GRIMES and NICOLE DOLLANGANGER at the Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), November 22, doors 7 pm, all ages. $32.75-$40.50. ticketmaster.ca.No,.
GRIMES and NICOLE DOLLANGANGER at the Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), November 22, doors 7 pm, all ages. $32.75-$40.50. ticketmaster.ca.
No, no, no, says the musician better known as Grimes over the phone from Los Angeles, exasperation in her voice. Every single headline that comes out is Grimes Is A Pop Star. Im just like, Fuck you.
I have no problem with pop music, but Im just emphatically not [a pop star]. Im an independent musician. Thats really important to me. I sit at home and make beats.
She has, however, toured with Skrillex and, this past summer, Lana Del Rey. Jay Zs Roc Nation now manages her career. And her just-released Art Angels was so closely guarded by her label, 4AD, that I was only allowed to hear five of the 14 tracks before its release November 6.
Then theres her music, which blurs the line between modern-day pop and traditional indie. Its from this grey area that experimental artists like FKA twigs and Purity Ring are currently finding a place on the Billboard charts, as Grimes will also surely do if Art Angels early glowing reviews are any indication. First single Flesh Without Blood is addictively catchy a la Taylor or Katy, and another single-worthy romp, California, has upbeat country twang (shes learned how to play guitar since Visions) and a definitive, sugary chorus backed by cheery handclaps.
Formerly Bouchers musical trademark, her synth soundscapes are now more subdued, layered beneath guitar loops and glossy vocals. The album runs the genre gamut, as if Boucher had a must-have checklist. She excitedly runs through the track list: Crazy banger? Venus Fly, featuring Janelle Monae. (I just wanted to make my own banger to prove that I could, she says.) Deranged pop? Kill V. Maim. Rap-worthy beat? Scream (featuring Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes).
Her defensiveness about the pop tag is understandable. For the last three years, the Vancouver-raised Bouchers every move has been reported in the media and super-analyzed by fans. Even her Tumblr post complaining that music journalists turn each of her posts into a news story garnered a footnote added to a Pitchfork article.
Its just that when it comes to Grimes, theres been a lot to talk about. Her unexpected stardom following her 2012 breakthrough album, Visions, catapulted her out of Montreals DIY loft scene and into Roc Nations office. Theres the falling out she had with Arbutus, the indie label that released her first two records. Shes become a fashion darling of Christian Dior and wore Louis Vuitton to the Met Ball.
Media, fans and critics have been hard at work trying to figure out the 27-year-old musician/producer with the childlike voice and candy-coated hooks, who swings between arty and mainstream extremes. Some music journalists have triumphantly dubbed her the new face of pop, and more than a few fans have called her a sellout.
While the internet spent the last three years pontificating about her, Boucher was trying to figure herself out, too all while writing, recording and producing one of the most anticipated albums of the year. She scrapped one version of it in the process because it sucked and was depressing, she said at the time and was adamant about releasing Art Angels on her own terms.
At any given point until this album was done, I wouldve rather suffered the consequences of waiting than put out [something I wasnt happy with], Boucher says. The pressure I felt to make an album that was better than Visions outweighed the pressure to appease people in a short-term way.
Last year she learned the hard way that pleasing people is often impossible, even when you try. After releasing Go, a drop-heavy single co-produced by close friend Blood Diamonds and originally written for Rihanna, criticism from some fans was swift.
Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins [are allowed to] have upfront vocals and hooks, but theyre alternative, Boucher says. But if I have upfront vocals and hooks, Im pop or Ive sold out.
The stigma of going mainstream has trailed Boucher since her early days. Flesh Without Blood was inspired, in fact, by her falling out with some long-time friends and artistic peers in Montreal after her newfound success and departure from super-indie Arbutus to 4AD.
There was a real difference of opinion between us on that, Boucher says. Im not going to do a Budweiser commercial, but I dont really feel like being impoverished.
Plus, there are upsides to having an ever-widening spotlight: in addition to bigger tours and bigger budgets, her opinions on matters close to her heart like lifting the veil on misogyny in the music industry also get noticed.
Take her 2013 Tumblr post entitled I Dont Want To Have To Compromise My Morals In Order To Make A Living, in which she wrote, Im tired of men who arent professional or even accomplished musicians continually offering to help me out (without being asked), as if I did this by accident and Im gonna flounder without them. Or as if the fact that Im a woman makes me incapable of using technology.
That post has been liked and re-blogged over 21,000 times.
Bouchers also using her star power to maintain a tight grip on her career. In August, she launched Eerie Organization, a small artist-cooperative-cum-indie-label that released Art Angels in Canada and will put out other music hand-picked by Boucher.
There are some artists I really, really love who werent getting signed or getting good deal offers, she explains in her chatty, friendly way. It just made me really upset that theyd be self-releasing on Bandcamp and nobody would see it.
Eeries first signee is Stouffville, Ontario-raised singer/songwriter Nicole Dollanganger, who Boucher has also brought on her current tour.
Im playing some shows with her and Im actually scared, Boucher gushes. Shes opening for me, but shes definitely just much better than me live.
Boucher comes alive when talking about artists she loves, fangirling over Lana Del Rey in particular. (Shed been advised against doing that tour since she was supposed to be finishing her album, but shes such a fan that she said, Fuck it, Im doing it anyway.) She also peppers her speech with I dont knows, ends long statements with throwaways like This makes no sense and often lets her sentences slip away mid-thought.
These glimpses of uncertainty or lack of clarity seem less like evidence of self-doubt than like a way to prevent her from saying something that might become a sensational headline the next day.
I kind of see myself as a way less popular Billy Corgan, she says, not even joking. I listen to Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness and its kind of all over the place…. She trails off. I feel like [Corgan and I] share similarities in that were both really bad at talking to journalists and maybe a bit too emotional for our own good.
These days Boucher lives in Los Angeles and cant hide her reservations about it. She sighs heavily before saying that the food is good (but people dont use enough salt here) and so is the weather, even though she misses winter. Now that shes done the record, she and a group of close friends are planning to move some place where I can forget Im a musician and go to a restaurant and chill, like Nashville, Portland or maybe even Toronto.
So all in all, whats her take-away from the past few years?
I think Ive learned that performing isnt super-scary its pretty scary but I think I can be good at if it put my mind to it. And Im more of a dick than I thought.
I can either protect myself and make people hate me, Boucher explains, or I can be a total pushover and just have a really bad time all the time. I used to be a pushover and had a terrible time.
I yelled at some people for the first time…. she begins to say before a voice in the background cuts her off. A handler trying to prevent her from saying too much?
Ah, okay, whatever, she says to the unknown voice.
She returns to the line.
Im not willing to put up with bullshit any more.
Check out the Art Angels review here, and 5 emerging artists Grimes loves here.
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