It’s strange to me that people would say ‘you’re a really private person’. Well, I just told you my worst thought ever!
Annie Clark — better known as St Vincent — has managed to play out her glittering five-album career with grace, an ever-developing and always absorbing artistic voice and, most of all, without compromise. New offering, ‘St Vincent’, is the first time she’s claimed an album with her name. Fixed in her views and intimidatingly articulate, she has an inspiringly steadfast belief in where she’s been and where she’s going.
Talking to Annie whilst touring way out in Nebraska, I’m conscious that a lot of her interviews travel down the same lines of discourse. There are points when I recognise things she’s repeated word-for-word in previous interviews, revealing myself as a hopeless fan — which she seems uncomfortable with. Is it this prescribed approach to her publicity that makes her appear a particularly private person?
Whatever the reason is, she finds this perception odd. “I put so much of myself into the music that it’s strange to me that people would say ‘you’re a really private person’. Well, I just told you my worst thought ever!” she mock shouts, laughing. “Why do you think it’s your right to know everything about my life? Some people might think it’s flattering that people want to know, but I think it’s strange”. Clark is absolutely clear (and, of course, right) about what she finds interesting to promote: “The world I can create through art. It’s wanting to put the focus on the thing that I work very hard on, which is these worlds and these shows and these records”.
These live shows are something Clark is incredibly passionate about, and not just as her “favourite part of every day”. She believes that in an era where it’s so hard to sustain a career through mere record sales, there needs to be a shift in focus. “The live show is ever more important. When we democratised the process of recording music, in terms of people being able to record and put it out there to the world, a lot of people who could make a pretty good record on their own then were not necessarily good at the live show. It’s a whole other beast”. For her, “It’s not enough to just get up there and just play some songs — that’s frankly really boring. It’s more fun to try and create an experience for people, to suspend their disbelief for a little bit, and be given the respect of a real show.”
It would be a little foolhardy for someone to say ‘you can’t do that’… I’ve stuck to my guns for five records.
At the show she also encourages people to be in the moment, rather than “trying to capture it with a digital device”. This is the ‘Digital Witness’ tour after all, named for her latest single that laments our ever-plugged-in, ever-recording generation of Instagram addicts, asking “if I’m not sure if you can see me, what’s the point of doing anything?” St Vincent herself uses her MacBook to write and record — “I am very much a student of DIY” — but apart from that, she tries not to lose herself to the addictive clutches of an endless refresh button. “I don’t look at myself on the internet,” she says when I ask if she’s ever tempted to measure her success by Twitter followers or YouTube views, with her going on to say she says she finds Spotify’s interface “too overwhelming”. Clark feels that the amount of choice we have as modern music consumers is a symptom of humankind’s ‘shiny new object syndrome’. “It all gets over-complicated, and it takes a toll on our attention span. In some ways it’s really good but as human beings our brains don’t have the processing power to keep up, we just don’t”.
Choosing another of her interview buzz-phrases, Clark tells me that the cover art was based on the idea of a “near-future cult leader”. With such a regal and commanding image, I wonder what kind of movement she would inspire. Annie values the better side of our innately human qualities. When I ask her why she thinks it’s important for us to turn away from an overdose of the digital world, her reply is surprisingly impassioned. “For the sake of civilisation. We are nature. Everything that’s sublime and everything that’s brutal is completely inside of us, but I think there are emotions inside of us that are inherently better than others. I think that empathy is more valuable to humankind than selfishness, though you can certainly make some sort of case that there is some evolutionary advantages to selfishness. I’m not totally nixing that out… but it’s better for the planet if people are checked-in with themselves and other people and aren’t so quick to turn to violence and destruction”.
As it stands, Clark seems bulletproof. A cosmic storyteller, never out of touch but always tantalisingly out of reach. When I ask if anyone has ever questioned her artistic process she steadily replies, “No, no one’s ever stopped me. I think at this point, it would be a little foolhardy for someone to say, ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that’. I’ve stuck to my guns for five records and they get bigger and better every record. I don’t really see why that trend would change”. Even a glance at the album cover is enough to convince us of that. Here’s to Queen Vincent; long may she reign.
St Vincent plays O2 Academy Bristol on 15th May, with her self-titled album out now via Loma Vista/Republic.
UPDATE: This show has been postponed until 21st August.
In the meantime check out the video for ‘Digital Witness’ right here: