Interview: St. Vincent in Technicolor [free tickets!]
St. Vincent is the marquee name of the unassuming Ms. Annie Clark, recently-liberated former backup musician for both The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens. Now flying solo as a guitarist extraordinaire and acclaimed indie-pop songwriter, she offers enough structure and arrangement twists to land her somewhere between Feist and Fiona Apple in both shadowy gloom and a wobbling quirk factor, a balance she's excited about having fine-tuned for last year's disarmingly engaging Actor.
She says her her early exposure to digital recording came from her computer geek stepfather, instruction she now takes to extremes with multitracking. Even though it may get buried under horns and clarinets that seem to go to Spinal Tap's proverbial "11" in breadth if not in volume, the angst comes through.
The Hook: You've talked extensively about how controlling you are on your solo records. To what extent is that a reaction to working with the Polyphonic Spree, a huge, sprawling ensemble where you were just a tiny little speck?
Annie Clark: I come from a big family, so I'm happy to just sort of be a tool in somebody else's vision. But when it comes to my own music, I've never really been a collaborator.
The Hook: So then why the decision to release music under a name other than your own?
Annie Clark: My name is not mysterious in any way, shape, or form.
The Hook: Do you ever write things via multitracking that you then can't actually play?
Annie Clark: All the time.
The Hook: What's the point?
Annie Clark: It means you’re making music that’s bigger than your own abilities, and I think that feels like a good place to be. Making the second record, I figured out what I’m good at and what I’m less good at.
The Hook: Such as?
Annie Clark: I’m going to not say, but I know where I suck.
The Hook: Your music is really thick, with a lot of concurrent ideas. Where does that vividness come from?
Annie Clark: Actor is really based on film in a lot of ways; Technicolor was really important to me, this super-saturated color palette. David Mamet talks about what makes compelling drama, and he boils it down simply to "What does the character want?" and "What happens if they don't get it?" Or worse, sometimes, "What happens if they do get it?" And then also visually I was watching things like the Wizard Of Oz. And a lot of Disney songs from the '30s and '40s–- the scores of those are pretty excited and whimsical and innocent and lush.
The Hook: "Innocent" is a funny word to use there, because your songs often have an unsettling edge under the Technicolor. "Marrow," for instance.
Annie Clark: If you just listened and didn't hear words on the record, a lot of it is pretty whimsical and cute.
The Hook: So the music is happy and only the lyrics are dark? What does that split say about you?
Annie Clark: I'm not sure how to answer that question, but I can give you my psychoanalyst's number.
Even better, readers can leave their theories below. The best armchair psychologist will win a free pair of tickets (be sure to use a real email address).