“I was just trying to make stuff I hadn’t heard before, but that was still satisfying,” she explains. “On my other albums, I was really learning how to make music—they weren’t so much albums as just literally the stuff I was making as I was learning how to make music. And this time around, I just wanted to hone my craft.” Before Visions, she considered music a hobby, but in the years since, after touring and playing festivals, she’s learned a lot—how to feel comfortable in her own skin and how to write intentional lyrics and compose every note.
She’s also learned how to play and write on guitar: “That really just changed everything. On keys, I was developing muscle memory, whereas guitar is this whole new world for me. It’s completely changed my melodic palette.” She picked up one of her stepdad’s vintage guitars on a whim about a year ago—“It’s a neat fucking privilege to learn how to play guitar on a 1965 Les Paul,” she says—and was immediately hooked. “Like, I’ve never jammed before, but sometimes when I play guitar, I just like to jam,” she says with a laugh. “That probably sounds so bro-y, but it really reignited my love of music.” Around that time, she’d been touring for about three years. “I was exhausted, really dead, just kind of hating music and feeling like I’d been working with the same tools for a long time,” she says. “I was hanging out with all of these producers, and everyone was trying to tell me the ‘right’ way to play electronic music. No one I knew played guitar, and it became this thing that none of my friends knew better than me. No one could tell me I was doing it wrong.” Many songs on the new album include the instrument, and how that will translate to her stage show is still being worked out: “This could be difficult, but I think I’ll start a guitar loop and integrate it with a premade loop so they keep playing on top of each other,” she says. “That way, if I fuck it up, I can’t fuck it up that bad.”
A musician learning how to play guitar is far from novel, but considering the Grimes narrative so far—coming up via the Internet and exploding in a cloud of sparkly GIF pixel dust—it feels fresh as fuck. Then again, as a person, Boucher has always been grounded in analog reality, whether she’s railing against the environmental damage associated with our society’s bottled water addiction or Instagramming a blood stain artfully interacting with the pattern of an upholstered chair. Likewise, her music successfully melds biology and technology. Part of the reason her early work made such an impact was that it was hard to tell whether it was created by an ancient civilization or some alien species several eons from now. “I’m really into pre-Renaissance music,” she says. “I also like combining that with modern sounds.” It’s a trick she learned from sci-fi: “The best science fiction references the idea of cultures from different time periods colliding, like what happens when all this technology is ripped out, like when Genghis Khan came in and destroyed all this stuff that had been invented, like aqueducts, and sent everyone back to the Stone Age. What would it have been like to be that generation?”
Boucher riffs like a cool history professor trying to engage a kid with Wi-Fi-induced ADHD by winking at how the past informs the future. Raised in the online era herself, she’s made a point to control the amount of information coming in. “I don’t listen to the radio, and I block most websites so I only see stuff that I care about,” she says. “It’s fine to watch pop culture from the outside, but I think it’s very important to not submit to it. I very specifically curate the things I consume. I don’t want to become disillusioned.” She laments how some of her peers are encouraging an all-out ditching of the canon. “There’s this idea now that young people are the answer,” she says. “It’s definitely good to question how things used to be, but we shouldn’t just throw it all away. It leads to a lot of repetition and people not even realizing they’re repeating, as opposed to building on something that exists and making something new.” It’s a fitting, er, analog to the new Grimes record: “A lot of it is inspired by the rock music my parents listened to in my house growing up, but that I was too cool for at the time, like Bowie. I just got so into Janis Joplin. I was never into her before, but she’s the fucking shit. I can’t even believe that I didn’t think that was cool.”