When Claire Boucher moved to Montreal from Vancouver to attend McGill University in 2006, she was hoping to study electro-acoustics and the neuroscience of music. The subjects fascinated her, but there was a small problem.
"I got in because I totally lied on the application," says Boucher, who records under the name Grimes, laughing. "They were like, 'How many years of piano do you have?' And I was like, 'Eleven.'"
Boucher's desire to pursue her interests, experience be damned, has made Grimes one of the most exciting solo acts working today. Boucher began recording in her bedroom in 2008 using Apple's GarageBand software, with neither 11 years of piano nor any other musical training under her belt, and released Geidi Primes in 2010 on Arbutus Records-a label started by longtime friend and current manager Sebastian Cowan. A second album, Halfaxa, and a split EP, Darkbloom (with d'Eon), followed in 2011.
With each release Grimes' profile grew, reaching new heights last fall with standout performances at the CMJ Music Marathon and Pop Montreal festivals, and the release of "Oblivion," the first taste of third album Visions. The pristine pop cut, which showcases Boucher's exponential growth as a songwriter and producer, perked ears from Pitchfork to Vogue.
With the increased attention, however, came more responsibilities, which Arbutus-a small, hyper-localized Montreal label-couldn't necessarily handle on its own. But in late September, Cowan and Boucher met 4AD A&R/product manager Jane Abernethy and began working on a deal. The result: Visions will be co-released on Arbutus and 4AD on Feb. 21.
"It's not at all like, 'Now that it's on 4AD, we're calling the shots,'" 4AD label manager Nabil Ayers says. "It's still very much about Claire and Sebastian's vision, what they want to do, and building on what they've already been working really hard on for the last few years."
It's a unique and mutually beneficial partnership: For Ayers, working with a smaller label has been an exciting new learning experience, while Cowan appreciates that 4AD not only gives Arbutus access to new markets, it alleviates some of the manufacturing and promotion burden so he can focus on building his roster beyond Grimes. "Now the conversation that I'm having, the deals I'm doing, the people I'm meeting and the places I'm going are able to afford the other bands that I work with the chance to do those things, which never would've happened before," he says.
While the current focus is on Grimes and Visions, Abernethy notes that could change. "There's some great bands on Arbutus," she says. "We're open to helping them in any way in the future."
Boucher says Visions was crafted in fits of unfulfilled desire-wanting to be home while on the road, needing to leave when she got back, then missing home again. "That sounds so negative," she says. "I'm actually not a particularly negative person, but I feel like most things are better when they're not actualized. The motivation that comes from wanting something is so much more driving of people than actually getting it."
Though the word "ethereal" is often attached to her music, the tag, especially on Visions, feels somewhat wrong. It may sound otherworldly, but Boucher's meticulous layering of R&B-tinged synths and pulsating industrial beats, all topped off with her stunning voice, grounds her music in something all too human.
"It's just a matter of confidence," Boucher says of her singing, which reaches dizzying heights on Visions. "Especially with music, people want confidence. And it's so obvious-it just shines through things-when something is unsure."