TITP 2015: Interview – St Vincent, 'If I can talk in third person then I can say really intimate things about myself'
St Vincent is back in Scotland for T in the Park, trying to bring together more disparate souls
Pop music is a richer place for having St Vincent in it. The same could be said of a number of musicians, from Janelle Monae to our own Phantom Band, who treat pop music as an adventure playground. But the artist also known as Annie Clark has been riding particularly high since the release of her eponymous fourth album last year. She has attracted admiring notices for her idiosyncratic songs and aesthetic and also some less welcome gossipy attention for her relationship with model Cara Delevingne, who is strictly off-limits as an interview topic.
New music, however, is safe ground. Her latest release, ‘Teenage Talk’, was recently featured on an episode of Girls and celebrates the peculiar, intense bonds of adolescence. ‘It’s a rumination on the teenage years and how the music you listen to becomes your identity and your shield and a means of communicating your self-hurt to others,’ says Clark. ‘I was lucky enough to have a ragtag group of misfits that I was friends with. They called me Missing in Action because I’d make plans to go out and drink at the warehouses with everybody but I would get lost in playing the guitar and stay in my room all day and night and do that instead.’
Clark has talked before about her obsessive streak when it comes to mastering a skill: she’s a dab hand at keepie-uppie too, apparently. Her lean, superfuzz guitar sound is instantly recognisable, a product of her interest in the technical side of playing which was encouraged when she studied at the Berklee College of Music but also of her renegade spirit – she dropped out of the course after three years and began work on St Vincent, a handle she adopted as ‘a portal through which I’m creative’.
Over the ensuing years, Clark has developed a highly stylised stage show to complement her distinctive music. In 2013, she toured her Love This Giant collaboration with David Byrne, partial himself to quirky performance and shaking a leg onstage. Together they worked with choreographer Annie-B Parson on movement and interaction with their bandmates – a troupe of brass players – marking the first outing for the St Vincent dainty doll-like shuffle which is now a signature part of her show. ‘I’m silly about dancing in that I will dance for thousands of people or I will dance alone in my room but I don’t dance at parties,’ says Clark. ‘But Annie-B really has this angular but beautiful way of helping position the body.’
While her mainstream pop peers pour their ample budgets into all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas, Clark has honed a more modest but no less theatrical act, using hand gestures which are a bit like Zen semaphore and scripted third-person addresses to the audience which are bizarrely arresting.
‘I figure if we’re all in the same room together we’ve already gathered around the fire as it were. So how do we talk about things that are really intimate but at the same time really universal? Like the fact that you sometimes mistake children for tiny adults on the subway [maybe that’s just her?] or you’re really terrified of heights: the unique universal as it were. If I can talk in third person then I can say really intimate things about myself or I can make things up that aren’t really me but can seem like they can apply to everyone. It’s a roundabout way of connecting with people. It may seem stilted or strange but the ultimate goal of it is even more coalescing of disparate souls.’
Yeah, yeah, but how’s that going to play out in front of the mad-fer-it T in the Park massive? ‘I’m going to put some twists and turns in it for fun,’ says Clark, who is no stranger to the radge character of the festival crowd, having chalked up plenty of experience when she joined the Polyphonic Spree as their guitarist. ‘We were the goofballs in the robes backstage,’ she recalls. ‘We were always on a bill with Jet, Franz Ferdinand or the Hives and then we’d be like these dirty, scraggly Texans, superdrunk on Jägermeister on stage after these cool bands in leather jackets.’
Now that St Vincent’s solo career has truly taken off, she’s back in festival land with a vengeance. ‘You just have to put an exclamation point behind everything,’ she says of a festival set. ‘There’s a certain amount of intimacy that goes out the window and a cacophony that enters so you just ride the energy of the crowd. They’re always kind of rabid and manic because they’ve been standing up for 72 hours or whatever.’
Despite having never attended, Clark appears to have captured the T In the Park ‘experience’ in a nutshell. ‘Oh yes, I believe it!’ she laughs.
St Vincent performs at T in the Park on Sat 11 Jul.