Photo Credit: John Londono
If there’s been any artist who has taken the world by storm in 2012, it’s undoubtedly the synth-pop princess that is Grimes. So, when we were invited to speak to her in her native Canada prior to the Polaris Music Prize, we were giddy at the prospect. Sitting down with her - a giant Totoro cuddly toy in tow - we chatted about everything from life as a Canadian artist, to what exactly went into that video and here’s the result.
You’ve had one hell of a year, travelling and performing all over the world, so what is it like to be back in your homeland preparing for Polaris?
It’s kinda relaxing actually. I forgot that Canada is a lot less populated than most places. I never think about that, but when I come back here after being elsewhere, I’m always like, ‘Oh yeah!’ A main street in Canada is like a side street in New York.
What’s it been like to be nominated? What went through your head when you found out that you’d made the cut?
It’s awesome! But I dunno. I didn’t make a big deal out of it because it was the long list, and I thought, ‘Oh, obviously I’m not gonna make the shortlist.’
Do you think it’s easier of you try and stay fairly distant from everything in terms of awards and press?
Yeah, I don’t really pay much attention. I don’t read any press or anything like that. I never have.
So, do you tend to gauge things in terms of your audience interaction, as opposed to critical opinions?
At the shows? Definitely.
In terms of the record itself, ‘Visions’ may have been your third album but it’s definitely been the one to give you the biggest platform. When you went into making the album, did you set out to do anything in particular?
I mean, for me, I just wanted to make something musical that I felt really good about. That was ‘an album’, front to back. I had always been like, ‘I think I could make something really good’ but I just felt like I hadn’t. So, [this time] I had this incredible need to make something that I felt confident about musically.
So, in a world where you can instantly create music - whether it be a track or an EP - do you you think you succeeded in forming a full album?
I think I succeeded, yeah, but at this point it feels really old as I’m already doing better things now.
You do seem to have already moved on - you keep mentioning working on new material.
Yeah, definitely. For me, I get sick of music super quickly. After a month, I’m very over everything, all the time.
Does it ever get a little boring to play ‘Oblivion’ over and over again, then?
Umm, not really! I get so much adrenaline from it, and I’m such a shy person that it’s not boring! Sometimes, I’m like, ‘I fucking hate this song!’ but being on stage is definitely not boring.
Every night must be a different experience.
Yeah, and we do a lot of stuff to try and make it interesting. I play with different people every time, and usually, when we go to different cities, I’ll bring friends of mine on stage to dance or do something else.
And is the idea of making shows more interactive important to you as an artist?
Yeah, just because… I feel like when you’re playing live, it’s not creative in the same way that recording is. When I’m recording, that’s definitely a very proactive, creative, fulfilling thing that’s very private. It’s just me. Then, playing live is the same thing every night, but I guess it’s just a totally different thing. My music was not intended to be played live, so it’s interesting just bringing it into that kind of space.
And so, the songs themselves have to take on a new life to become fully realised in a live environment?
Yeah! And I do a lot of improvising in the set. I kinda leave it pretty open in terms of what can be done. The song’s can end up changing so much that whenever I hear my record now, sometimes I’m like, ‘Woah’ because the song is so different to how I play it live.
Did you ever really expect to have to take these songs into such an external environment? As you said, the songs weren’t intended to be played live, so was that something you just didn’t consider when making it?
When I’m making a record, I think it’s really important to not think about how it’s going to translate live. I think it’s just, I make a record, then later on when it’s time to play it live, I find a way to keep the song’s recognisable, but make the song work in a live setting. I think trying to compromise your record so that it can sound better live is… Your record is going to outlive your touring cycle. So, the thing that’s important to me is that the record is really good. It will exist on the internet forever.
In terms of the Canadian music scene itself, how do you feel that you fit into it right now? There seems to be so many different artists of different genres involved in music right now.
Canada has got some weird stuff going on right now, so I dunno. There’s a couple different scenes, but there’s certainly a scene that I am apart of, with my friends. I mean, Yamantaka, I saw them play the first time about four years ago in Montreal. There’s definitely that Montreal thing going on with Doldrums, Flo Child. Blue Hawaii. All those bands, we all hang out all the time and use the same equipment and stuff.
It must be great to have sort of friendship circle double as a support system.
Yeah, and it’s so fun too. Everyone just plays shows together all the time too.
So, how do you feel as a Canadian artist yourself? Are you proud to come from Canada?
Yes, and no. I’m really not into the idea of Nationalism, and I really don’t like Stephen Harper, and there’s a lot of issues that I have with Canada, but I still think Canada is better than most other places. I really do appreciate the healthcare and other things. I am, though, very proud of my scene and I’m very proud of the community here. That question is tricky.
So, what comes next for you? You’ve already begun to speak of new material, but what kind of direction do you want to start going in?
Just a more… I want to be really good at songwriting. There was a period where I was getting so obsessed with the production being perfect - I still want the production to be perfect! - but there was a period when I was working on the record and it was really obscure. I was getting real far from just making songs. I think, at the end of the day, the thing that I care about the most - at least as the stuff released as Grimes - is that they’re good songs.
I’m just working on stuff that’s a lot more… On one level, I want it to be weirder and more experimental. A lot more industrial and dark and harsh, but I also want it to be hi-fi. I want the vocals to be cleaner and more upfront, and I want it to be more pop-orientated, so it’s going in both directions.
Considering your outward image - wearing Marilyn Manson shirts, for example - it doesn’t seem too surprising that you’d want to become more industrial.
I feel like, with this album, the word that I hear more than anything else is ‘adorable’. ‘Adorable’ and ‘cute’. It is the most appalling thing that I can imagine that anyone would consider me cute. That’s the exact opposite of anything I want to represent. I really want to cast off that feeling of ‘It’s little girl music’ or something. I really want it to be… I’m going to working a lot more with my deeper vocal range and trying to make something a lot more… I just don’t want it to be pigtails and bubblegum, even though I like pigtails and bubblegum. I feel like, if you look at the body of music I have made then it wouldn’t be that, but I feel like ‘Visions’ is a pink album. In my brain, it’s like pink flower petals on a baby blue background. I want the next album to be metallic purple and metallic black. That’s a really weird way to describe it.
It’s not the first time we’ve had music described to us in colours though!
It actually makes sense! I feel like when you say that to people, it clicks.
In terms of the image that you have and the music that you make, is it ever a concern that you might get buried in this ‘quirky’ tag?
I really don’t like the quirky tag! I know! i think people think I’m really ditsy and out of it and weird, and stylish, or something? I think it’s just one of those things where you see just a little bit of an artist.
I can understand that if you saw some of the little things that I’m doing, you might consider them to be vapid or pointless. Sometimes, I worry that my association with all of this Tumblr stuff… I don’t even use Tumblr! I don’t have a problem with that culture, but I think that people may think that what I’m doing is vapid and really fashion-orientated. I mean, I care about fashion but that’s probably the least important aspect of what I’m doing.
You do clearly care about visuals and image though, as demonstrated perfectly with your latest video. What went into the concept for it?
The video is… I wanted to make an anime, Tarantino-style version of how my childhood brain perceived Catholicism. That’s me condensing that a lot! When I was a kid, I went to Catholic school and stuff, and the world felt like this insane, terrifying action movie. I’m not religious now, but when your teachers are like, ‘Satan exists! You could go to Hell!’, I was like ‘Oh my God!’ I was utterly terrified all the time.
I had this copy of the Bible and the Dore illustrations of the Divine comedy, with Danté and Hell. So terrifying. I remember just obsessing over this Doré book of Danté and Virgil climbing through Hell. I just looked at it all the time. I was just obsessed with it when I was kid. It’s really scary! I mean, it’s a great story; it’s like the best action movie ever. So, I wanted to take that and reinterpret that, and make all the characters female and put them in armour.
The outfits are incredible, too.
Yeah, my friend Seth made everything, and it’s not as high budget as it looks. Escalades are about two hundred bucks a day to rent and that’s probably the most expensive thing in there. The armour that Brooke is wearing is shiny tape, taped onto cardboard. I think one of the things that I’m really good at is making things look expensive when they’re very inexpensive. ‘Vanessa’ had a $60 budget for that video. I’d rather just do stuff with my friends, as it’s more fun that way. It’s a not a job and it becomes a good way to spend the afternoon.
Do you think you might do anymore videos from ‘Visions’?
Um, I don’t know from this album - I just don’t know if I can hear any of my music anymore. I shot a video for ‘Be A Body’, and I edited it but I’ve decided I need to re-edit it. I think I need a break from that song before I can do that.
And do you just want to keep taking things to new creative levels?
Yeah, I think so.
Grimes’ new album ‘Visions’ is out now via 4AD.