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St. Vincent: “My subconscious is way more powerful than I'm sometimes aware”

St. Vincent: “My subconscious is way more powerful than I'm sometimes aware”

19 February 2014, 14:00

It’s been difficult to miss Annie Clark’s latest album campaign. Dying her locks a lilac shade of silver and donning Isabella Blow-inspired futurist finery, the artist known in her liner sleeves as St. Vincent has reinvented herself as something of a near-future cult leader. The cover of her self-titled new album alone is striking enough to reach iconic heights, occupying a space somewhere between a high fashion centre-spread and a B-list sci-fi movie.

“Music and art to me are things that never feel demystified,” Clark tells us in the club bar of a West End restaurant. “I don’t know anything else like that. If one thing is fit to worship then it’s music.”

However honest, genuine and down-to-earth the Texan native comes across in virtually every interview, Clark continues to showcase a fascination with the darkness that lies beneath all of us. On Strange Mercy, the musician delved into the eerie Lynchian world of suburbia, portraying a “housewife on barbiturates and white wine”. This time round, it’s a near-future cult leader. “I guess everything’s a cult, just some things have more members than others,” she laughs, before pausing for thought. “Every time I write a record, a different archetype emerges. The most interesting thing about futurism is the ‘black mirror’ aspect, where things are just near enough to be recognisable but with a strange twist.”

Other than the record’s technophobic lead cut “Digital Witness”, the aesthetics are pretty much where the dystopian concept ends. Instead, the music of St. Vincent was metabolised from Clark’s mind wandering during her ridiculously busy past few years. “Whilst I was touring my last solo record, Strange Mercy, the shows were getting darker and more violent. I started stage-diving and it got really intense,” Clark says, referring to such events as at the BAM gallery in Brooklyn. “But then I went straight from that into the Love This Giant tour David Byrne], which was more joyful and what you could call ‘existentially absurdist’. It felt like I was inhabiting two completely different realms, so I brought the energy of both to what I did next, and that was manifest in this record”.

This sonic clash has resulted in Clark’s most diverse effort to date, where the detached retro-futurism of singles “Digital Witness” and “Birth In Reverse” stand right next to the sincere and heartfelt “Severed Crossed Fingers” and “I Prefer Your Love”, the latter of which Clark describes as a “song about unconditional love” written for her mother who recently recovered from a serious illness, but one she hopes “transcends” this biographical fact. “I went into making this album with a lot of confidence,” Clark says. “The highs are higher and the lows lower, dynamically at least.”

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And confidence it very much exudes. St. Vincent, Clark’s self-titled fourth album, was named as such, the singer said in a recent interview, because she wrote it for herself. This seems a bold remark from a musician making her major label debut. Between predecessor Strange Mercy and this new record, the singer moved from her previous home of 4AD, the renowned indie responsible for Grimes, Deerhunter and upcoming tourmates The National. Rather than deriving from any dispute or disagreement, Clark reassures that the move was the simple matter of her contract coming to an end. Not one to remain stationary, she decided to consider offers from elsewhere.

Unlike some major label offerings, frequently delayed and manipulated by executives above, St Vincent was recorded entirely before her move to Republic Records (the Universal offshoot that boasts such artists as Lorde, Drake and Taylor Swift among their roster). This sense of creative freedom is obvious throughout the record, continuing Clark’s attempt to “live at the intersection of accessible and lunatic”. A song like the hugely bombastic “Bring Me Your Loves”, for example, is unlikely to have cropped up on any other St. Vincent album previous. It is the sound of an artist at once contented but also restless.

“I was going after the sounds in my head and trying to create something that was new to me,” she says of an album largely inspired from dreams or born from that trance-like state between wake and sleep. Like a cult of one, the musician tried to explore her inner-workings more than ever on this record, allowing herself to “try anything and do anything”. “I think my subconscious is way more powerful than I’m sometimes aware of. The record still has conventional forms of choruses, melodies and everything else that makes pop music great, but I tried to put it through the looking glass a little. That crossover is what excites me the most.”

However immersed into the record she found herself though, there are moments on the album where Clark sounds almost pensive about the blurred line between life and art. On closing track “Severed Crossed Fingers”, she sings “When your calling isn’t calling back to you, I’ll be side-stage mouthing the lines for you”, while on “Psychopath”, she promises to keep the listener in her “soft sights” for when “the crowd has gone home”. Being not only a musician who spends most of her time touring, but also one that invests the rest of it creating her work, life becomes art and art becomes life. But despite this, for the moment at least, there is clearly no sign of stopping. “I don’t really think of anything beyond music. Music is one of those rare forces that gives me more energy than it takes to make it. It’s like some sort of wacky inverse equation. I never feel like I need to take a vacation from music,” she says, before her voice trails off: “I don’t actually think I could”.

St. Vincent is out 24 February. Annie Clark will perform at a series of UK and Irish live dates this week, playing London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 20 February, Manchester’s Cathedral on 21 February and Dublin’s Olympia on 22 February.

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