Grimes: Well, I never really stopped. I always work on music. It’s just kind of one long process.

The Daily Swarm: What was the first time you realized you might actually be having an impact on culture?

Grimes: When people started being Grimes for Halloween.

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