Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, doesn't mind working alone. She sees herself less as a modern pop diva than an experimental producer, and her dual roles are on full display during her Coachella sets, with one hand on the mic, the other on a sampler. When she returns Sunday afternoon to the Gobi tent for her second Coachella 2013 set, she'll be joined by two near-identical, dancing sisters, but the sound and vision will be all hers.
The Montreal indie auteur delivers her minimalist electro-pop into the SoCal desert heat all by herself, and last weekend bounced from centerstage to behind the dials several times per song, ripping through tracks at times noisy, ethereal, catchy and enraged from last year's Visions album. Last weekend, she opened with the ambient "Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)" before shifting into a more aggressive pace, including a screamo-ish "Be A Body" amid bubbles and smoke.
"It’s a bit of back and forth. Because it’s so improvised, I don’t like other people controlling the songs," Boucher tells Rolling Stone, sitting in a trailer at the festival's Empire Polo Field. "I also think people like it. It’s interesting to be a front person who is controlling the majority of the sound.
"I had a fake band for a while. I would still make all the music and have people play unplugged," laughs Boucher, whose first musical experiences were within the DIY, noise, punk and Goth scenes. "Everyone thought it was so important for me to have a band. That’s a traditional way of thinking about a female vocalist. I’m definitely a vocalist second to anything else. I’m a producer first. If I went on American Idol, I would definitely be kicked out immediately. I’m a passable singer, but I definitely cannot chill with a piano player and sing a ballad and have people be impressed."
While the songs "Oblivion" and "Genesis" always go over big, she leaves her set open to spontaneous inspiration, adjusting the vibe and set list to the crowd and the moment. "It definitely depends on the type of crowd. My set can get really screamo and aggressive, or it can be ambient and Enya-esque."
With a new Grimes album in the works, Boucher says next time out could be a lot different. She will have new songs to perform by the time she hits the summer festivals, and some of it will be less electro than her Coachella sets.
"I’m producing it, but I definitely want the production to be of higher quality. I’m trying to do less arpeggi, synthy stuff," Boucher explains. "I’ve been working on the record for a year, but I’ve only been hitting my stride for the last month and a half. There is a level of improving technically that I had to do, and there was also figuring out the artistic direction I wanted to take with it. I was trying everything."
For now, playing in the desert during daylight hours is enough of a challenge. Onstage she constantly adjusts samples, vocal manipulation, doubling, looping on a pair of samplers and a synth – if she can find it. "All my stuff [gear] is lit up and I can’t see it during the day," she says with a smile.