Brand Awareness

18 March 2012 | 2:26 pm | Anthony Carew

She may shun her own press, fearful of people saying mean things about her, but Claire Boucher puts a lot of thought into brand Grimes, the indie ‘IT’ girl tells Anthony Carew.

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Grimes – 24-year-old Canadian oddball Claire Boucher – has officially arrived as this year's indie 'it' girl, an artist erupting from the safety of the underground in a blaze of hype, best-new-music gongs, and, seemingly, photo-shoots. There's been an undeniable rise in the mysterious indie entity of recent – from the elaborate marketing ruse of Iamamiwhoami to the unending ranks of masked dubstep producers and unpronounceable, unGoogleable, untraceable witch-house outfits – but Boucher seems like she's on a personal crusade to obliterate that. She feels, as of early-2012, like far-and-away the most-photographed girl in indie rock.

“It's definitely really weird, and the last thing that I ever thought about when I started doing this,” Boucher says, of being the central focus of elaborate art-shoots, bizarre tableaux, and enough glossy pics to keep Tumblrs ticking over. “I don't actually like getting my picture taken very much, I'm sort of uncomfortable about it. But all my favourite artists have a really strong identity and idea of themselves. As much as it bothers me, it's also part of what I'm trying to do. Which is sell a brand. A really strong, cohesive thing that is Grimes.”

Wait, wait, wait, sell a brand? Boucher is sounding a lot like someone born in 1988. Whereas '90s alt acts had to act uppity and feign credibility even while cashing six-figure Geffen cheques, the obliteration of the old music industry model has meant that a self-driven bedroom-producer – which was how Boucher cut her teeth – is the one wholly responsible for creating their image, their identity, and, indeed, for having a sense of marketing.

“When I first started making music, I didn't care, or think about things that much,” explains Boucher. “As Grimes became more of a thing, I realised that I did have the power to create this musical identity like that. Then I started hanging out, in Montréal, with people like Doldrums, and they think about and talk about that stuff so much; about music-as-branding, about indie-pop stardom, about creating this super-maximalist over-exposed idea of what art is, and what their art is. That was a dialogue they were really into having: the future as indie-branding; taking this concept of celebrity and doing it from the bottom up… It's this incredibly postmodern way of approaching the idea of being a musician.”

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Boucher was born and raised in Vancouver, where she was  a dedicated ballerina in her youth, but started developing a musical obsession as a teenager. “I definitely wanted to make music when I was a kid; everyone has a bit of that fantasy,” Boucher recalls, “but it's certainly not what I thought I'd be doing.” She moved to Montréal to attend McGill University, where she initially began studying neuroscience.

“I don't know if I thought it was going to be my career path, but it was definitely this field-of-study I was interested in, and if I wasn't making music it's possible I would still be pursuing it,” offers Boucher. “It's just something that I'm also very passionate about, and that I feel like I could really throw myself into. The thing that really interested me at McGill – where they have an amazing neuroscience program – is studying music and neuroscience; basically trying to discern how waves of air can create an electrical impulse that can turn into an emotional response. That doesn't, in some ways, make any sense.

“Like, music is such an anomalous artform,” Boucher continues, “there [is] no obvious sensory thing to respond to. Painting, there's something physically, literally there for you to see; cinema or literature is always appealing to this very direct emotion. But music feels super-abstract in comparison; it's actually just in the air. Yet, somehow, it's the most directly responsive of all the artforms.”

Boucher came to start dabbling in this most anomalous-yet-responsive artform only in 2009, after a cross-country adventure that found her undertaking a failed houseboating trip down the Mississippi, and ended with her living in a squat in New Orleans. She returned to Montréal determined to make music, and took inspiration from the local scene. Chief amongst those was Doldrums, her then-lover and future touring partner and collaborateur. But Boucher was inspired by a whole completely-amazing scene of bands based around the Arbutus Records co-op: Majical Cloudz, Pop Winds, Sean Nicholas Savage, Mozart's Sister, Blue Hawaii, Braids, Tops, Phèdre, etc.

“There is definitely something happening in Montreal,” Boucher says, of what was clearly 2011's most deliriously productive and astonishing micro-scene. “Most of the best music I know is coming from this same group of people. I feel like it's a really unique scene. Because all these people from Edmonton and Calgary and Vancouver, who all grew up on punk music and noise music, have migrated to Montréal and created this scene of their own. They've come from these places that're totally desolate and freezing, where there's nothing else to do. So everyone is just totally dedicated to working on their music, because they have nothing else to do, and they have these really individual identities and personal influences.”

For all the praising press that has come along with the unending photo-shoots, Boucher has tried to avoid what's being written about her, even as an individual tending to the increasingly-global Grimes brand. “I don't read any of my press, because I'm totally terrified of people saying mean things about me,” Boucher admits. “So I don't really know how exactly [Visions] has been received, but I know it's been received well. I only really talk with my mom and my friends about it. In a weird way, I care about the branding a lot. But I don't want to care about the press; I don't want to be a part of that, because I don't want to be too aware of myself. I want to be able to change and evolve and grow the project, and not feel confined about the public idea of who I am. Even though I really care about building that concept.”



Trying to find more information right now about Grimes can be a treacherous search-engine mine field. Drum forewarns you who to look out for.


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