St Vincent dives into her fiery seventh record 'All Born Screaming'

Interview St Vincent: Chaos Mode

Unleashing a voracious, visceral seventh record fuelled by the colours and sounds of fire and fervour, ‘All Born Screaming’ shows St Vincent isn’t slowing down any time soon.

St Vincent is done with trivial nonsense. “Life is so short and there’s no reason to do any of it except for love, but there’s also no reason to waste time with trifling shit,” she says of her outlook approaching new album, her seventh studio release, ‘All Born Screaming’. Emblazoned with a searing image of the musician - real name Annie Clark - contorted and on fire, the music contained within is similarly thrilling: 10 tracks that move from weighty and biblical to gnarly and industrial, split into two narrative halves that begin with “a little season in hell” and end up choosing humanity and life.

If you haven’t gauged it yet from that description, Clark is in an incendiary state of mind these days. “I feel an urgency as an artist to make urgent work, and to make work that really examines myself, and that picture is not always - in fact, not often - pretty,” she says, calling in early from Los Angeles. In the few years since 2021’s ‘Daddy’s Gone’, she notes that there have been losses in her life that have underscored the need to live hungrily in the present and lap up every ounce of possibility. “I think loss is incredibly clarifying because you go: we don’t have time to waste,” she continues. And so, when she began work on ‘All Born Screaming’, the questions she was asking were the big ones: “What is real? What matters? Let’s grab only those things by the throat.”

Clark describes the record’s beginnings as a sort of mad scientist’s playground, fuelled by experiments with drum machines and modular synths, making “hours and hours of esoteric post-industrial dance music” on her own in 7am bursts of creativity. She got into microdosing on psychedelics. “[They’ve] been a REAL personal gamechanger,” she says. “I don’t think drugs help me work [but] if it can help me see this thing a little differently… a giant iced coffee and a little microdose, then I’m off to the races.” And from those reams of material, she began to tweezer out the tiny moments that felt like something.

Everything, she decided, had to begin with electricity and with her own physical fingerprints on physical things. An exercise in wrangling the inherent chaos of creating, the idiosyncrasies and quirks were what excited her the most. “I think a lot of music gets made now in the box, all in a computer,” she explains. “And that’s great, except that the one thing a computer cannot give you is chaos. Chaos has to come from electricity going through specific circuitry and you don’t know exactly what it’s gonna sound like. And even if you try to get the sound back, it’s an analogue machine so you’re never gonna get it how it was, so you’re literally capturing a moment in time. You’re not gonna get it in a plug-in, in a computer, you’re just not. That system is designed to give you consistency.

“So I think as a person and as an artist, the way that I know how to make sense of a violent, chaotic outside world and a violent, chaotic inside world is to just make something,” she continues. “If I can make something, that feels like some alternate act of hope and some way to turn madness into order and freedom.”

St Vincent dives into her fiery seventh record 'All Born Screaming' St Vincent dives into her fiery seventh record 'All Born Screaming'

“If I can make something, that feels like some alternate act of hope and some way to turn madness into order and freedom.”

Clark’s studio is filled with art. The niche that’s found its particular home among work by artistic collaborator Alex Da Corte lies, she explains, in the somewhat unlikely intersection of “mental illness, Christianity and spaceships”. “It’s a specific Venn diagram but you’d be surprised how those [things link],” Clark enthuses. “It’s pretty American I’d say, like Southern American artists who go from really intense Christian iconography to life on other planets - I’m telling you, there’s a thread there…” There’s also a picture of a man with a half-drawn face. “That just feels correct,” she nods. “A half-drawn self-portrait is about where we are…”

Yet while the unfinished gentleman adorning her wall might still be searching for his resolution, ‘All Born Screaming’ swiftly became a self-portrait unlike any other in St Vincent’s canon. She’s reluctant to use any of the buzzwords that often find their way into stories like hers. “I think that it would be too reductive to say that…” - she pauses - “I’m just writing the headlines in my head: ‘The most personal record yet’. I mean, welllll yes, but they were all so personal.” However, where 2017’s ‘Masseduction’ saw her dressed in restrictive latex to “be a little bit masochistic” in order to echo the “seduction and desire and self-loathing” contained in the record, and ‘Daddy’s Home’ found her donning a blonde wig, leaning into ‘70s influences as an attempt, she has said previously, to “become the music my father loved in the hope it would heal me”, ‘All Born Screaming’ finds St Vincent shedding concept almost entirely.

“Not to sound so pretentious, but I’m an artist so all of that is play,” she says of her previous choices. “Like Brian Eno says: ‘Art is the car that you can bash over and over again and still walk away safely’. I explored persona and iconography and that was very real for me at the time for what I was going through. You are where you are when you are and there’s no skipping steps, but with this record I’m not that interested in dissecting persona or even really playing with it. This is the inside of my head so here you go: take it or don’t and either way is genuinely fine by me.”

Which is not to say that the record is without a distinctly St Vincent-ian sense of aesthetic style. Between the poised-yet-dangerous photos that accompany the record and the black leather trench coats she has been sporting on recent press engagements, her description of her forthcoming live shows as aiming for “equal parts pummelling and ecstatic dance rave” make total sense. Yet between the grizzled strut of ‘Big Time Nothing’ - a list of counterintuitive expectations (“Do ask but don’t tell / Don’t laugh but do smile”) that she describes as “the inner monologue of depression and anxiety”, and the emotional nod to the late SOPHIE on ‘Sweetest Fruit’, there is plenty of art but notably little artifice on show here.

“A lot of times, the people who are selling you authenticity are frauds.”

Despite its thematic descent into the underworld (a journey brought into pummelling life by a rotating cast of superstar drummers including Dave Grohl, Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa and just-about-everyone’s Josh Freese), ‘All Born Screaming’ ends with the spiralling climax of its title track, in a show of what feels like solidarity. The phrase was chosen for its purposefully dual messaging; on one hand, it’s the great leveller, on the other, it’s a protest. For her part, Clark describes herself as a “measured optimist”. “I think there’s a number of things that just statistically, categorically are better than they were 100 years ago,” she theorises. “For a start, we would not be having this conversation - we’d be 13 babies in, washing laundry in a creek. Some things are getting better, some things are getting worse, and some things are just the same as it ever was.”

Arguably, the expectations put upon artists these days are one of those things that fall firmly into the ‘getting worse’ camp. Part of the reason she “spent all that time trying to deconstruct the idea of authenticity”, she explains, was as a response to the increasing demand for musicians to lay out their whole life on social media. “[I was trying to] reckon with it in some way that made sense to me, because a lot of times the people who are selling you authenticity are frauds,” she says. “And then couple that with the fact that every human being, no matter what their vocation, is in this position of needing to be a brand, and for people who make art or perform for a living, to have to perform normality or perform virtue or perform authenticity feels so counterintuitive and impossible. Just impossible.

“At the end of the day, as someone just trying to sell you Pepsi, I don’t know how to do it in a way that…” she tails off, exasperated. “Besides on this record where I thought: what I can do as a thing that feels exciting to me is to say, ‘Let me take you inside the studio and through the tracks’. That feels OK to me. But if I was just out there showing my favourite recipe - and I can’t fucking cook so that would be a non-starter - but… what are we even doing?! Do you know what I mean?!” Clark chuckles with something like a groan. “Do I sound like a real fucking asshole…?”

Far from it, Clark sounds like someone who, on her latest album as on every record before it, is committed to whole-assing the bits that matter - the music, the aesthetic, the entire world that a St Vincent album lives in. But when it comes to the stuff that doesn’t interest her right now? That’ll be a pass. It’s an ethos that’s kept her continuously evolving and regenerating, finding new questions to ask and new ways to answer them over a two-decade career that’s made her one of modern music’s most respected artists.

“Dude! It has been fucking crazy,” she laughs. “I don’t usually sit back and think about it but it’s fucking… I’m lucky to be here seven records in and for people to still be here. That’s wild. That doesn’t happen…” It doesn’t happen to most people, but then most people aren’t Annie Clark. If we’re all born screaming, then St Vincent is the one wrangling those screams into salvation.

‘All Born Screaming’ is out 26th April via Virgin Music / Fiction.

Tags: St. Vincent, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the April 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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