If you want to make music — I mean, if you really want to make music — there are several steps. And like anything that is creative and hard and requires commitment and sacrifice, Step One is to actually make music. This is especially true if your musical vision is singular enough that you know that you'll be going it alone, which is the path that the now-23-year-old Claire Boucher embarked on when she decided to re-imagine herself as Grimes and commit to her idiosyncratic pop. It's kind of the "showing up is 80 percent of the job" theory applied to the creative arts — and in Grimes's case, it makes simple the complex alchemy and self-actualization of her art.
QUIT YOUR DAY JOB "Not knowing how to do something can sometimes be an asset," says Claire Boucher of Grimes.
"I had always wanted to make music," she says to me from a cell phone in the back of a moving vehicle in California, on a tour that will bring her to a sold-out show at Great Scott on Monday night, "and one day I just decided that I was actually going to do it instead of not doing it." Of course, what Boucher is explaining is about more than just making the music — it's committing to a lifestyle where making music is the sole focus of one's being.
"I kept working on my music until around March of last year, at which point I was selling enough tapes to — well, my rent was only $200 a month, and I literally didn't spend any money on anything. And I was done with school, so I didn't have any school fees and was only spending around $300 a month total, so I decided to just quit my job and totally focus on Grimes." Her focus paid off, for both the artist and her audience, first in the dividend of last year's excellent Geidi Primes and Halfaxa albums, and then in this year's breakthrough, Visions (4AD). Filled with skittering beats, soaring vocals, and yearning choruses, Visions is the sound of a unique artist finding her voice in a way that is both personally satisfying and universally hummable.
"Not knowing how to do something can sometimes be an asset," Boucher says. "If you don't know how to do something and you figure it out yourself, it's kind of like, a) if you make a mistake you'll never make that mistake again, or b) you might make a mistake and learn how to do something really interesting that you didn't intend, or c) you'll just be really good at doing that thing because you had to learn it yourself instead of having someone else show you. So there are a lot of advantages to working on your own and possibly without a lot of education about what you're doing."
Whereas her previous records often skittered into unusual alleyways of sound and rhythm, Visions focuses heavily on the power of song, whether in the synthpop-meets-"Runaway" vibe of single "Oblivion," or the melismatic Mariah-Carey-on-helium space bounce of "Vowels = Space and Time." Boucher doesn't shy away from the clear R&B influence on her individualistic DIY synth-jamming, either. "R&B can be tough but also really feminine. At the end of the day, I just make music that feels good to make, and to me, a lot of R&B is just super sensual and super classy."