While Annie Clark, (aka St. Vincent) first made her name as a member of pseudo-religious psych-rockers the Polyphonic Spree and touring singer for folk-popper Sufjan Stevens, her crisp, melodic solo albums are a revelation all their own. Since going solo she’s risen rapidly, earning glowing reviews for both her debut, Marry Me, and the recently released Actor. She adds another notch to her belt on June 8th, kicking off this summer’s free Millennium Park Monday music series in Chicago. In anticipation of the appearance, we sat down with Clark to find out how she got her start in the biz, what happens when the Internet gets it wrong, and whether or not she’s secretly a sociopath.
Flavorpill: How did you get started touring with Sufjan, The Polyphonic Spree, etc.?
Annie Clark: Let’s see, I started touring when I was pretty young. I would go on the road with my aunt and uncle who are jazz musicians. I’d basically be their roadie for a lot of years. Then I was living in New York for a little bit…and then I ran out of money so I moved back to Texas (where I’m from). Then I joined the Polyphonic Spree and started touring with them in the summer of 2005. I’d already started working on the record that was going to become Marry Me. Sufjan heard the record and really liked it and then asked me to open for him as well as be in his band on a tour of Europe in November 2006.
FP:And Danielson Famile? That’s where Sufjan got his start. I read somewhere that you played with them, too.
AC: I never have toured with Danielson. I think he’s great. though! The Internet is full of lies. It’s funny, recently my publicist sent me this Rolling Stone article [that I appear in] that’s coming out soon. It’s a very nice article; the lady was really nice, but she was very, very tall. We had a dinner interview…and in the article she says that I’m 5’2. She took like five inches off of me! She was just such a giant that she assumed everyone must be under five feet. I dunno. Anyway, don’t believe anything you read.
FP: Hah! I should know better. I used to fact check for Us Weekly.
AC: [Laughs] How does one fact check for Us Weekly?
(A long rant about Us Weekly’s very real, very thorough fact-checking procedures)
FP: …and that’s why I don’t work for them anymore! So you’re living in NYC once more?
AC: Mmhmm! [she’s eating a muffin] I am. I live in Manhattan now.
FP: Do you split your time between Dallas and NYC?
AC: Well, I go home to see my family and everything in Dallas, but I don’t really live there anymore.
FP: Do your aunt and uncle still tour?
AC: Mmhmm! I think they’re actually in Italy right now.
FP: And they adequately exposed you to the biz…
AC: Yeah, totally. I learned how to tour. I really fell in love with touring.
FP: You call yourself St. Vincent and toured with Sufjan. Sufjan’s known to include some religious subject matter in his work. Do you ever incorporate religion as a theme?
AC: Hmmm. The name is actually a family name. It’s more honoring where you come from. I’m actually really interested in the human condition. I think in this culture, with the mythology we have to draw on, everybody knows their religious story. Whether they’re religious or not, they’re aware. So in terms of religious references, I tend to draw on religious mythology because it’s so ubiquitous. I’m definitely interested [in religion] in an intellectual sense.
FP: Yeah. With your first record, there’s the reference to “Jesus saves, you spend,” etc.
AC: Yeah, I just thought of that as silly wordplay. It’s a little bit of a light poking fun. I didn’t mean a whole lot more by it except for silly wordplay. But I don’t think that anyone misinterprets or really even interprets the way the artist intended for it to be. Which is wonderful, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
FP: That’s fair. How do you feel toward listeners who might end up misinterpreting what was meant to be religious? Sufjan is a great example.
AC: Y’know, I don’t think there’s any big ideological conflict. You can enjoy things on a lot of levels If you are a person who is religious and want to imbue the music with that kind of lens, then you’ll filter it through that lens and have one kind of experience. If you’re not, and you think “oh! This is some really beautiful music, and I like it” then you’ll get that kind of experience. I don’t think anyone is in danger of any kind of ideological brain shift. I mean, with shows, with the Polyphonic Spree certainly brings up this religious imagery with the gospel robes, but people have been wearing costumes in rock n’ roll for a long time. [Laughs] It’s just performance art.
FP: Any plans to go on tour again with the Spree or Sufjan?
AC: No I don’t, I’m pretty busy with the solo project. I’ll stick with it for a while.
FP: I really enjoyed the video for “Actor Out Of Work.” There was a cool disconnection between your face and the people you faced on those chairs, totally losing it right in front of you. How’d you do it?
AC: Oh, just with a heart of stone. [Laughs] No, no I’m kidding. That was really bizarre. Really, really, really bizarre to watch people cry.
FP: Were they real tears?
AC: Well, I don’t know, see that’s the thing. Were they? I mean, no they were supposed to be actors acting. But regardless, you’re still going to feel the pain…like oof, oof…someone’s sitting here crying and I’m not doing anything, not helping.
FP: Well, more power to you. I guess you’d be an OK actor yourself.
AC: [Laughs] Thanks! Or a sociopath!
FP: Well, we won’t go there.
AC: I’m not, I promise, I’m not.