Last summer, in a sudden burst of spontaneity while visiting a friend at a west Texas cattle ranch, Annie Clark — better known as St. Vincent — stripped in order to commune with nature. There was peace — and then the distinct sound of a snake's rattle. Clark, still naked, forgot all about peace and took off running for refuge.
This is just one of many strange experiences documented on Clark's brilliant and off-kilter self-titled new album. With the release of St. Vincent, Clark has shown a knack for writing autobiographical, experimental pop songs that are simultaneously odd and accessible and, at times, quite beautiful.
Ahead of Clark's Liberty Hall show Monday, March 31, we dialed up the artist at her New York home.
The Pitch: There's this line on "Digital Witness" in which you critique social-media culture: What's the point of even sleeping, because whatever you're doing can't be shared online. What do you think might be lost with this constant search for affirmation?
Clark: I think people need affirmation in general — there's a part of that that's very healthy and very natural, but I think we've become a little bit more immersed in the idea of "pictures or it didn't happen" or performing our lives rather than living them.
What do you think is a healthier balance?
I remember growing up before the Internet and getting to have some very profound silences that were all about imagination and weren't clouded by noise or anything outside or constant Pavlovian dinging of bells. I think that really helped me to cultivate my imagination and self. I'm not saying things were better back before the Internet. I think the Internet is awesome and I use it all the time. I'm not throwing stones from glass houses.
Can I ask you about your new look?
What inspired it? A few things: David Bowie, Thin White Duke era, but then — also Farrah from The Bachelor.
Fashion inspires me the same way that all art does. Fashion is form, color and texture. Fashion is transformative, and it's exciting. I can get just as excited about fashion as I do about design, or design in general.
What inspired the new choreography you're using on tour?
Yeah, I'm using it on the tour. It's funny because I'm not a dancer per se. I don't have any dance training. But I became really interested in the language of movement on the tour that I did with David Byrne [Love This Giant, 2013], where the brass band was very choreographed. I wish that I could have been more choreographed, but I had to be pretty stationary to play guitar and sing for most of that show. It's like, once you acknowledge that every aspect of your performance is communicating something, why would you leave that language out of the equation? I started to get way more into it [choreography], and I love doing it. It's so fun.
It makes a performance more transportive.
Yeah, and I think that symbols and movement have all these conscious and subconscious connotations. I remember on the Love This Giant tour, we did this one move that was from a Beyoncé video for "Single Ladies," but it was slowed down to the point that it was totally unrecognizable from its source, and then you put it in my body and David's body and it looks totally weird. So it's really fun to just be able to, like, try moves from different dance lexicons. I'm consciously not doing anything that's referencing hip-hop dance because it doesn't look good in my body, and I can't do it convincingly, but I did check out Pina Bausch and say, "Oh, man. What did she do in the Rite of Spring? How can I reference something like that?" When I put it in my body, which is not a dancer's body, what does it become? What is it communicating?
What should we look for in your performance?
I hope everybody has an experience. I spent a lot of time making sure that this show doesn't feel like a couple people onstage jamming for an hour. I want it to be immersive and like a fever dream and get to the more subconscious part of your brain.
You mentioned in an interview once that you like to make music that's accessible but also walks the line of being fringe. If you were making music just for yourself or for friends, would you have fun making it as strange as you could?
I would make exactly the kind of music I'm making. The challenge is making oddness accessible, and that's where the most fun is. It's not even odd if you look at things in a broader context. I'm not trying to put Penderetsky into a Britney Spears song. It's not that weird, but there's that balance and that challenge of straddling two worlds that is interesting.