On the Road… with Grimes

After more than a decade of touring, musical powerhouse Grimes may have stepped back from the stage but she’s still passionately pursuing her ever-evolving craft, to the delight of her fans

Grimes’ inspirations for her music are eclectic, including science fiction (her debut album Geidi Primes was inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune), philosophy, video games, Russian literature and even a 12th-century composer of plainsong. The Canadian singer, songwriter, producer and visual artist is considered by many a genius, a visionary who marches to the beat of her own creativity, refusing to compromise on her albums’ sonic and visual worlds and presiding over every aspect from recording and engineering to making her own videos and cover art.

The self-taught star, 33, whose legal name is Claire Boucher but now goes by the initial C, wrote most of her first three albums using GarageBand on her laptop. So far she has released five studio albums; they range from, in her words, “psychedelic sci-fi twee” and “orchestral EMO” to “ethereal nu metal”. Her next record, she says, will be a space opera about a lesbian AI courtesan.

Known for her inventive, idiosyncratic style, Grimes’ looks often seem an extension of her music, a bold exploration of genres that’s seen her dubbed “a style icon from another world”. True to form, she arrived at the Pirelli shoot dressed, in Bryan Adams’ words, “as sort of an alien” with pink hair, pointy teeth and ears. For her portraits, Adams aimed to create an “alternate universe for her… something that is in harmony with who she is, so it was almost like she was coming out of a computer.” Stylist Brett Alan Nelson crafted the artist’s futuristic looks, one involving an other-worldly structured outfit from Gareth Pugh’s Fall 2021 collection, the second a tinkling dress of silver shards by Paco Rabanne. “It was just incredible,” Adams says. “When I look at the photographs of the shoot there isn’t really one that I don’t want to use.”

After the shoot, Grimes talked about her inspirations and creative process.

What does being an artist mean to you?
I think to me being an artist means contributing. I feel like humanity has created this body of work and it’s an honour to be able to contribute to it… when I look at the hieroglyphics and all this stuff it’s like, when you think of humanity and when everything’s gone and dead, all you really have left is this impression, and I guess being an artist just means contributing to that. When we’re all gone there’s just going to be an impression of the human legacy and human creativity and… I think we’re all using it to create and when we create we add into it.

Let’s talk about your relationship with your fans, how you connect with them?
I mostly connect with my fans on social media. But sometimes I see people like at the mall or something like that.

Where do you find inspiration for your futuristic sound?
I get super-inspired by books and also kind of philosophy, also just the current state of affairs, like I’m just really inspired by things people are doing, I feel like we’re at this really cool singularity point technologically. I saw this thing the other day that’s like disposable forks and knives, but they’re made of cellulose and at the end, when you’ve finished your meal, you can just eat them, so… we can still have everything we want, we can still have our disposable forks and knives but they’re edible, or they decompose to dirt. I feel like I’m inspired by the current state of human ingenuity.

What does it mean for you to be part of this year’s Pirelli Calendar?
It’s just cool to be part of the Pirelli Calendar. It feels like a thing I saw growing up and it seems part of the culture and… in a way that, it feels like a weird permanent part of the culture so it’s just an honour to be invited and everyone doing it is super sick. Kali Uchis is up there shooting. I’m a huge fan – I literally am obsessed with her album.

How was working with Bryan Adams?
Bryan is amazing. Really nice guy. I actually didn’t get to sleep last night, long story, but I was dealing with someone’s drama. But… Bryan was really nice because I came in and I was like oh man I’ve been up all night dealing with this situation and he made it really easy, really nice, you know, he’s the chillest, he’s super-chill.

You combine a sound engineer, a producer and a musician in one person. How does the creative process work for you?
I honestly wasn’t thinking about it when I started making music, I was just, what’s the fastest way to make music? And it seemed easier to learn it myself than to work with other people. But actually this year is the first year that I am working with other people just because, after a decade alone in a room fixing EQs on kick drums, I feel like I’ve graduated from doing that. But, yeah, it wasn’t intentional, it just seemed like the fastest path to making a song… especially when I started making music, I didn’t know how to make music so didn’t know how to describe what I wanted. It just seemed easier to figure it out by myself than to try to work with a producer and communicate to them what I need.

And in a studio session, what has to be there for you?
Water and a computer, that’s what I need.