St. Vincent prefers her audience to be curious rather than bored, and reflects on the topics of death, Dave Grohl, and the possibility of dividing her fans.

St. Vincent prefers her audience to be curious rather than bored, and reflects on the topics of death, Dave Grohl, and the possibility of dividing her fans.

During my discussion with Annie Clark, also known as critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning, avant-garde musician St Vincent, a thumbs up emoticon appears next to her image. We were conversing via Zoom and Clark was in the middle of talking about her emotionally charged new album, All Born Screaming, which she produced herself. The timing of the emoji seemed inappropriate. Clark releases a sigh and mutters something about a computer setting she can’t change. She tries again by giving a exaggerated double thumbs up, reminiscent of Paul McCartney, only to have the screen erupt with poorly designed fireworks. The whole situation feels very strange. “Maybe next time I share a strong quote, like a ‘Let’s make it the pull quote’ one, I’ll just use two thumbs up,” she jokes.

Clark, who is 41 years old, has previously attempted to disrupt the traditional interview process, although this time it was unintentional. Upon the release of her album Masseduction in 2017, which has been described as “morbidly funny”, she invited journalists to sit in a freshly painted neon pink box as they asked her questions. She recalls spending 12 hours in the box, jokingly referring to it as a “masochistic” experience due to the lingering smell of paint. This experimentation can be attributed to the theme of the album, which explores sadness, sexuality, and humor. It was also a reflection of the artist’s reaction to the media scrutiny surrounding her relationship with model and actress Cara Delevingne in 2015, which caused a disruption in her carefully crafted public image. Clark’s use of postmodern elements adds to the overall concept of the album.

She explains that conducting interviews and speaking to the media is a deliberate act. She says this while sitting in her shiny white office in LA, where she divides her time with New York. Her look is reminiscent of “Goth Grey Gardens” with a black silk headscarf, dark shades, and a vintage Maison Margiela trench coat that I initially mistake for a bathrobe. She elaborates, “We play the roles of our respective personas, and wouldn’t it be intriguing if we both acknowledged it and proceeded from there? Perhaps it would be more authentic and genuine if we did that.” She follows up with a mischievous laugh, “But then, I’m sure some people would say, ‘Oh, she’s a difficult person’.”

Clark’s slipperiness, both in her music and personal interactions, often leads to misunderstandings. She departed from her first two albums, 2007’s Marry Me and 2009’s Actor, which had a “asexual Pollyanna” vibe, and began incorporating a mix of styles including kinetic art-rock, funk, electropop, and psych, and most recently 70s soul and glam on 2021’s Daddy’s Home. She has collaborated with a variety of artists such as David Byrne on 2012’s Love This Giant, Taylor Swift on her recent US No 1 single Cruel Summer, Swans, Olivia Rodrigo, and Kid Cudi. Even in her teenage years in Dallas, Texas, she was able to transition from playing Jewel covers in high school bands to channeling Sonic Youth in her college band, Skull Fuckers. Her recent one-off singles have included covers of Nine Inch Nails’ Piggy and Lipps Inc’s Funkytown, the latter featured on the soundtrack for Minions: The Rise of Gru.

Clark’s latest album, All Born Screaming, takes on a more menacing tone compared to her previous ones. It embraces the raw and brutal aspects of life and death, with a hint of Nine Inch Nails influence rather than being child-friendly. The first half of the album is marked by a sense of decay and aggression, while the second half offers a glimmer of hope amidst the chaos. According to Clark, this shift reflects her experiences with loss and mortality, which have made her realize what truly matters in life. In her words, “the first half of the album is about confronting the harsh realities of life, while the second half is about embracing it and seizing the moment.”

Any attempts at digging deeper into the specifics of “literal life and death” are rebuffed. “I’m not trying to be withholding,” she says politely but firmly. “But we all deal with loss of people we love; we all deal with the shattering heartbreak of those losses, and so I don’t think it matters [who or what the songs are about] because the feeling is universal.”

Clark is pleased with the success of her album Cruel Summer but does not support the current trend of hiding personal messages in lyrics. She believes that music is meant to be shared and enjoyed by others, rather than deciphered like a puzzle. Although she put a lot of effort into creating the album, the specifics are not important to her as it is the overall expression of her emotions and thoughts.

After promoting her album Daddy’s Home, which tells the story of her father’s imprisonment for stock manipulation, Annie Clark experienced some physical discomfort. Being vocal about the album’s inspiration resulted in uncomfortable interactions with journalists, leading to one interview being cancelled at Clark’s request due to its confrontational tone. However, the album’s look, featuring Clark in a short blonde wig portraying Warhol’s muse Candy Darling, received more attention than the music itself. Despite reaching high chart positions in the US and UK, Daddy’s Home was seen as Clark’s first mistake.

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She claims that the album was a result of the chaotic period during the pandemic. While some artists focused on the small details of life, she took a bigger approach by trying to become someone her father would admire, reflected in the album’s 70s influence. The album was a way for her to heal and gain control. She would rather have people be confused by it than be bored.

“The aesthetic of my new album is clean and stark, with shades of black and white and fiery colors,” she states. As she takes a drink of lemon water from a large mason jar, she clarifies, “Just to clarify, this isn’t me trying to be cute or pretentious, even though this jar is as big as my head.” With a playful look in her eyes, she shares an interesting tidbit about herself, “One thing about me is that I absolutely adore water. On a good day, I can easily drink five jars like this.”

While both Masseduction and Daddy’s Home had collaboration with producer Jack Antonoff, All Born Screaming is the first album by St. Vincent that Annie Clark produced entirely on her own. She explains, “There are certain places you have to venture into alone.” Clark spent a lot of time in the studio by herself, experimenting with different sound settings until she found the right inspiration. She admits to having “hours and hours and hours” of “weird dance music” and “experimental jams” on her computer. I suggest that she could release it all in an expensive box set. Clark responds with a wry smile and a raised eyebrow, “Yes, I can’t wait to exploit my fans.”

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Working alone also allowed her the opportunity to meticulously fine-tune her vocals, comparing her dedication to perfection to director David Fincher’s infamous practice of recording multiple takes. “I would just keep singing it over and over until there was no nonsense,” she explains. Perfecting the first two songs on the album, the Tori Amos-inspired Hell Is Near and the electronic-infused Reckless, took a significant amount of time.

The artist, known as “[Reckless],” strived for authenticity and accuracy in her music, relying on raw emotion rather than polished vocals. She spent countless hours perfecting her songs and would never subject anyone else to watching her record them in the studio. However, she did have some company in the form of Dave Grohl, with whom she previously performed in 2014 for Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Grohl plays drums on the fierce lead single “Broken Man” and the tantalizingly twisted “Flea.” Reflecting on their collaboration, Grohl praises her ability to constantly push boundaries and deliver powerful performances, calling her a “total badass.”

“You know, Clark, when I hear the word flea, it reminds me of flies devouring a dead body. It’s pretty disturbing, both in terms of the lyrics and the music. Clark raises an eyebrow in response. With a mischievous smile, she says, “That’s just your perspective, and I appreciate your reaction to it.” “Disturbing” is definitely the right word. The songs that played in my mind while growing up were “I’m a weirdo” and “I’m a reject”, tapping into the dark side that we all possess.

Recently, we discussed both of us reaching the age of forty, with the hope that she could offer some wise words. “I don’t quite understand because I am only 27…” she chuckles. “I do not think about age in such literal terms, as being a musician allows me to maintain a sense of youthfulness. In the studio, our job is to create and imagine, so I do not feel jaded or defeated by my experiences. I’m thrilled.” As for her personal life, which is usually kept under wraps, she currently has a strong foundation. “Love and the ones we love are all that truly matter. It is the greatest thing and the only thing worth living for.” When asked if she is in love, she responds with a smile, “Yes, of course. I have found the love of my life.”

One of the highlights of the album is Sweetest Fruit, a pulsating track that pays tribute to the late electronic music producer Sophie, who passed away in 2021. In this song, Clark stumbles over her words for the first time, debating whether or not to share specific details about it. She jokes about leaving it as a fun Easter egg for listeners. She also acknowledges the danger of the internet twisting information and clarifies that she has no intention of capitalizing on Sophie’s death. She describes herself as an admirer from afar and shares that she was moved by the way Sophie fell while trying to get a better view of the moon. For Clark, it was a beautiful and poetic way to go. The song itself speaks to the idea of people striving for transcendence and taking risks for something beautiful.

Clark’s determination to seek out beauty in harsh circumstances is evident in the essence of All Born Screaming. The song Violent Times, which exudes a refined yet disheveled vibe reminiscent of a lost James Bond theme, centers on a lyric that encapsulates Clark’s state in 2024 – desperately holding onto love with all her might. The words “All of the wasted nights fighting mortality / When in the ashes of Pompeii lovers discovered in an embrace for all eternity” depict a couple encased in layers of calcified ash after a volcanic eruption, a haunting image that carries a tinge of darkness, though Clark sees it differently. Contrary to my interpretation, she finds it to be the epitome of romance. With a smile, she shares, “I just think of it as the most romantic thing in the world.” Instead of a thumbs up, I now envision a big black heart emoji materializing behind her. “It’s like this – two people embracing.”

The release date for All Born Screaming is April 26.