The New York Times

The New York Times 20 Mar 2020

How Grimes Used Music to Confront Tragedy


The singer, songwriter and producer Claire Boucher breaks down how the opioid crisis inspired one of her most vulnerable songs yet.

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… show captions ↓
[Music playing]
How’s it going?”
What’s going on?”
“Not much.
I’m eating Raisin Bran.”
“The fact that you do everything for Grimes —
you write.
You perform.
You record yourself.
You produce, engineer.
You make the art.”
“I shouldn’t.
I should probably stop doing all these things.
It’s insane.”
[Music – Grimes, “Delete Forever“]
[Singing] “I see everything.
I see everything.
Don’t you tell me now that I don’t want it.”
“This album has been many years in the making.
Where in the process did ‘Delete Forever’ start?”
“That was, like, an early —
one of the first songs.
’Cause I know I made most of it when Lil Peep died.
I’ve had, like, a few of my very close friends
die from opioid addiction-related problems.
So when Lil Peep died, I was just super hardcore triggered.
Like, I just had a mini breakdown.
But then kind of just, like, went to work on music.”
[Guitar playing]
“You ever like go to a punk show or something
and someone just plays an acoustic?
Like, I love, like, sort of like violent acoustic punk music.
The guitar is weirdly actually, like, from a sample pack
that I, like, stretched and pitched a bunch.
I just wanted it to sound really raw because I was just
feeling really raw.”
“There aren’t many Grimes songs
that are based around acoustic guitar, right?”
I weirdly like acoustic guitar.
I just can’t be that basic, like, from an ego perspective.
Oh, it’s nice and mushy now.”
[Music playing]
“I feel like there was, like, eight years where I just
couldn’t get over my first friend who passed away,
because I was, like, very, very close with her.
Like, it was just really intense, like, when
you’re that young to have, like, one of your best friends
die in such a, like, disturbing way, I guess.
I’ve never actually done heroin.
But it is a little bit about being self-destructive
and how [bleep] you feel being self-destructive
after your friends [bleep] died.
You’re just like [bleep] on your friend’s grave by just, like,
dealing with the grief, by doing this thing that
killed them basically.
How do we emotionally deal with this stuff?
Do you know, like, Jack Kirby’s ‘New Gods’?
I just got really compelled by the title.
I was like, yeah.
I want to make new gods.
I want to make up the goddess of climate change,
or in this case, the goddess of opioid addiction.
Some of the first great art that we see
is, like, the personification of painful or beautiful
abstract concepts as gods.
Maybe that helps people cope better.
Maybe that helps society come together better.
It seems easier to digest certain things
when they’re fictionalized.
So this song is kind of — yes, kind of meant to be
sort of about the goddess of addiction,
the demon of addiction, or something like that.
The drums are kind of my favorite part.”
“It sounds like a ’90s pop rock radio song or something.”
I think that 808 at the chorus,
first chorus, is slightly too strong now,
but whatever.”
“I like it.”
“You do like it?
O.K. I can’t tell if it’s insane.
Sometimes I’m like, whoa.
Might’ve gone too far.
Because the guitar is a loop,
I was trying to make it artificially
make it feel more organic.
You know?”
“Artificially make it feel more organic.”
No, I was going through doing all these weird production
things to make it sound like —
just like little textures and things in there, like,
so that it’s, like, you can barely hear them,
but it just adds like a —”
[Sound effects]
“So are there any real instruments on this track
or is it all digital?”
“No, there’s, like, a real banjo, real violin.
I had just always dreamed of making music with a banjo.
And it was sort of like this dream that was,
like, cut short tragically.
The first instrument, before I made ‘Visions,’ I bought
a banjo.
And it was like $126.
I remember this whole thing.
It was my first instrument.
And I was like, oh, I love Dolly Parton.
I’m going to make a country record
and be like a country artist.
Which was, like, so crazy.
And then as I was bringing the banjo home —
I got it on Craigslist —
I was bringing it home and this guy [bleep]
followed me off the bus and followed me
into this, like, stairwell of my apartment building.
I was, like, wait, is this guy going to attack me right now?
So I just, like, turned around and just started
screaming and beating him with the banjo.
And I destroyed the banjo, but he left.
Then I was like —
like the craziest.”
“So you paid $126 for a banjo, like, 10 years ago.”
“And then you beat a man with it in self-defense.”
“OK. Wow.”
[Violin playing]
“And what is your skill like on the violin?”
“Extremely poor, but I’m really good at comping
and studio magic.”
“So you’re just playing little bits at a time?”
I’d be, like —”
[Vocalizing notes]
“Tape it in.
Tape it in.
Like, I could put in 200 hours and be good at the violin,
or I could put in, like, 45 minutes
and make something really beautiful.
And then, like, make more things."
“What if you hired a violin player?”
“Or I could hire a violin player.”
“But that doesn’t seem like it’s an option for you.
Is there also like a D.I.Y. ethos?”
“Yeah, I guess.
It’s not so much an ethos as a comfortable —
like, I’m just so much more comfortable alone.”
[Music playing]
“So you get this done really fast, this version of it,
and then what happens?”
“I was super embarrassed of this song.
Like, it’s so clean and the vocals are so high
and, like, I’m still kind of embarrassed
of singing, to be honest.
It’s just very naked.
It’s like when things are cloaked in,
like, cool sounds and stuff, it’s less vulnerable.”
“It’s such a nice counterpoint from something like ‘4 AEM.’ ”
[Music – Grimes, “4AEM”]
Do you think this is the most vulnerable Grimes song?”
“One of them, for certain, for sure.
Can you say, ‘for sure-tain’?”
“And was it cathartic to finally write
a song about it?”
“I’ve been wanting to write a song about it
for a long time.
But I just also, like, felt [bleep] writing a song about it
because, you know.
Like if it was all streaming and I didn’t have to sell it
on iTunes and it wasn’t on the vinyl,
it would, like, make me feel better, because there’s
something about, like, selling it that just makes me
feel really uncomfortable.”
[Music playing]
“Are you making a video for this song?”
“We’re recreating a scene from ‘Akira,’ the cover of Book Four.
It’s sort of a Nero-type thing.
It’s, like, an empress sitting in, like, a decaying city
as it’s, like, being bombed to the ground.
‘Akira’ is a perfect piece of art actually, pretty much.
And it was all made by one [bleep] guy, Katsuhiro Otomo.
It’s crazy.”
“There you go, just like Grimes.”
[Music playing]
“Where did you make —
are you feeling OK?”
“Oh, yeah.
Oh no, I’m just like —
this is probably TMI, but I can’t burp.
I have this burping issue.”
“Is that a function of pregnancy?
Or you could never burp?”
“Never burped.
I’ve burped two or three times in my whole life.”
[Singing] “I've got the horses in the back.”
“Dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee.”
“The debt I owe.
Got to sell my soul because I can’t say no.
No, I can’t say no.”
“Man, what’s the deal?
Man, I’m coming through.
It’s your girl, Lizzo.”

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