St Vincent: ‘without music I’d be happily dead’ – The Guardian (blog)

Annie Clarke, otherwise known as St Vincent,
the multi-instrumentalist and avant-garde US singer-songwriter, is
currently touring her self-titled fourth album for shows in Melbourne
and at Sydney’s Vivid festival.

Guardian Australia spoke to Clarke a few days after her Saturday Night Live appearance, and shortly before soundcheck for her Melbourne gig at Howler, which she said would be a “bizarre fever dream”.

“I
want to create a real elevated experience for everybody, and often
times you’re just acting on intuition and acting on little micro-decisions,” she said when asked to define it.

“It’s only later that you’re really able to really step back from it and analyse what it might or might not be.”

Clarke’s
career has always involved a strong performance element – right back to
her first gigs as a member of the Polyphonic Spree and later Sufjan
Stevens’s band
. Clarke places a huge emphasis on what messages she can
send to the audience with the physical side of her shows.

“Our
body language communicates a whole world of things. I work with a
choreographer on the show to refine some of that movement and suggest
things that are subconscious,” she said.

“Once
you realise that you have all these tools at your disposal it’s harder
to just stand up on stage and play music. Obviously everything is rooted
in that and it’s not like you can heap a big conceptual thing onto
banal music and have it work.”

Despite
this highly self-conscious preparation, Clarke’s shows also take on a
life of their own. Choreography and letting a show evolve on stage
aren’t mutually exclusive, she said.

“It
took a lot of rehearsal to get this show up and running because we’re
basically playing music that should take 10 people but takes four. We
don’t play to any tracks or anything but I think it’s testament to the
versatility and the talent of the people on stage that we’re able to do
it all in real time with only four of us,” she said.

“Even
if you know the script you can always stray from it, but you have a
thoughtful piece that’s you’ve spent a lot of time orchestrating. So
sometimes it’s just about execution.”

Clarke’s
music and performance pushes boundaries. She’s been likened to,
variously, David Bowie, Bjork, Jimi Hendrix, and others, for her drive
to explore genres and styles in exhilarating fashion.

It’s
a good gig to have, and Clarke says she counts herself lucky be able to
live her dream. Without music she’d be “happily dead.”

But it’s not an easy road.

“There will always be people making music and making music outside of the margins,” she said.

“I
think we’re in a complicated time in that … it’s harder to monetise any
kind of music so young bands need some kind of capital to get started –
obviously there’s human capital in the heart and soul of it – but the
other nuts and bolts.”

This
leads to early corporatisation of music, Clarke suggests, as young
“hamstrung” bands are left with little choice if they want to fund their
dream.

“It’s not really a question of selling out anymore, it’s a question of survival. But that’s a bit of a scary territory.”

Finally, the Guardian asks her about her favourite saint: “St Anthony because I lose things a lot. I almost lost my sunglasses but then I found them thanks to St Anthony.”

And her favourite Vincent? “Van Gogh.”

  • St Vincent plays at Brunswick’s Howler on Saturday, and the Sydney Opera House on Sunday.

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