Claire Boucher, a.k.a. Grimes, prides herself on being a one-woman show. She writes, produces, engineers and performs some of her generation’s most inventive indie pop – most recently Art Angels, which hit Number One on the Alternative album charts and shifted her from hazy synth-pop toward an off-kilter guitars-and-beats sound. The Vancouver native, 28, takes charge of the videos too: At the moment, she’s lounging in bed at her Los Angeles apartment, editing the clip to her next single, “California” (which sounds like mutated Dixie Chicks). In May, she’ll join Florence and the Machine on tour, and this month, she’s set to play Coachella – where her set might coincide with a certain hard-rock band’s reunion. “They’re onstage for so long,” she says cheerfully, “so you can still catch Grimes and Guns N’ Roses.”
You learned to play guitar just for this album, right?
Yeah, this was just my first attempt at playing the guitar. Which is apparent when you listen to the album. After [previous LP] Visions, I didn’t want to play the keys, ’cause I don’t want to be considered “synth-pop.” One of the first things I did was Google what chords were in Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” and I used those on “Belly of the Beat.”
You also taught yourself to play violin, which seems pretty difficult.
You just Google shit and, like, learn it. But all my violins are incredibly Auto-Tuned, and I just recorded a bunch of notes and arranged them after the fact.
You’re signed to Jay Z’s management company. What’s the best advice he’s given you?
He told me to stop apologizing so much. It was very difficult. Canadians have to say “sorry” all the time. That’s actually really good advice.
You’ve mentioned Tool as a big influence. What is the attraction there?
Instrumentally and vocally, they go to a ton of weird places. And I love the dynamic range, too. They’re so artsy, but also populist. I try to live by the sonic principles of Tool.
Art Angels uses rock sounds in a really different context. Do you have thoughts on how rock can work in 2016?
I personally really love [British bands] like Bring Me the Horizon and Foals. There’s definitely a future in rock, but it will probably be more fusion-oriented, like rock that uses 808s. Twenty One Pilots is kind of like that – it’s sort of rock, but the sound is hip-hop. You know all those songs on [the Smashing Pumpkins’] Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that almost sound like Lorde or something? I feel like that vibe has not been explored.
You’ve been critical of the male-dominated pop-production system – with that in mind, what do you make of Kesha’s lawsuit against Dr. Luke?
I don’t know enough about the specifics of that situation, because it seems very complicated. But I will say that I’ve been in numerous situations where male producers would literally be like, “We won’t finish the song unless you come back to my hotel room.” If I was younger or in a more financially desperate situation, maybe I would have done that. I don’t think there are few female producers because women aren’t interested. It’s difficult for women to get in. It’s a pretty hostile environment.
“I’ve been in numerous situations where male producers would literally be like, ‘We won’t finish the song unless you come back to my hotel room.'”
Late last year, you talked about taking a break from music. Are you in a different place now?
Yeah, definitely. I’m actually halfway done with another record. I’m not committing to anything, but I have a bunch of B sides I kind of want to finish. Plus, I’ve been making a bit of new music.
How would you describe the direction of the new songs?
With Art Angels, it was all like [growls]. This would be more chill vibes, downtempos, synth-y shit. That makes it sound boring. It’s not boring.
So it’s a B-sides album?
You know how Lana Del Rey put out Paradise Edition after Born to Die? It would be like that. There are songs I seriously considered for Art Angels, but they fucked with the momentum when I tried to put them on the record.
I feel like the level of fame you have is more difficult than being a superstar.
That’s definitely true. You’re successful, but you’re not successful enough that you can afford to totally piss off the fans. Most of the time, when I was making Art Angels, I was thinking, “If people hate this, I have to go work at Starbucks.” People recognize you pretty much every time you’re out of your house, but you also can’t afford to have full-time security. It’s a weird situation.
You have a lot of tattoos, and a pretty casual attitude toward getting them, right?
Yeah, I don’t give a fuck. I’ll get a tattoo anywhere, anytime, pretty much.
Do you have a least-favorite?
There’s one of an alien on my hand that seems so dated. It was just so hip to be into, like, alien iconography and, like, The X-Files in the early 2010s. It seems corny now, but I thought it was a fun idea at the time.