To say 2012 was a whirlwind year for Claire Boucher would be putting it mildly.
Better known to the world as Grimes, Boucher blindsided the blogosphere as well as the mainstream with her crowning achievement, the album Visions. Shortly after its release, Grimes left a solid dent in the Billboard charts, became the toast of 2012’s SXSW festival, and found gushing accolades flooding in from media outlets worldwide. With her unique and invigorating take on dance pop, industrial, noise, and ethereal music, Grimes delivered on all counts.
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter originally left her home of Vancouver at the age of 18 to attend Montreal’s McGill University, studying neuroscience and psychology. After feeling the lure of the vibrant local music scene at the age of 20, Boucher left her academic pursuits and dove headlong into the artistic abyss of isolation and poverty to dedicate herself to the songwriting craft.
“When she’s working on her art, nothing else really matters to her, and she focuses all of her being into it.” – Sebastian Cowan
The simple method that Grimes uses to write songs has changed very little over the past five years, and begins with a basic framework, before she begins the arduous task of laying down her dense layers of sound. As Boucher humbly told The Guardian in 2012, “It’s usually about finding the perfect beat. I play around until I get a tempo I like and then it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks.”
It wasn’t long until Montreal-based independent label Arbutus Records snatched up Grimes in 2010 to release her debut album Geidi Primes. In keeping with her true independent spirit, Arbutus label founder and owner Sebastian Cowan was a high school friend of Boucher’s, and was drawn to working with her solely based on her drive as a visual artist, her voice, and her unique character.
“Both Claire and I are workaholics,” says Cowan, who also serves as Grimes’ mixing engineer and manager. “I think that’s what initially drew us together in a professional sense. When she’s working on her art, nothing else really matters to her, and she focuses all of her being into it. I always had an admiration for her character. When I realized she had an incredible voice, I figured the two might come together in a beautiful way and immediately started encouraging her to make music.”
With the limelight beckoning and pressure mounting, Boucher would lock the door to her bedroom for nine days of isolation that included a lack of food, sleep and light while making Visions. Though this challenging time was marked with self-doubt and reluctant soul-searching, her path was finally forged. “The main thing is really that I need to be alone,” Boucher said in a 2012 interview with Ion magazine. “I need to forget about my existence as it is perceived by others, otherwise I get self-conscious and scared.”
As of this writing, Boucher has once again gone into self-styled exile, and granted no media access as she readies herself for what promises to be a career-defining fourth effort. Grimes’ musical confidant and cohort Cowan sheds some light on what has become one of the most anticipated albums of 2013.
“The biggest difference [since Visions],” he says, “would be her self-confidence. Once she started to play live, listening to music in a more critical way, she then incorporated all those experiences back into her music. I think Visions represents a really amazing point where everything came together: innocence, ambition, humility, sheer talent, accident and strong will. Her future records will invariably be more tailored and savvy. This isn’t better, or worse, it’s just different.”