St. Vincent featured on Swide after the release of her second LP in 2009. During the Italian leg of her tour, Swide's Ben Taylor caught up with her to discuss image, her feminine side, identity and… oh, drinking Champagne on the set of Gossip Girl…
St. Vincent, the moniker of American singer/songer wiriter Annie Clark, has an ethereal presence and can be mistaken for appearing to be fragile. This assumption was quickly swept aside when Swide got talking to the musician, whose style has been stamped with the title of art rock, baroque pop and indie pop. With these titles not fazing her, Annie discusses finding her dramatic side, aggression and champagne.
I want to start off with your style, I’ve seen it develop over the years and at the moment it seems very porcelain like, almost fragile. What’s the importance of the image that you project as St. Vincent?
Umm, well it’s music and it’s being a performer and, in some cases, image is everything but I don’t think that it is in my case. I am more of a musician, more of a nerd. Lately I’ve been playing up to the more feminine aspects of my demeanour, you know, growing out my hair and, makeup wise, doing things a little more dramatic, onstage wearing things that more architectural and structured.
St. Vincent by Tina Tyrell
Where has that element of dramatisation come from?
I think that there is a dichotomy in my music, sort of like the lightness and the darkness and also because I am actually a very feminine person and very feminine looking but I also have this other side that is, like, fucking angry. You know, visceral and a little off kilter, so I think it’s actually nice to play with that; to appear feminine but to actually be aggressive at times.
The aggression that you’re talking about is very much evident in your videos for Cruel and Cheerleader. You commented on these yourself saying that you are ‘perfectly presented, physically, your skin etc but at the same time you’re very distant from the being’. What’s going on there? We’ve seen you either deconstructing yourself or being putt in a hole by your loving family…
Yes, they’re putting me in a hole and burying me alive. I think identity is a complicated subject in general and I often feel that way in the modern world where so much of communication is distant and through a screen (she says as my phone starts lighting up) but strangely very disconnected and I think in a lot of ways that can translate into feeling disconnected from your own body. I feel that way, too, and especially being a woman and, like in fashion and beauty, it’s a weird way in which women are very aware of being seen and HOW they are seen. So, to even acknowledge that and saying that ‘I’m aware I’m being seen’ is empowering.
Talking about this, you then worked on Gossip Girl…. How did that come about?
(laughing) Yes, you’re right.
And the fact you used ‘Cruel’ for the Valentines episode!
I was so surprised when they said, ‘oh we want you to come on the show’, to be fair Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), when they played on Gossip Girl, they paved the way for people to feature on the show. But, it was one of those things that was very flattering and strange to be asked. It was the Valentine’s Day episode and the extras playing the waiters were walking around with glasses of prosecco, which I quickly realised were fact and so we thought ‘ok’ and ordered a couple of bottles of Champagne to accompany us during the shoot.
St. Vincent by Tina Tyrell
You’re currently on tour. What does the tour allow you to do that is different form day-to-day life?
Well, about 36hours ago I was in a Turkish Bath, so that was fun. Besides the obvious of seeing the world and hanging out with a nice group of people… at this point, I am very aware of when I take a break from performing because it is such a release, when I perform, and I can feel the pent up emotions building up if I’m not. I mean, the record came out in September and we’ve mostly been on tour since and we just took a three-week break but I was very aware that I wasn’t able to vent my emotions in the same way.
How has your fanbase changed?
I think we’ve gotten to know each other a bit better and there are more of them now, which is good, but there is also more of a connection. They know me better and I know them better. Sometimes, I’m impervious to their needs as an audience. For example, this record I didn’t go in the studio thinking to make it more pop or accessible and here’s the music that I need to make at this time and my fanbase respects that. Because, if you get into a situation where your doing something that you’re not fully invested in, just to get it on the radio, you have to remember that you are going to be touring it for a year. If you don’t believe in it, that is honestly more soul crushing.
Whilst on tour, do you ever feel like you lose connection with your music?
I think it gets deeper, and I think that because it’s out in the world and in other people’s lives it has more weight than just this little thing that I made and no one had heard. It has more little tangential affects in the world.
St. Vincent's album 'Strange Mercy' is available now on 4AD
Check out Swide's take on St. Vincent's 'Cruel' Video by clicking the image below
Credits - all photographs by Tina Tyrell
Interviewed and written by Ben Taylor