When 4AD announced early in the new year that it would be releasing the next album by Grimes, it seemed a natural fit. Grimes, the solo project of Canadian Claire Boucher, is darkly ethereal, a half-past-midnight combination of electronic beats and delay-treated vocals that sounds right at home on the label that brought the world Cocteau Twins and His Name Is Alive.
Calling the Straight from her stepdad’s house in Vancouver, Boucher says that 4AD artists made a profound impact on her during her teenage years. “Cocteau Twins is definitely a pretty heavy influence on me,” notes the musician, who until recently was based in Montreal. “They’re one of the first bands I was into that was considered alternative, or artistically relevant, that was female-fronted. I feel like that was a pretty big thing for me when I was in high school, because there weren’t a lot of bands that I could relate to in that way. Cocteau Twins are pretty seminal, for me.”
Make no mistake, though: based on the evidence of the new Grimes album, Visions, Boucher has no interest in emulating her heroes. Where the Cocteau Twins’ sound relied heavily on oceanic swells of multitracked guitar, Boucher constructs her songs using synthesizers and drum machines. To these she adds her unique singing, which carries the imprint of a number of other artists, often in the course of a single song. The spare and haunting “Skin”, for instance, finds her layering vocal track upon vocal track like the Enya disciple she professes to be, but then she switches to her higher register and lets loose runs reminiscent of a certain contemporary R&B diva.
“Actually, Mariah Carey is my favourite singer,” Boucher readily acknowledges when the question is posed. “I really, really love Mariah Carey. But obviously I’ll never be anything like that good. I’m really into Top-40 music. I’m really opposed to the highbrow-lowbrow divide. I really think Mariah Carey is extremely innovative and extremely talented.”
Boucher’s high opinion of Mimi isn’t too surprising, coming as it does from someone whose first musical purchase was OutKast’s Stankonia album, but who also grew up listening to Skinny Puppy and Marilyn Manson.
“The most influential music on me, both as a producer and as a singer, is probably R&B and hip-hop, although I think I’m filtering that through a goth-industrial kind of thing,” she says. “That’s the ingredients of Grimes.”
Hence choice Visions cuts like “Be a Body” and “Oblivion”, in which feather-light vocal melodies are anchored to steadily pumping dance beats. If these new songs are more accessible than past Grimes outings, that’s because Boucher has been doing a lot of thinking about how to connect with an audience. It’s a consideration that extends to the live arena, as well. Boucher says touring as Lykke Li’s opening act last year gave her a crash course in how to present herself and her music on-stage.
“I used to not really know what a show was about,” she admits. “I think since meeting and talking to a lot of musicians, I’m formulating my idea of what a show should be—which is really something not like the record. It’s about it being live, and translating that, and creating some kind of energy with an audience as opposed to just playing the songs off the record or something. Most of my songs, when I play them live now, are a lot more aggressive than how they are on the record. For me, my favourite kind of live shows are punk or metal shows. Shows that are really aggressive and loud. So I try to bring that kind of energy to a pop vibe somehow.”
Grimes plays Fortune Sound Club on Saturday (February 18).