Dance

Grimes on Discord, Her 'Space Opera' & Being Right About the Future: 'I'm Not Just Trying to Be Weird'

Grimes
Courtesy Photo

Grimes in 'Discord - The Movie (2021)'

"I feel like for the last 10 years, people have been like, 'What the f-ck are you talking about?'"

In a new short film Discord is releasing today (July 23), actress-comedian Awkwafina guides a confused Danny DeVito through the inner workings of the text, audio and video chat platform. It's only when Grimes appears in digital avatar form that DeVito shows his first semblance of understanding: "Now, that actually makes sense," he says.

It does. Like Discord itself, Grimes' music has always intersected with futuristic concepts like virtual reality and the metaverse, so it was fitting that she launched her own Discord server for fans last month, titled Grimes Metaverse Super Beta. There, she used the platform's new "Stages" event-hosting function to tease an unreleased song, "Shinigami Eyes," for upwards of 10,000 server members. She'll return to that Discord server on Sunday (July 25) at 10:30 a.m. EST to host the afterparty for virtual festival Splendour XR, and promises to play more unreleased music for fans.

Discord - The Movie, which also included a cameo from J Balvin, is part of Discord's recent "Imagine a Place" campaign reframing the once gamer-focused platform as a place where people with all sorts of interests can congregate -- including artists and their fans. After a press preview of the film -- and between burbling interruptions from her one-year-old baby -- Grimes took a moment to chat about her strategy as an artist on Discord, her relationship with social media, how her upcoming "space opera" album differs from her last and her future plans in television and podcasting.

Watch the short film below, and scroll on to hear from Grimes herself.

How did you first become familiar with Discord?

I actually learned about Discord because I needed this teenager to help me figure out how to rig up a 3-D model -- it’s sort of a long story. I had a technical issue, and the person who was going to teach me how to solve it was like, “I only use Discord,” because they were, like, 14. And then if I was doing any kind of group gaming situation, I would be on Discord, because it's fun if you’re playing games with a bunch of people and everybody is chatting. So I was using it for social, personal life stuff.

What did you like about Discord that led you to launch your own official server?

I was thinking we should launch a Grimes server for a long time. The more I get into the gaming community, it’s a lot less toxic than the indie music stan community. Everyone’s going to laugh at me saying that gaming culture is less toxic than indie stan culture, but it’s kind of true, frankly, having lived in both extensively. [Discord is] a more healthy social media. Social media really gets into incentivizing sensationalism, and incentivizing the negative. I started realizing that even in general, I was using my fake accounts way more than my real accounts. Social media is a lot healthier if you’re mostly with your friends, and you’re using it to an end as opposed to just a time-sucking situation. I’m really into, I guess you could call it “humane technology."

Right -- nobody is joining a Discord server to hate on something. Users are really only gathering around things that they love.

You’re proactively joining a fandom or a game or a pursuit that you’re digging, as opposed to passively consuming information that an algorithm is deciding for you. I don’t have flashes of PTSD when I open Discord the way I do with Twitter. [Laughs.] We’ve just had such problems with trolls and fake news and haters. I feel like shit when there’s some 13-year-old coming on [social media] and being like, “I like Grimes!” And then there’s 30 people coming in explaining to them why they shouldn’t, and not even with factual information. I feel like it happens with other artists, too. I’m just really looking for better fan experiences. It sucks when you want people to engage, and then you feel like they get bullied or harassed when they engage. That’s a main priority for me in my life right now: How do I remove the toxicity out of the fan experience?

How do you think it went when you teased "Shinigami Eyes"?

I like playing a [new] song live. It’s hard for people to just grab it and upload it. I like testing things on people without knowing it’s going to live on the internet forever. I think our next Stages event will be better. We’re going to actually play a whole set of new music and stuff.

From your next album?

Yeah, more stuff from my album. Sorry, our baby is just yelling, but I think... [To baby] Careful on that step!

Oh yeah, a very late congratulations, by the way!

Thank you! So yeah, I just try things out. I don’t like being too precious with music. I like just seeing what people like and testing things out. I really like playing video games with my friends -- maybe there’s a way to do that with fans at some point in the future.

What else can you tell me about the album? Is it really a space opera?

We made an album and were like, “Is this a finished album?” And that was before I signed to Columbia. Then I signed to Columbia, and we keep debating on the singles and it keeps changing. It’s sort of a concept album, so it does have a narrative. It’s a space opera, and I’m trying to make it air-tight, really pull it together, hone it in. With my last album, I had a lot of big ideas, but I just let it be more impressionistic. With this album, I think I have a lot more to say. I feel very strongly about the material. Also, we’re continually making songs as we go. But I think we’re going to start dropping singles, which I kind of prefer. I prefer not putting too much pressure on the album, and being able to keep adding stuff, because I also like long albums. So I think we’re going to start dropping singles this summer and then just keep dropping singles and then put the album out four, five, six singles in or something. I am a big album person, but I also like to get music out.

I can understand the tension between wanting to get things out but also wanting to have a fully-formed concept.

I think you just have to play the devil’s game, because we’re in a real world of singles right now. There aren’t a lot of albums I’m listening to, although I really appreciate it when people put out a whole album these days that’s solid. I really, really, really appreciate that. But the way things are actually consumed, it doesn’t work in that way so much. So whatever, I’ll do both.

Sonically, would you say it’s along similar lines as your last album? Or should we expect something different?

I think it’s pretty different. I try not to talk about it too much. Maybe I shouldn’t answer too many questions about the album. I’m probably not supposed to do that!

Fair enough. Knowing that your music has always intersected with futuristic concepts like the metaverse, crypto and artificial intelligence, what is it like for you to watch the larger music industry and the world begin to catch on?

I think it’s really great and important. I feel like for the last 10 years, people have been like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” Everyone’s like, “Grimes is so eccentric and weird!” And I’m like, “No, I’m actually talking about real things. I’m not just trying to be weird.” These things actually exist. I feel like people perceive me as very insane, and like, “Wow, she’s so loopy and quirky.” It’s nice to be sort of vindicated on certain things.

The other thing is that watching the world catch up is making us have to think of really sick things to do, because we’ve been so basic for the last decade. Now, how do we actually utilize this technology to do things no one has ever done before? Because when everyone starts having it, we need to --- [baby starts crying again] Man, you’re getting a real-time view! But anyway, I feel like the game just got harder, and it’s really exciting. We want to do a bunch of really crazy shit this year that no one’s ever done before. We have some really good ideas, and we’re in the process of figuring out how to technically execute them.

I’ll let you go, but are there any other projects you want to mention? I hear you're working on a podcast.

I’m working on a podcast called Homo Techno with my friend Liv [Boeree], who was previously one of the world’s preeminent female poker players. She now works in AI theory and stuff. Our thesis for the podcast is that we’re no longer homo sapiens, we are "homo techno" -- we’re full cyborgs. It investigates the most aggressively controversial theories about futurism or the people who are most on the edge with either their ideas or practices with regards to ways the world can be.

I’m also on this TV show [called Alter Egoto choose the next [virtual] pop star, which is also very post-human. No one has a body, and no one is bound by their age or gender or anything like that. I’ve been really enjoying that, because we’ve lived in a society for so long where you’re stuck in the shell that you’re in, and you just have to deal with it. We might be about to enter a new reality where we can all live to the potential of our brains. As a woman in the industry, I don’t give a fuck about how I look. I hate thinking about that. I literally don’t care, and it takes so much time, and it’s expensive. We could really democratize things. All of these things give me a lot of optimism about the future.