Grimes On The Synth Soundpack She Designed And Making A Song A Day
In an exclusive interview, the pop artist discussed her ROLI collaboration and new approach to making music.
Since her debut as Grimes in 2010, Claire Boucher has always emphasized her role as the producer of her own experimental pop music. Now, she’s partnered with ROLI to develop a soundpack called Electromagnetic Pulse for the BLOCK synthesizer. “The best projects start with a state of mind,” the Vancouver artist says in a new video announcing her soundpack. “For me to even spend more than 20 minutes on something I have to get to that place where I’m like, “I feel it.”
Speaking to The FADER over the phone this week, Grimes discussed how access to production tools has changed, the pitfalls of topically political music, and why she’s been making a new song every day.
Tell me a little bit about your Electromagnetic Pulse soundpack and how you developed it.
I built it in Equator, which is like a plug-in you can use in your DAW [digital audio workstation]. You can use a series of different sound waves or filters and things to make a multitimbral sound. You can test it out as you're making it, basically.
How have the production tools and the gear you use to create your music changed over time?
I think, like any producer, you just slowly acquire gear over time, which is maybe as much of a crutch as a benefit, because now I'm like, oh god, I would hate to go and just make some shit with the built-in sounds from GarageBand. I feel like, for me at least, things have changed over time. You just get more shit and then you can make better shit because you get more shit. That's the short answer.
Do you ever have the desire to strip away a bunch of shit?
I feel like you get spoiled. At least for me, I'm just always trying to make things sound more dynamic and more interesting. And, the deeper you get into gear, the more you can do that and the less you're using stock sounds. Once you graduate to more complex things like hardware synths or the Seaboard, it just opens your world a little bit. You can make something that sounds nice and expensive with significantly less time spent just trying to engineer the shit out of something that isn't quite as pristine sounding.
Why do you think it's so important for people to have access to gear that's affordable to create music?
I think it's kind of harder to get into production than other aspects of music because it is so gear heavy. Even the baseline to get into production is to have a computer, which I guess most people have a computer, but it’s still an expensive piece of equipment. I think production would be more democratic and open to more people and would just generally be more diverse if more people could afford the gear.
Do you think the barrier for entry has been lowered at all?
I think it's definitely been lowered. Things like GarageBand being available with a computer or even just Ableton or something compared to 20 years ago when you still had to use Pro Tools with all the outboard equipment. I think it's a lot more chill now than it was but it could definitely be more chill.
You say in the video for the soundpack that Art Angels had “too many guitars.” How has that realization affected your new work?
I would actually conclude that I no longer think that. I'm re-enjoying guitars.
How recent has that been?
Just the last couple of days, basically. I should probably try not to make such bold statements and contradict them, but in any case...
Has that back-and-forth helped develop the sound?
I'm in the zone of just throwing things at a wall. I'm trying to be unlimited by “this is sound of the album” or something. I'm trying to do the craziest shit I can, or just reach outside my comfort zone. I've been doing a song a day kind of thing. Like, get as far as I can on a song per day then start a new thing. Then once I have a various amount of things, then I'll go back and decide what to do with it.
Is anything sticking?
I think things are sticking, but I don't want to say much more. I read that, on YouTube, let's say you watch half of a video, it doesn't count as a full view. You need another person to watch another half of the video for it to count as a whole view. And, I kinda feel like the way I'm working right now, I'm not getting into a full YouTube view, like per song. I'll get 20 percent or 30 percent or 40 percent on a song. So, in theory, there's a lot of started material, but in terms of things that get past the 80 percent mark, it's a lesser number.
In looking at your social media, it seemed like the majority of your posts were about current events. In a time where everything is socially and politically fractured, do you feel a particular responsibility or mission as an artist?
That's a hard question. I guess I just feel pathetic that I didn't become something more useful to people, like a doctor or a politician. I mean, I'd be a terrible politician. But I don't know...I've been trying to unravel that question for some time. I'd like to be more productive on earth, generally.
Don't you think music is useful to people?
I hope it's useful. It is meditative to zone in on music. I feel like making any kind of political music is a very fine balance. It's very hard to do it tastefully. I guess I don't really have any desire to try to make political music.
You mean topically political music? Like a protest song?
Yeah, I feel like that’s really hard to do. Like when it's done well, it's pretty impressive, but I feel like to actually get there is quite difficult. I still think it does seem like a really alive time for music. It's a fertile moment for music and that's really inspiring. There's this push towards more adventurous, creative music. I think people seem to be less interested in corporate bullshit, so I guess that's inspiring, in a way. I think people just don't have the time for bullshit right now. They're just zoned in on the events of the day. It feels great to make music in the current climate in that way.
Following the phone interview, Grimes elaborated on this question in an email to The FADER:
I wanted to re-address the question about political music, cuz my music is very political and it’s something I am very passionate about. A lot of tracks on my last record were about grieving for the state of the earth and for the environment. In many ways, my music is inherently political because so few women produce and engineer, and I make a point of producing and engineering all my tracks. I think I was conflating "political" with like, Vietnam war songs, and I don’t really write music like that. But my shit is definitely not apolitical, it’s just not that explicit.
You said you've been trying to do a song a day. How do you manage to stay inspired in that quest?
It's a pretty hit or miss quest. There's a lot of fails. But it's also good to make a demo and sit on a demo and come back to it later and not zone in too hard on something. I think generally, it's a productive method.