Annie Clark is on a crackling phone line, and her old seaside hotel, she calmly explains, is “probably haunted”. Speaking largely in drawn-out yawns – “I’m doing this interview before I eat food, which has to happen three hours before the show or else I’m sleepy on stage,” clarifies Annie – she doesn’t seem especially fearful of any creaking doorways or dark spirits that might be lingering in the corner ready to pounce. Instead she’s been spending her day “walking by the ocean,” reading a book about 80s computer game music composer Rob Hubbard, and poking around dusty junk shops. “I’m pretty obsessed with oddfellows and freemasons, cults and secret societies,” she says, “and England is a good place to be on the look out for that.”
Annie’s interest in closed-off gatherings and her total indifference towards spooky goings-on in the hotel makes sense, really. If there’s any one word that represents ‘St Vincent’ - from initial conception to live show and realisation - it is fearless.
‘St Vincent’ is an album about running away from Texan rattlesnakes in the nuddy-pants, and then snorting lines of coke with His Royal Majesty of debauchery and gender-bending, Prince Johnny. There’s a hat doff given to American writer Lorrie Moore on that same song, and then two songs later behaving in a fairly careless manner takes centre stage again; this time throwing a television out of a window. That’s without mentioning the notorious “take out the garbage, masturbate,” on ‘Birth In Reverse’- delivered with a flippantly Bible-belt baiting nonchalance - or any of the other surreal images that her fourth, self-titled album draws on. Despite the varied and scattered directions ‘St Vincent’ takes, at the helm, Annie Clark manages to pull every reference point together into a strange and wonderfully weird universe of her own design.
“You become more comfortable in your own skin and grow more yourself with time,” starts Annie Clark, before breaking into sudden laughter. “Honestly, it’s nice,” she says, composing herself slightly, “not to give a fuck - it’s a really great place to be. Kim Gordon said famously that people go to rock shows to see somebody believe in themselves for an hour,” she adds. “I think that’s right on.”
Anybody who has ever witnessed a St Vincent live show will know that Annie Clark really isn’t exaggerating when she claimed she doesn’t give a fuck about convention any more. Peppered with choreographed dance routines, sudden bursts of improvised physicality, and odd little rehearsed speeches that identify and tap into people’s quirks in the same way as a Buzzfeed listicle might, the show self-consciously distances as much as each shredding riff throws itself across the room.
“I tried to give the security guard a hickey the other day. I think I just ended up licking his neck.”
Annie Clark, St. Vincent
“It became a question of what is it that I’m trying to get across with this tour,” explains Annie, “and a lot of that is that dialogue and disconnect between the analogue and digital world. It felt very empowering to be able to use the most obvious tool at my disposal, which is my own body.” As evidenced by the smudges of blood down one cheek that she posted on her instagram, St Vincent doesn’t hold back on that front. “I broke my foot stage diving,” she tosses into conversation with trademark disregard, “yeah, that happened. I’ve got a sort of permanent indentation in my left thigh from banging up against the guard rail, too.”
Whether tumbling down her pink staircase, or rolling around the mud in a nicked flat cap at Glastonbury, St Vincent’s live show is like nothing else. Annie Clark today, though, is faux-outraged at the suggestion that she steals people’s hats. “Oh, I give them back!” she exclaims, adding “my tour manager makes sure of that. I’ve stolen crutches, head bands, scarves. I stole this one girl’s glasses expecting to be impaired by the lens and see the show in a totally different light. It turned out they were fake,” she laughs. “I tried to give the security guard a hickey the other day,” she adds, “I think I just ended up licking his neck. I didn’t do any real damage.”
One of Annie Clark’s personal highlights this year is fronting Nirvana for a performance of ‘Lithium’ back in April at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Nirvana has meant so much to so many people - I’m not excluded from that,” she says, without a hint of archness. “They were a band that came along at a really pivotal time in history, and also in my life. Suddenly I saw that the weirdos were the heroes, and right around the time that I figured out that all I wanted to do in the world was play music, they were that guiding light. It’s something I don’t know how to process because it feels too immense in the meaning of my life. I’m incredibly grateful,” she concludes, “grateful to the legacy, grateful to Kurt, Dave, Krist and Pat.”
The suggestion that ‘St Vincent’ might become part of the legacy too, Annie Clark finds an equally humbling prospect. “It’s not something that I blithely and callously take credit for,” she says. “Music has meant so much to me; it’s been my whole life. I know what it’s like to be a massive fucking fan and have records change your life, and save your life. I just feel grateful to give back to this collective consciousness, one little fraction of what it has given me.”
St. Vincent’s ‘St. Vincent’ is out now. Photos: Mike Massaro and Dari Canto. Taken from the December 2014 / January 2015 issue of DIY.