St. Vincent The Exclaim! Questionnaire
Published Sep 24, 2012Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, has always excelled at the weird and wonderful. Her collaboration with legendary musician David Byrne, Love this Giant, is confoundingly glorious: big band rhythms, digital bleeps, and chunky electric guitars create a bizarrely cinematic landscape. Occasionally, conventional harmonies are shelved in favour of seemingly purposeful atonal duets. Clark says this is the result of two years learning how to say "yes" during the collaboration process. Though the collaboration itself that might never have happened were it not for one special movie, circa 1984.
"We laughed because the first time I heard the Talking Heads was in a movie called Revenge of the Nerds," Clark says. "It's one of my favourite movies. And you know, 'Burning Down the House' plays when there's the literal frat house burning down. I've been a fan since I was really little thanks to Revenge of the Nerds."
What are you up to?
Well, I just finished a year of being on the road with [her last record] Strange Mercy. I wrapped that up in Japan, and flew back to New York and had a day to collect myself, and now I've been in rehearsals for this. So nothing. I'm working on nothing. Actually, I'm training for a marathon. There's that.
What are your current fixations?
If I'm totally honest, one, I think tacos are the best food ever. And two, the new season of Louie is just brilliant. It has so much heart, it's so smart. Even the form of it, the way he tells a story every time and the format is just different, it's just so nice to see a show where the comedy is actually about depression. [Laughs] It's brilliant.
Why do you live where you do?
In New York? Well, I love it. I have the luxury of being there and not being there. I think if I was in New York day-in, day-out, every month ― you know, you see those people who have been... I luckily get out and travel a lot and not be in that grind every day. Because I'm from the suburbs, man, I can't deal with that all the time.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art.
Oh, man, what was that really nice, oh, that thing at the Tate Modern years ago, the room with the thing, the sun. [Olafur Eliasson's "The Weather Project" at the Tate Modern in 2003/2004.] A beautiful replica, like, here's the alien sun after a nuclear apocalypse and it was this whole room with this big thing in it. I like when art really completely transforms a space. Music can do that because you can't escape it and music is just ― there's not the real-life analog, it's not like representational work, it's just its own thing. But I like it when spaces are so imposing, but in a transcending, beautiful way.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
The one that's coming to mind is we played in Helsinki last month and a couple things: I got to see one of my favourite bands, Swans, play and what I like about Swans is its orchestral in its own way. It's like noise orchestra. But it's also, I think there's a lot of like, equivocating in music sometimes. A lot of self-consciousness and that, ultimately they're doing their own thing and kind of transcend that. With Swans, it's just the real deal. There's nothing self-conscious or hip or cool about it. It's just powerful and you either get on board and you go on that trip with them, or you hate it. You hate it and it makes you mad and it makes you carsick and you just never get it. I like the fact that that music is so powerful. I don't want to say divisive, because I don't like the fact that it's divisive necessarily, but it's full of individuality and it has a vision and it just executes that vision. And we played the next day, and that crowd was awesome, the Helsinki ― that place, you know, you can feel the ghost of Russia and you can feel the architecture ― Norway's really rich and whatever, but Helsinki's got a little bit more dirt under their fingernails.
What have been your career highs and lows?
A low might have been playing at a pizza parlour years ago or busking in the square and making less money than it took me to get on the train. But that is all fuckin' awesome. And the highs. The highs seem to be getting better and I don't mean in a success ladder kind of way. The shows have more intentionality, the band is really playing well. I just never thought I'd be onstage singing "Burning Down the House" with David Byrne. That wasn't in my secret diary; like, that's amazing. I can't believe I did that.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Well, I will say the least helpful thing ― this poor girl who was just trying to do her job ― right before I was about to go on stage, she said, "Remember..." I won't say the name of the news outlet, but "Remember, so-and-so's filming this." [Laughs] Like, "Okay, I had forgotten. Luckily. But thank you so much for remembering to tell me. Thank you for that."
What should everyone shut up about?
I don't know. I think the great thing about consumer technology and recording yourself a lot easier is that more people have the opportunity to make music and get encouraged by people. I think that's a wonderful thing. I don't know, though ― there's going to be more music, but I don't necessarily think you're going to discover 40 new, great bands every time you open the internet browser. It's just not going to happen. Statistically, I don't think it's possible. And I think a lot of the bands we all know and love didn't start making their best records until they were many years down the line and had some records under their belt. The idea that anybody can and will make music is awesome, but I think we should not expect that just because everybody can means that everybody will be really good at it when they first start. Or that enough people will really stick with it enough to get really good.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I tend to be pretty impatient ― you're probably not going to get me to say things I like about myself. [Laughs] To be honest. Not that I'm full of self-loathing, but that feels weird. I can be very impatient and a quick fuse. But I'm glad I have music, because really, for me, that's everything.