Interview: St. Vincent on Actor, Onstage Laugh Attacks, and Seizures
The inspirations for Annie Clark's latest album as St. Vincent, Actor, perhaps sum up her darkly doe-eyed charm: hidden porn, guns, self-deceiving lovers, Philip Roth. One of nine children growing up in the Texas flatlands, the Oklahoma-born multi-instrumentalist left Berklee in 2003 to join the Polyphonic Spree, then toured Europe as part of Sufjan Stevens's band before releasing her solo album, Marry Me, in late 2007. Each song on her weeks-old sophomore effort Actor is inspired by one of her favorite films--the result is Fantasia narrated by a dark but smiling Alice.
Now living in Williamsburg, Clark recently spoke with us about her writing process, time with the Polyphonic Spree, and seizures.
You just got back from Europe. How'd it go?
It was really fun! Good food and good beer.
What's been the best venue and crowd you've played for so far?
I was really blown away by the response in London and Amsterdam. People really wanted to dance. That was really exciting. Often times people go to shows and really enjoy it but don't make any visible body movement that indicate as such. So being a performer--to actually see people moving, there's no mistaking that. They're not like, twitching and having seizures, they're dancing and that's good.
What's the most peculiar thing that's happened since you've been on tour?
One of my last shows of 2007--like, show number 150--I was in Milan playing with a band and the show was really fun. Italy is just awesome, and the people are really excited and excitable, and something happened on stage, something ridiculous happened--like a guitar went so heinously out of tune that it was funny, you know? And I took one look at my friend Daniel and he couldn't keep a straight face, and I couldn't keep a straight face, and it was this big release of tension and everyone--we all started laughing. We couldn't help it. We started cracking up. And you know when you start laughing and you can't stop--then the drummer started laughing until the bass player started laughing, and we were all just cracking up. We had toured so much, and we were so excited and exhausted and out of our minds. And then the audience started laughing and we had this moment--because laughter is so contagious. I know it's a show and it's supposed to be serious and professional and everything but we just couldn't help it--we went on for probably two or three minutes--just everybody laughing, and then we finished the song.
Love seemed to be the current running through your first record Marry Me. What would you say Actor deals with thematically?
I would say it deals with love as well, but it's also kind of about the subtle ways in which we deceive ourselves and deceive others--a lot of the difference between the appearance of something and the reality. I wanted to make something that was more like what grown-ups do.
What do you mean?
Marry Me was--in a good way--and in an appropriate way, sort of teenage. I wanted to make something that was more human, more real.
Each track on Actor is sort of a private film score for each of your favorite films (Badlands, Pierrot le Fou, The Wizard of Oz). What was your creative process like for this album?
Well, I was a little bit bored with writing on guitar and I decided that I'd rather write most of the record on my computer. That also evolved because I'd recently moved to New York, and I couldn't make a lot of noise in my apartment. I wanted to make music like directors make films.
Did you watch these movies and approach them as though you were composing a score?
Yeah I did--it started out that way, because you can get a lot from the cadence of how a character speaks, and you can sort of take one of your favorite spoken lines and dissect the rhythm of it, and take that rhythm and add. It just takes a little bit of a seed of something and the next thing you know you've created something that is a cousin to the source but is totally, totally, different.