After getting herself a killer head start playing with The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, Annie Clark finally settles into her own skin as St. Vincent, where she creates theatrical, handmade indie-pop masterpieces. Marry Me, her debut released over the summer, presented a deluge of sound held together by Clark’s intelligently crafted lyrics and charming soprano. A melting pot of ear candy, the album has hints of PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, My Brightest Diamond, a whole lot of blues and a touch of gospel.
As if that weren’t enough, St. Vincent’s live shows take everything up a notch. Staggering epics ramble on like extemporized delirium, complemented by lyrics that are alternately tongue-in-cheek or disarmingly perceptive. Anthem caught up with Annie Clark while she was on tour this fall with The National.
Where did you pick up the name St. Vincent?
“…And Dylan Thomas died drunk in St. Vincent’s hospital.” [A Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds lyric.] There’s a St. Vincent de Paul church on 24th Street. I fell in love inside that church.
That’s appropriate, given the title of the album.
Yeah. But the title is intended more as a dare. It’s also a running joke in Fox’s hit-and-miss TV series Arrested Development.
How did you manage the transition from collaboration with Polyphonic Spree to being in control as a solo artist?
I recorded most of the record by myself, before having any label money, pressure or expectation, so I was able to focus solely on the music. And yeah, I like being in control. However, one of the ultimate paradoxes of music is that one works so hard to be in control of their voice, their instrument, their craft, with the hope that one day the aforementioned will be in control of them. But having the opportunity to play with someone like Mike Garson, who has the ability to be transcendent and out of control in the virtuosic realm…I let him have free reign. I very politely bow in the face of that kind of musicianship.
What are you personally listening to right now?
I am listening to Ethiopiques, Volume 8. And the sounds of Highway 80.
Marry Me often feels like an unloaded and explosive version of your stream of consciousness. It’s intensely personal. When did you first realize you were meant to make music?
I grew up in the “more is more” capital of the world: Dallas, Texas. While I have great love for the things and people I call home, the actual landscape of the city is sprawling, suburban and segregated. Very early on, I figured that I had to create some escapism, so that’s what I did. My brain likes to read Roth and watch Bergman and hear Haack. As far as output goes, I have no real words to describe it, except to say that music has always been a salve for panic disorder and ironic detachment.
If you had to quantify the things that inspire your creativity, what would you sum them up as?
The longing to have a grandfather named Gore Vidal. Red wine. And the Constitution.