Why Grimes won't 'cringe' when people hear her epic new album
The experimental pop star reveals new details to EW about her next collection.
Grimes isn’t into giving specifics about her next album, due out sometime this fall. She won’t reveal a working title and when asked when she would release it, Grimes tells EW, “I think I want to [announce] it right before and be like, ‘This is the title and my album is coming out in three days.'” Speaking via Skype from her home in Los Angeles, she’s unconcerned about pressure from her label or music biz standards. “I just want to have breathing room. I wanted to be able to not have to worry and just work until the last minute. I don’t care about doing it in any normal way.”
Grimes, whose given name is Claire Boucher, has had the same defiant approach to releasing her music since breaking out in Montreal’s experimental scene, and she hasn’t give it up (even though her last album, 2012’s Visions, made her a bonafide pop star whether her die-hard fans support that moniker or not). Below, Boucher reveals new details about the collection, like how she found a few random Japanese tracks to sample, developed a “vampire mobster” character perspective from which to write, and tried rapping in Dothraki.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you feel now that you’re a few months away from releasing the album?
Pretty good, I guess. I just want to get it out. I feel like I’m moving on to the next thing in terms of music. I think I just finished it last night maybe, but I’m sick of it at this point. It’s the first record that I’ve made that I can listen to with other people around and not cringe and feel horrified. I think that’s a good sign.
What about it makes you feel not cringe-y?
I think I just got to finish it. I didn’t necessarily think people were going to listen to [my other albums]. This is the first record I’ve made with an audience. I made Visions in a couple weeks. Most of those songs are like the demo track. I’d be like, “Blah blah blah,” and just keep it. This time all the songs are kind of written. You could theoretically play them all on the guitar or on the piano. In terms of the sound design, I got a lot better.
You said you taught yourself a bunch of new instruments for this album. Which one appears the most?
I’m really bad at violin. There are lots of violins on this record, but they’re the most doctored, looped violins of all time. They’re Auto-Tuned. I learned about different kinds of producing working with friends. I learned about different types of drums like 808s, different types of hardware and percussion and that kind of thing.
So, is every sound of this album you?
There are no other musicians but there are three songs that are based on a sample. All the songs contain songs I’ve made too. A lot of them are only me.
Can you share what the samples are yet?
They’re all really weird. They’re not like “cool” samples. They’re Japanese compilations from the ’80s and sh–.
Stuff you found and liked?
My friend’s archiving a bunch of sh– and while he was doing that I was like, “Oooh…there are all these really weird sounds.” There’s one that really sounds like Baby Bash.
You mentioned one collaborator so far, Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. What kind of artists did you want to collaborate with on this album?
I wanted people who write their own stuff but can execute a pop track. In the cases where I have vocalists, it’s like tracks that are maybe more rhythmic and less melodic information. I can’t rap! I tried rapping in Dothraki and it didn’t work. I was really proud of the beats. So I wanted to try to find cool people who would want to participate. I’d trade them a song, not like paying somebody. Someone who honestly wants to collaborate. Then I’ll make them a beat or do a vocal feature or something later.
Just to be clear, none of the songs you released in the last year will be on the album?
By popular demand, I did try to remake “Realiti” and it is really good now. I’m considering putting it on the record. I had to re-produce it for the live show anyway. I don’t like “Realiti,” but everybody else does. I may put it on by popular demand, I don’t know.
Why don’t you like it?
It’s a lazy song. I wrote it in 20 minutes. But I should probably put it on. I hate [Visions single] “Oblivion” too. All the songs that are singles are all songs people have to force me to do. I know that if I don’t like and everyone else likes it, then it’s probably a single. I always hate the songs that are the singles.
Do you any of of your other alter-egos appear on this album?
It’s pretty much all alter-egos. There are a bunch [of songs] from the perspective of a vampire mobster character, which I’m now concerned about because I’m realizing if people think the words are from my perspective, they might think I’m insane. It’s about crime and stuff. There’s a lot more stuff like that because I feel more adventurous if I feel like I can — I don’t know if abdicate is the right word— but if I don’t have to take the blame because it’s not me.
Like you’re speaking through someone else?
If people judge it, I feel less attached to it because I feel like it’s less me. I feel like it’s a character I’m playing.
The misconception is that it’s a bunch of stuff like [2014 track] “Go,” but “Go” was written with my friend who does a lot of pop stuff, jokingly submitting sh–. I think it’s too un-pop, but it’s less pop than Visions, maybe. It’s not a lot of drums. It’s not very fun. I would never want to play it live. Before I got good at guitar, when I was making sh–ty guitar music, it was just crap. It’s just a bunch of weird crap that’s not finished.
That’s the music you’ve described as dark and gloomy?
It’s really disjointed. I was trying to learn a million different styles. I was trying to learn a bunch of sh– then I came to L.A. and put it all on a hard drive and put it away. I stopped worrying about all this work I would never finish and just started again.
That sounds cathartic, starting over with all these new skills that you have.
I know everyone’s mad about it but it felt like the songs weren’t so much songs but it was a skill-developing time, not a creative learning time. I felt like my first two albums, they were learning albums. I was learning how to make music.
It seemed like the claim that you had music you weren’t releasing was blown out of proportion, too.
I don’t know if it was that formed. It didn’t have a tracklist or anything. It’s honestly like hundreds of songs. “Realiti” was probably the most finished one that I had, that’s why I put it out.
Do you care about what people are going to call this album, genre-wise?
Describing sound is basically impossible. I always get angry about labels but they’re going to happen.
Do you care about hype or people’s expectations about the album?
I’m concerned with delivering. If I’m going to ask people to pay for something, it has to be really good. I feel like if I’m going to ask people to buy something it has to be good. But I’m not concerned whether or not it’s this or that. When I put out Visions, everyone got really mad and told me I sold out, so I’ve already been there. Whenever I put out music there’s op-eds and outrage.
When did you realize that was going to happen?
When I put out “Vanessa” in Montreal, I remember someone wrote an op-ed in the Montreal Gazette called, “Grimes makes car commercial music.” It’s always happened. I think I’m stuck between an experimental scene and a pop scene. Everyone is always mad when I give lip service to one or the other. If I make stuff that’s too weird, people complain. Then if I make stuff that’s too pop, other people complain. This album is two halves. It’s very structured like that. If you’re going to complain about one-half, then you have the other half.
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