One to watch: Grimes

Canadian musician Grimes on how the internet, amphetamine and total seclusion inspired her eclectic new album

'There was sort of a moment of realisation," says 23-year-old Claire Boucher. "One day, I was listening to music and it suddenly made sense to me how it was constructed."

That was just three years ago. Ever since a friend showed Boucher how the music software GarageBand worked, she's been recording and performing under the alias Grimes, compulsively making the kind of music that compels you to dance.

"I have a nervous tic," explains the Canadian-born musician. "When I was a kid, I would constantly be banging on things with my foot. Making music has been a really good mechanism for releasing some kind of percussive issue that I have. It's usually about finding a perfect beat; I play around until I get a tempo I like and then it's just a matter of filling in the blanks."

That may sound formulaic, but her music is anything but. Propulsive, heady, beat-driven synth music, its unspooling psychedelia is made all the more intoxicating by Boucher's extraordinary voice. She's low-pitched and slightly gruff when she speaks (all the more so after an hour's sleep the morning we talk), but sings with an ultra-girlish, lisping falsetto that gives her tracks a double edge of innocence and incantatory witchiness.

Her music-making came about through Lab Synthèse, a loft space in Montreal that became a live music venue until it was shut down by police in November 2009, giving rise to Arbutus Records, which is as much an arts collective as it is a label.

"Grimes would definitely not be possible if other people hadn't held my hand so much of the way," Boucher says. Friends also persuaded her to put out her music: her first two albums, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa, were made available for free online in 2010.

She's used the phrase "post-internet" to describe her sound but laughs, a little embarrassed, when I mention this. "I should give the disclaimer that that was said in passing and in no way was I attempting to start a kind of meme or anything! The phenomenon I'm referring to is the neurobiological difference between people who were born after the internet became a common, household thing and people who had their adolescence without exposure to the internet."

Boucher was 11 when the music sharing program Napster came along, meaning: "I went through my adolescence having this revelatory experience – I can have any music I want and I can get it immediately. For me and for a lot of people I know, there's this musical eclecticism that happened."

That's evident in the riotous miscellany of artists and styles her music has been compared to: Enya, the new jack swing of the early 90s, Korean pop, Aphex Twin, TLC and Madonna are just a few. By sounding a little like everything you've ever heard, the whole sounds like nothing you've ever heard.

The making of Visions – technically her third album, but the first to be released on the 4AD label – involved an "outrageous deadline" and ingesting a lot of amphetamine ("I didn't sleep forever"). Boucher locked herself in her bedroom, blacked out the windows and didn't leave for three weeks.

"It was really horrible but also really great because obviously I went insane, which is extremely useful when you're trying to record an album. I took out every possible physical or sonic influence and became obsessed with filling the void."

It's an astounding record and wider success now seems a near-inevitability after countless big-in-2012 nods, including the No 1 spot on NME's list of the year's most exciting new bands. That, she says, is something she can't let herself contemplate: "When I do, it ruins my ability to make music.

"I'm a super-introverted person. I don't even wear shoes with heels because I hate making a noise when I walk and people looking at me. In my dream world, I would just write music for Rihanna and sit in pyjamas and have really dirty hair."

Instead, she's both producer and pop star.

"It's kind of like I'm Phil Spector and I'm forcing a young girl to make pop music and perform exhaustively," she says cheerily. "Except, instead of it being someone else, that girl is also me."


Hermione Hoby

The GuardianTramp

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