Photo by Caitlin Meyer
Since the September release of her third LP, Strange Mercy, Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, has seen a whirlwind of activity, from touring the States to hitting the late night circuit to popping up at festivals. This past weekend at Asheville, NC’s Moogfest, Consequence of Sounds Research Editor and host of Audiography, Len Comaratta, got a chance to sit down with Clark and her tour manager, Tom Carlson, as they were ironing out some last-minute details for her upcoming European tour.
If you’re a fan of Len’s Audiography series, look out for a forthcoming episode with Ms. Clark herself.
You sound busy.
Annie Clark (AC): Trying to coordinate a European tour with a two-day turnaround.
When do you head to Europe?
Tom Carlson (TC): The eighth?
AC: Right after [Jimmy] Fallon, so the 7th [of November].
TC: The morning of the eighth, cause Fallon is the seventh.
AC: It is. No, I fly that evening to Germany to do some German TV show.
Talk about being busy. And last night you said you had a late gig. Where were you playing last night?
TC: The Earl. In Atlanta. Its like a club gig. It was fun.
AC: It was really fun. I like those club I mean its funny
When you say Club Gig, what do you mean, like the 9:30 Club kind of thing versus an arena?
TC: One quarter the size of the 9:30 club.
AC: Yeah, its 250 capacity.
TC: Way too small for them to be playing.
AC: With our gear and our light rig, it was kinda Spinal Tap or reverse Spinal Tap.
AC: Oh yeah, it was a great time. It was a great show.
Do you like the intimacy, though, of the smaller shows?
AC: Yeah, I do, I do. Its fun. A lot of these shows on this tour have been theaters. Its sort of like very pristine, and we have an intense light show. It comes off well. Its like a theatrical performance kinda thing, but its fun to just get nitty-gritty in a rock club, too. All the shows have been going well to be honest. Its been a really fun tour.
Well this album is getting huge amounts of praise. It seems like its been out longer than just a month or a month and a half.
AC: Yeah, I think there was a lot of lead in to it, so the press people did their job.
Your producer, John Congleton, did a whole social media with Twitter. If you tweet so much, then a single will be released. How did you feel that that played out?
AC: I thought that that worked out well. Im not a marketing person. I didnt come up with that idea or anything; it was the in-house people at the label, but I thought it worked out really well. At some point, after maybe six days had gone by and people kept tweeting its on my twitter feed, and I can see what people are saying. And I started to feel like, You guys, is this kinda mean? People are really freaking out. Theyre really ready for this single. Should we just give it to them? And they were like, No, no wait, this is the point. So, it was a little bit of a game, I guess, but it worked out well. It got people excited or angry.
One of questions I was told that I have to ask by one of our editors, who is in love with this album, is What was the driving force behind what you were writing for Strange Mercy?” He sensed some kind of retro feminism in some of the songs, but he didnt understand what your direction was. I didnt really sense that, the way he was describing it, but he wanted to get your take on what was going on in your mind when you were writing the album. Cause like with Actor, you said it was during a downtime. You were decompressing and watching a lot of films and that inspired you to what you were doing. Everyone keeps saying Strange Mercy is a departure, so what was going on when you were setting down to write that album?
AC: Well, a lot of the influence, at least superficially, on the record is still these little bits of pop culture that I can weave into my own experience. Like the hook for Surgeon is best finest surgeon, come cut me open, which is
AC: yeah, what Marilyn Monroe wrote in her diary. I really fell in love with that particular sentiment.
Were you reading up on Marilyn Monroe? How did you stumble on that?
AC: You know what? I read it in a Vanity Fair article. I was in Seattle writing the record, and I was getting very frustrated with what I was coming up with. Lots of highs and lows in a writing process. You know, either you think its all good or you think its terrible, and theres not a lot of in-between. And I was in a low patch, and I just thought, forget it. Im just gonna check out of the studio early, just go have a glass of wine, and read a book because nothing is coming out. And I just picked up a Vanity Fair and got really engrossed in that article and her, and I think I probably still have my little journal I was carrying around. In giant quotes, underlined, circled, exclamation point, Use this. The next day I went back, and I wrote Surgeon.
You seem to be informed by a lot of pop culture. People always comment how even Marry Me was taken from an Arrested Development line
AC: Yeah, yeah.
Is that intentional, or do you find that as youre writing it just comes out of you?
AC: Yeah, thats the thing. It probably sounds pretty redundant, but everything is inspiration for a song. Everythings fodder for writing. On the last record, I just straight-up ripped a Hemingway quote out of The Sun Also Rises its in Just the Same, But Brand New verbatim. Hopefully, I cant get sued for that sort of thing. I like re-appropriated it or collaged it together. But everything is kind of fodder for writing.
When did you start writing?
AC: I started writing songs when I was probably before probably we had a piano, and I would tinker around with that and write little bits of songs, and then when I got a guitar when I was 12, the first thing I did was learn a Neil Young song and then write one of my own songs.
Neil Young was the first person you learned on guitar?
AC: Probably. I think it was Keep on Rockin in the Free World. I really liked that Neil Young and Crazy Horse record at that point in life. But, actually, its funny. I dont know if Ive mentioned this, but the song Year of the Tiger on Strange Mercy, that riff [hums out the musical part] , thats something my mom used to play on the piano but I mean, it was sweet, it was sweetly played. Kinda plucky. I gave her writing credit. We co-wrote Year of the Tiger together, but that riff was always in my consciousness from a really young age.
Was Glenn Branca the first group you worked with? The 100 Guitar Orchestra.
AC: To say I worked with Glenn Branca is sort of like saying, as if I had walked through a recording studio and been like, Yeah, I produced that record. There was an open call for guitar players in New York. Come for a pack of sandwiches and a coffee. Come and play. Bring your own amp and your own guitar out to Queens and play in this recording session. I was a fan of Glenn Branca obviously, and everybody in the room was a massive fan of Glenn Branca, and I was just one of a hundred. It feels a little bit to say I worked with him Glenn Branca was not asking me for my input.
It was more like, Here, play this part. Thank you.
AC: Exactly. We were organized into maybe four different guitar sectors. All of our strings were tuned to the same, different octaves of the same note. When it was our time to go, it was crazy eighth notes and stop and crazy eighth notes, and it was thrilling to be in a room with that many guitars and that many amplifiers.
It must be just ridiculously loud…
AC: It was so loud. I had such a great time.
So, it was only for that one recording that you did that?