Throwback Thursday: St. Vincent Interview from 2007 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, October 2nd, 2023  

Throwback Thursday: St. Vincent Interview from 2007

Out of the Crowd

Jun 12, 2014 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern St. Vincent
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For Throwback Thursdays we will be posting classic interviews from the Under the Radar print archives to our website. Under the Radar used to keep its print articles exclusive to the print magazine and so there are a lot of older articles that aren’t to be found on our website. For this Throwback Thursday we revisit our 2007 article on St. Vincent. It was our first interview with Annie Clark, who at the time was about to release her debut album, Marry Me. Since then we’ve interviewed her many times and had her on our cover for her third album, Strange Mercy, which was Under the Radar’s #1 album of 2011. Read on as Clark discusses the beginnings of her solo career after performing in The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ band and why she chose to release music as St. Vincent rather than under her own name.

“I’ve been writing songs and honing this thing since I was 12, so I’ve been doing this for a long time,” says Annie Clark, quick to dispel any notions that she’s an opportunist who just now walked through doors opened through her years in The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ backing band. “It’s not like I had been a member of a band and was like, ‘Oh, gosh. What if I wrote a song?’” she says, her soft voice rising charmingly. “I’ve been working on this for as long as I’ve been playing music in a lot of ways.”

More specifically, she had been working on the songs that comprise Marry Me, the sound of years of studying songwriters and the dynamics of unconventional pop songs. Part art-pop opus, part singer/songwriter song cycle, her eclectic and endlessly imaginative full-length debut has been growing seed-like since her days as a guitar-toting youth in Texas through her years in New York City and back to Texas again. Now, with a remarkably precise vision, she has a set of songs that twist and twirl by their own internal logic, with lush harmonies and constantly shifting melodies rubbing up against harsh shards of guitar distortion. But today, a day after her well-received set at the annual Sasquatch Festival, she’s a bit overwhelmed by all of the attention. After all, her album isn’t even out yet.

“I’m just happy that anybody is listening,” she says disarmingly. “It’s funny, because on a certain level, all of that is an esoteric thing. Blogs have certainly been awesome in helping promote the stuff. Really, I owe a lot of the anticipation and good vibes to the blogs. That’s exciting that any of the excitement that there is, is coming from people who like the music and not some well-oiled press machine. That’s very gratifying.”

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Clark had a series of shows as the opening act for Arcade Fire, and being associated with the aforementioned Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens certainly piqued the interest of curious listeners. But the road from developing artist to blogger it-girl could have been far different had Clark followed her original inclination and headed straight to California to try her luck as an aspiring songwriter. Having grown up a fan of Texas alt. rock phenomenon Tripping Daisy, Clark was understandably ecstatic when Tim DeLaughter spotted her at an audition for the band and chose her to don the robes of the ensemble cast of The Polyphonic Spree, just five days before they began their European tour. Her skills as a guitarist verified, she was then recruited by Shara Worden to be her replacement in Sufjan Stevens’ backing band. Like any good student, she emerged from the experience a more complete artist.

“I have a whole lot of respect for Sufjan and for The Polyphonic Spree,” she explains. “What I learned from the Spree is that it’s important to put on a show, and when you’re in The Polyphonic Spree, you’re one of 20, and in some ways there’s a lot more freedom. The thing that I miss is getting to totally freak out on stage and just be an entertainer, because that’s so exciting and fun. I’ve got a few more things to juggle when I’m playing solo. What I learned from Sufjan is to be even more meticulous with arrangements. He’s an excellent storyteller, and that really comes across in his whole missive. That’s very special. You can’t fake that.”

That same eye for detail enriches Clark’s writing, allowing her to contrast the desire for transcendence with the ordinariness of domesticity, her confessional mix of wry romanticism and playful wit making even commonplace lyrics bristle with emotional weight. “I think the song ‘Marry Me’ is, for me, as sincere as it is sort of a comment on marriage and on culturethe sort of mundane things,” she says, mentioning the plaintive piano balladry of the title track. “We have to get gasoline for our cars, and there are many ways that people believe that we have to get married. I’m 25. That biological clock is ticking. And it was just sort of a commentary on feeling that there was more to discover about everything. I think my romanticism about all of theses things is as real as my sarcasm about it. I think it’s a very romantic record, very escapist.”

That thread of escapism runs through everything Clark does, from the imagery in her songs to her choice of the St. Vincent moniker. “My name is Annie and my last name is Clark, and I go to the grocery store and walk dogs, and there are just a lot of mundane things that you have to endure as a person. I didn’t want that. I wanted to try and transcend the nuts and bolts of normal living. For me, going under the name St. Vincent was creating a place to be,” she says, sounding like someone with no plans to go back to the relatively anonymous membership of a backing band. “I think both things are rewarding,” she admits of her contrasting musical vocations. “It’s just a different role to play.”


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