St. Vincent: Interview
On Her Own
Earlier this year, Annie Clark released her debut LP Marry Me under the moniker St. Vincent. The album brims with an ambition that punishes convention and forges a colorful style that can't be easily traced to any of her contemporaries. As an artist already familiar with the world of eclectic indie pop (she worked as a guitarist with regulars Sufjan Stevens and The Polyphonic Spree), her first full-length is wrought with a maturity that few can pull off on a debut. The record's title serves as a perfect reference point from which to begin toying with the themes soaked deep in the songs, themes that diffuse across the tracklisting and unite to give Marry Me a satisfying coherence. It's a coherence that stretches and folds, broadening expression rather than stringing together a collection of dissociated songs. This is a record about relationships and frustration, about ambiguity and intimacy. Even the cover art ties into this theme, featuring a photograph of Annie looking plaintive and vulnerable. A plea for affirmation and a step toward self-realization, Marry Me is a very honest musical statement, and it certainly makes the music world excited to see what's next for this talented twenty-something.
Last month, Annie took some time out of her hectic touring schedule to speak with me from the road.
How long have you guys been on the road for?
Is today Friday? Today's Friday. Three weeks, exactly.
You were on the road before, right?
I've been on tour, pretty much, pretty solid since November. Yeah, I did a European tour with Sufjan and then I toured with [unintelligible] Collins and then, big break, and then toured with [unintelligible] and then Arcade Fire. And then started this tour.
Wow, that's great. When are you guys intending to stop?
Looks like never. [Laughter.] I mean, it's good—it's a good problem to have. I'm gonna be supporting The National coming up… and I play Bumbershoot and I think there's something else that I'm doing… going back over to Spain and Europe for a really quick tour, and then in November we'll be in Europe.
I actually saw your set in London. I saw two of your sets in June. One was at the Luminaire, I don't know if you remember that.
Yes, I had a really good nice time that night.
That show just felt very intimate and very special, and there was a real synergy I felt between you and the crowd that made it really, really cool. And I was curious whether on a show like that you can kind of tell the feeling, you know, the energy that the crowd's giving off, and kind of the familiarity with you and the intimacy, and if it makes the show better for you?
Yeah, that was really special. There's something to it in that... it was the first time I ever headlined a show in London, and so that feels like a big… that feels pretty special, because so many, so many things are theoretical for so long, like, “Oh, wouldn't it be great if, you know,” fill in the blank. But to actually be headlining a show in London and have people come to the show was amazing. And that night in particular was really special. I think with English audiences, there's already a bit of humor built in, this particular breed of English humor, so where, I think, people were really, really receptive to the... humor in the songs. And it was just, it was a nice club and a nice quiet... it felt really, really good. I loved playing that show.
You've performed both by yourself and with backing bands. How does that decision to perform solo affect the set, and what are the advantages and disadvantages to playing solo?
I think one of the big advantages is that it feels more intimate, and your songs are skin and bones. The songs are just the essence of the song, there are no frills about it and extra accoutrements, it's just like, here's the song, let it speak for itself. And so I really enjoy that and I really find, I really find that you can be intimate. It makes me work harder, really, to establish a rapport with the audience. It's also really fun playing with a band and having throbbing drums behind you and getting to really stretch out on guitar and not be so concerned with, kind of keeping the time with your foot and banging with your other foot and that kind of one-man band, kind of takes a little concentration to do.
Could you ever see yourself recording a record with you in a room, you know, with just all of the instruments for you to do in real time?
Yeah, yeah, I mean, I recorded the album before I'd ever played any of the songs live, so the album was really an experience to just flesh out these songs and kind of the first incarnation of the songs. I'm excited to do it alone and with a band and stretch the songs out a little more, have it a little sturdier and a little out there and a little noisier.
Okay, how did you decide on your moniker, St. Vincent? What's the significance of that?
You know, I get asked this question a lot and it stumps me every time in this weird way. I feel like it's… if you're able to name something then it becomes bigger than you are and more interesting and you can channel all your creative energy into this thing. And it doesn't feel so self-indulgent or… and I wanted to; same with the songs. Yeah, there's a lot of really personal content and emotion and everything in the songs, but at the end of the day it's character. At the end of the day it's art and it is personal but it's not autobiographical or anything.
You have such an eclectic sound that it seems like a lot of influences are just kind of rolled up into one to kind of create something new.
Yeah, I think that sounds, that's the exciting part about art, ‘cause there's nothing really new under the sun as far as ideas or what have you, but it really is a synthesis of all of that, just sort of new creation, kind of comes from.
I think that's definitely true. What is your favorite track off the new record, if you have one, and why?
My favorite track is probably “Your Lips Are Red.” My friend Daniel Hart did those beautiful strings and I think it's just… to be even one of the later songs that I wrote on the album, so, it's kind of, it feels more like a progression and step into the future and getting a little bit more out of the box for the next record.
Do you have a favorite lyric that you wrote on the new record—a favorite line you wrote?
Yeah, I'm sure I do, let me think about that. I think it's probably from “Your Lips Are Red,” I think it's probably “Your skin's so fair, it's not fair.”
I was hoping you could help me with one line from “Marry Me.” I know a lot of artists don't like to talk about their lyrics, but when you sing, “Marry me, John, I'll be so good to you/ You won't realize I'm gone,” it just seems, I mean, a lot of your lyrics are riddled with irony and a lot of contrast, but what exactly are you trying to say with that, especially with the last part with, “You won't realize I'm gone”?
Well, I think it's entirely possible to be in a romantic relationship but also be absent and... by all sort of tangible accounts you're there, you're in a relationship, it's very possible to be out wandering in your mind, and I think it's sort of a… I think we've all seen a lot of marriages, I think, in our lives. It was sort of a comment also on an American belief, really, and a comment on sometimes these symbols that are upheld throughout culture tend to be really, really empty in themselves… these things that are really binding that are actually real. It was a comment on all symbols of stability, which is also a comment on never really questioning commitment, really.
Throughout the record, you kind of very intimately direct the songs towards some sort of love interest, either past, present, or even future, it seems like, and it kind of seems to create a link between you and the listener that really translates across the entire record. I was wondering whether that was an intentional theme of the album, especially considering the title, Marry Me?
Well, one, I'm really glad that I'm affecting people and people are listening, that's really special and, two, I guess I see love as a current throughout the album, but it's love in a lot of forms, and songs that seem like they're love songs can really also have a darker edge to them, and really be about self-sabotage or loathing or what have you, and I guess it can have, I just think exploring love in general…
Okay, why did you decide to cover Nico or Jackson Browne's “These Days”?
I heard it at a party in Chelsea for the first time. I heard Nico's version and I just thought it was all very fitting; I was in New York, I was in Chelsea and the album is called Chelsea Girl, sort of exploring Andy Warhol and the whole factory scene, and just how decadently cool and fucked up these people were. I thought, my God, I really want to make some kind of homage to this wild scene that's a product of, I don't know, stuff that's particularly oddly American…
What are you listening to right now, and do you listen to different music on the road than you do when you're not traveling?
I, you know what, being on the road is the only time I really get to listen to music, I have to say. I don't know, it's just that I've been so busy that I'm actually getting ready to be on the road that I don't typically… music kind of absorbs me and I don't really like to listen to music if I'm, like, cleaning my house or something. Right now, we've moved into Arthur Russell. A monastic Arthur Russell, psychedelic, spiritual experience. It's not really psychedelic or spiritual, his record Another Thought.
Yeah, I'll check that out, definitely. Another Thought?
Yeah, Another Thought is so gorgeous. Daniel Ferris, who co-produced the record is on tour being the sound dude, the dude of sound, and he's got, he got some really, really old recordings by this guy, this guy who sounds like a cross between, I guess Raffi the kid's, yeah, the kid's singer, and... but then it's also, it's kind of jazzy [laughter] and these lyrics like, it's like if Raffi was a pedophile, I mean... weird. I hope Raffi's not a pedophile. So funny. So we've been listening to a lot of that really terrible music. You have to hear it; it would really make your day. For the record, I don't think pedophilia really is funny, I just—it's the only way to describe this guy. [Laughter.]
Okay, just one last question, I know you're busy. What's next for you? I know you've worked with a lot of big names, do you have any planned collaborations or anything now that you're kind of out on your own?
I do, but, I feel like it's all… I don't know if I can say, but I definitely have the mind thinking away. And other minds who I like and respect. And they're gonna get synchronized and stick together for a little bit
Okay, that's great. Well, that's it. I'd just like to thank you for doing this and I wish you guys the best of luck with your tour and in the future.
Thank you so much. Hey, I really like your blog, by the way, I've definitely read it before.