Annie Clark of moniker St. Vincent pauses after we ask each question; contemplative, careful, curious. Cementing herself as one of her generation’s most fearsome and inventive guitarists, the 34-year-old American musician is about to release her fifth album. And while she has made headlines for her relationships with Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart, it’s her honest perspective on American patriarchy and her bold new sound that we should be talking about.
During the song-writing process for this album, you’ve said “this may be the deepest, boldest work you’ve ever done”. What inspired you this time around? What got this fire burning?
“The fire is more of an old burning fire, it’s always burning. I really wanted to write a record about power and what has power over us and what we have power over – personal power, sexual power, political power. It’s seductive. Sometimes songs already exist and you were just the lucky recipient of them! I don’t totally remember writing it, I don’t totally remember how the melody came to be. It just kind of arrived, let’s just say, more-or-less formed and it was just like, ‘Oh thank you!’[Laughs]”
Can you tell me about working with Jack Antonoff (producer for Lorde, Sia, Taylor Swift, Zayn Malik) and his influence on your single New York?
“He’s a joy, Jack Antonoff is wonderful, he’s the best teammate you could want. He’s totally non-cynical, he’s one hundred percent a cheerleader and he just wouldn’t stop until all the songs were all the way across the finish line.”
What makes you say that the city of New York has your heart?
“It’s the first place I truly felt at home, like I found my people.”
Is New York a prelude to what we can expect on the album?
“Yes and no. Every album I do has some sort of archetype. There’s a lot of heart on this one and a lot of bananas.”
A quote that I love that you said in 2012 was “It’s a somewhat cynical view to be nostalgic because it assumes that the past is better than the present or the future. And I don’t necessarily believe that that’s true.” Your single New York feels very nostalgic. How do you feel when you perform this track? Is it cynical towards the past? Or at peace with it?
“I would say neither cynical nor at peace. I think it’s a song that’s very relatable because everybody has that person. They are the only person in the world right now – you know, know, they’re the only person who or the perfect thing that will make me calm down, the only person who will understand me completely and talk me off this ledge. It’s a love song – it’s a love letter to New York, it’s a love letter to other people involved in the song.”
You’ve released multiple albums, this upcoming one being your fifth. This one you’ve said is a “sea change”. How different do you feel as a woman since your debut?
“Well I’m going through the change, getting the hot flashes, wish me luck! I’ll see you on the other side! [Laughs] No, I don’t know! I’m kind of the last person to know how to answer that question. One thing I will note is that I think for a lot of people as they get older get more cynical or they get bitter and I actually like that my trajectory as a person and as an artist has become less and less cynical and the opposite of bitter as I’ve grown. So that’s good!”
As a woman, what do you fear the most about the future?
“I think that we are living in bonkers times, especially in America. I think all marginalised people need to come together and stand up to patriarchal oppression and misogyny and racism, homophobia, transphobia and… there’s a lot… I think that’s how we can defeat neo-fascism.”
On stage, you’ve said you amplify bold parts of your personality that already exist. What qualities in you come out/take-over when you’re performing? And which do you wish you had a few more of in your day-to-day life?
“I think that being onstage is in many ways a strange and an unnatural act. I mean that in the best way possible but something else takes over completely. There’s you as a performer and then there’s the audience who exist and then there’s this other kind of X factor that exists and happens between you and the audience that transforms those parties. I think that’s why music is so vital in providing and sharing that kind of campfire of an experience.”
Something that you said in an interview some years back was that you like to play with “a duality of something that is really beautiful sonically but then it is disturbed by something that is very aggressive or distorted” and you said that “speaks to your world view”. I’m interested to hear what your world view is today – do you still feel you play with this duality?
“I think that’s there’s a number of songs on the record that you, at first, brush and think ‘oh this is a nice kind of dance song’, they are upbeat and almost use the language of commercial jingles. Then you listen to the words and they are tragic. So yes, I think that duality still exists a lot in my music but it takes many forms, it’s not always in the same way of distorted views coming in to disrupt the otherwise placid landscape.”
Why did you decide to align yourself with Planned Parenthood?
“What’s happening in the States is incredibly misogynistic and impact women. It’s important to have agency over your own body and not have to be subjected to the arbitrary control of patriarchy. That’s important to me, to empower women on all fronts.”
Which track from your new album do you feel will be the hardest emotionally to perform?
“Happy Birthday, Johnny will be a tough one. I think Smoking Section.”