Annie Clark looks out from the cover of her brand-new record with a knowing, unflinching gaze, her white hair springing from her head like one of Phil Spector's wigs as she sits atop a throne that could have been carved from a giant bar of soap. Clark, whose stage name is St. Vincent, has described her look for this record as that of a "near-future cult leader." To an extent, of course, she's playing a part here. But the record itself is all her — her vision, her ideas, her execution.
"I decided to call it St. Vincent because I was reading Miles Davis' autobiography, and he has a great line where he says the hardest thing for a musician to do is sound like yourself," Clark says of her decision to make this, her fourth solo album, an eponymous one. She's talking to the Scene by phone from Amsterdam hours before the second show of her European tour. "And I felt like this record, I was walking into it with a lot of confidence and a lot of self-assuredness and a lot of optimism. So it just felt like the one to self-title."
St. Vincent is Clark's first release since 2012's collaboration with David Byrne, Love This Giant, and the extensive tour that followed. And while both St. Vincent's imagery and its 11 electronic-pop-injected art-rock tunes — which range from the twitchy, nervy "Birth in Reverse" to the trip-hoppy slow burn of "I Prefer Your Love" — are indeed confident and self-assured, they were not born in a vacuum.
The live shows for the Love This Giant tour — during which Clark and Byrne would play songs from their respective catalogs alongside cuts from Giant — featured carefully executed choreography steered by the famously charismatic former Talking Heads frontman. It was the "kineticism" and the "light-hearted and joyful" tone of that tour that Clark wanted to bring to her next effort.
"I wanted to bring the danceability of Love This Giant into whatever I did next," Clark explains. "I had a year-and-a-half's worth of experiences and people I'd met and wild nights out and books I'd read and things I wanted to explore that I just hadn't had a chance to really sit down and explore."
Footage from recent performances of "Rattlesnake," the leadoff track from St. Vincent, shows Clark gliding around the stage, delivering lines with a representationalist deadpan before plunging into a wild, squalling guitar solo. If you've heard or read any of her recent interviews (she's appeared everywhere from NPR to The Colbert Report over the past month), you may know that "Rattlesnake" was inspired by a true story: While visiting her friend's cattle ranch in deep West Texas, Clark took a nude nature walk (the goal being to "be one with nature") and encountered a rattlesnake.
"I decided to start the record like that because it sounded like a creation myth," Clark tells the Scene. "I mean, if you didn't know it was a true story and were just thinking about it in a metaphorical, mythological sense, it sounds like a creation myth for the 21st century."
And Clark's right: As she croons, "Am I the only one in the only world?" over a blipping groove, "Rattlesnake" does indeed sound like the story of mankind gaining sentience as told by some alternate-universe bible.
Clark made the visual component of this creation myth, this rebirth, about as central to St. Vincent as the music itself. Working with creative director Willo Perron (who also worked on Jay-Z's Magna Carta ... Holy Grail and Bruno Mars' Unorthodox Jukebox, among others), Clark constructed what she calls a "visual bible," full of images and ideas that inspired her over the past couple of years. She cites avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky as well as the Memphis Group (Ettore Sottsass' Milan-based design collective from the 1980s) as her primary aesthetic influences.
If all of that seems like an erudite, overly calculated or, dare I say, even mildly pretentious backdrop for what basically amounts to a pop record, consider this for your takeaway: Clark worked really hard to put together a very unique and ambitious record, and she succeeded. And as for whether you'll get your money's worth at her live show, surprise surprise, she's put a lot of thought into that as well.
"I decided to incorporate more movement into the St. Vincent show," says Clark. "It ties in with the theme of the record, of everything as performance, from the mundane to the exquisite, you know? Life as performance. So I wanted to heighten that. I wanted to make sure there were higher stakes every show I played, and really try to create an experience."
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