Before commencing her live show on Worthy Farm’s Park Stage this year, Annie Clark greeted her audience with a trademark dramatic flourish. “Hello freaks and others of Glastonbury… The reason we’re here and you’re here is because we never, ever gave up hope.” When Bido Lito! caught up with Clark, aka ST. VINCENT, on the phone the week following the show, one of the first things we asked her to elaborate on was this vaguely cryptic statement. “I think that my audience is a sort of community…” she purrs down the line, before tailing off. “Basically I think that what I wanted to say was we’re all here because we’re still alive. It was really great! I didn’t get to meet Yoko though [Yoko Ono performed on the Park Stage before Clark], but I’ve met her before at a birthday party, a few years ago.”
Clark’s triumphant performance at Glastonbury this summer was a visual spectacle, like all her concerts, perfectly illustrating how her St. Vincent shows have a tendency to blur the lines between a musician performing live music and an artist performing a piece of performance art, thereby altering our preconceptions of what to expect from a concert and giving her shows an almost Dada-like feel. All of these elements seamlessly combined for that Glastonbury show, befitting Clark’s status as one of the most prolific and original songwriters in the world today. With a musical CV boasting her past membership of not only the Polyphonic Spree, but also a stint in genius songwriter Sufjan Stevens’ touring band, as well as recently fronting Nirvana and performing as a member of the 100 guitar orchestra arranged by one of the American underground and No-Wave’s cult figures, Glenn Branca, Annie Clark can rightly point to being a member of the modern rock aristocracy. All of that before you even begin to factor in her highly acclaimed work under the St. Vincent moniker, which has seen her produce five eclectic albums with ever-expanding sonic palettes, starting with 2007’s Marry Me through to her latest effort, 2014’s self-titled album. Clark has progressed and matured as an artist and the results saw her receive the best reviews of her career with this latest release, as exemplified by the record’s lead single: a shape-shifting curveball of a track, Digital Witness turns Clark’s ire on the overly-synthetic digitisation of modern trends, while simultaneously revelling in the swampy production values at her disposal.
Her previous project, Love This Giant, was a collaboration album with David Byrne, which was a glorious result of both artists’ definable traits complementing each other in the best way possible. Furthermore, the reason why this release made so much sense to its admirers was in the way it highlighted how comparable the music of St. Vincent is to that of Talking Heads. As a songwriter Clark is an expert at playing with dynamics; she crafts twitchy but meticulously crafted riffs which are rife with kinetic energy whilst still retaining punchy and hooky pop sensibilities, accompanied by lyrics that frequently refer to her observations of the human condition. This results in music that prides itself on confliction and is all the more interesting for it. It’s fair to say that everything about St. Vincent, to an extent, is an experience, including this interview. Whilst making this phone call I found myself thrown out of a taxi by a police officer and joined by an unlikely companion, Geisha, the sister of the mythical prog-rock figure Don Bradshaw-Leather. Coincidence? I’d like to think not.
August’s show will be Clark’s first ever in Liverpool, and though she doesn’t set too much store by having a personal connection to the venue she’s playing in, she’s still enamoured by the prospect of forging new relationships with fans and places when she’s out on tour. “I don’t want to be too much like a Hallmark card about it, so I definitely wouldn’t say I have any connection at all… But yeah, I’m definitely excited about it, really! I mean, I quite like being in the UK. I think that this will be worth going overseas for!”
When she’s on the road, Clark’s listening habits tend to remain with music that is driven by nervous tension, but with a much more ominous and brooding sound. “Recently, I’ve been listening to the latest Tim Hecker record, Virgins. I listen to a lot of ambient music when I’m on the road – somehow I don’t have the brainwaves for music with lyrics when I’m travelling so much. It takes a lot of psychic energy to be travelling all the time and I’m also listening to two hours of music a night that’s by myself. I think that [music with lyrics] doesn’t fit with being on airplanes and tour buses.”
Touring made 2013 a busy year for Clark, where she played nearly fifty shows in support of Love This Giant, but this didn’t leave her feeling creatively exhausted; in fact, she almost immediately launched back into songwriting again after the tour was over. “It was literally two or three days before I started writing again. I think I planned to take a month off but that didn’t happen!” It’s evident that Clark’s time spent touring just feels like the norm to her, and she tells us that life on the road is pretty much the only life that she knows. “I’ve been on tour for, y’know, basically all of my adult life now. I haven’t had another job; I’ve just always been playing in bands.” Far from letting this bleed in to boring normality, Clark feels like she is well adjusted to her lifestyle. “I re-align my axis. I think that, on tour, there’s times when I think that often I don’t know [what] period of the year it is because everything just feels so constant. I think I do prefer my life being this way though; I read a really interesting quote recently about it all which I really loved… I just think that it’s a uniquely American thing to have the idea of the life that you ought to be living; this is probably it!”
One of the most fascinating elements of St. Vincent is the persona that Clark has moulded herself into, which makes every aspect of the live show feel like a natural extension seeping out from the figure on stage. In regards to the version of herself that is performed on stage when compared to the everyday Annie Clark, she explains that the transition just feels natural. “Sometimes I don’t really think about it. I think that part of me thinks that, in a way, that’s more exciting than just the mundanity of everyday life and such, y’know?”
Regardless of which avatar of Annie Clark is front and centre her performances remain exhilarating, which gives her upcoming show on 28th August that extra edge. Who wouldn’t want to be witness to that?