The grand high witch of gothy guitar pop gets her disco pants on.
A rattlesnake, a dense Texan wood and a pair of pale tits. Not Nymphomaniac’s surprise third part, but where Annie Erin Clark found an in-road to her fourth, eponymously titled LP as outré multi-instrumental solo project, St Vincent. “St Vincent” is 11 songs of danceable, experimental disco rock. It’s her Pop, her Flowers of Romance, her “Clapham Common”. Maybe she inhaled too much pre-dance floor hairspray in the late eighties and it’s finally catching up. Either way, Clark – who has replaced Hasidic brown curls for a glammy white bouffant – is cresting her most unapologetically accessible musical phase. Take it from lead single “Birth in Reverse”, a cocksure tune as tight and latticework-like in rhythm as it is lyrically breezy and existential: “Oh what an ordinary day,” she drawls, in the way only a true Southern States native can, “…take out the garbage, masturbate.” Elsewhere opener “Rattlesnake” is steered by Innervisions-esque modular funk and “Bring Me Your Love”’s treated, mutant beat swaps gleaming pop for broody synthedelica.
I met Clark in a strange, gated bourgeoisie enclave known as Kensington Village – the type of haunt you’d expect to have opiate-gilded oxygen pumping from its glass walls. Our chat journeyed everywhere from PJ Harvey’s back catalogue (we both think Is This Desire is a career high, and co-hum “Angeline”’s creeping bassline) to starting a black metal band together (Annie, if you’re reading this, I’d like us to be called “Exploding Breastplates”).
After all, Clark spent most of her youth perfecting Dimebag riffs in her parent’s house Tulsa, Oklahoma, before moving to Brooklyn. And you can hear it in her music: after stints in bizarre, stadium pop gospel choir The Polyphonic Spree and Surfjan Stevens’ touring band, and as one of Glenn Branca’s 100 Guitars project, she started work on her debut record, 2007’s Marry Me. But it wasn’t until the skewed, conceptual sophomore Actor that Clark introduced her patented brand of Tourette’s Rock; where sickly sweet Disney lullabies are broken in two by bolts of jagged, overdrive soaked Strat. Like the tar-thick, blackened overcast “The Nothing” in Neverending Story, songs like “Actor Out Of Work” and “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood” are seasoned with a generous dollop of shrieking, morbid blues instrumentation.
She’s not in the mood to wade through old projects. The past is just that, and I agree – even if it does involve a collaborative album with Talking Heads ingénue David Byrne; 2012’s unhinged Love This Giant. In the main, we discuss her newfound mascot, the St Vincent rattlesnake. “My friend has an old cattle ranch in far, far west Texas,” she explains, “and I went walking one night around the property, which is miles from the road. Without the Internet, I know nothing about nature. I didn’t have a cell phone, either – I’m in the middle of the universe and I’m all alone. So I decided I was going to take off my clothes because there will be nothing tethering me to the universe anymore. And I was having this really mystical experience – and I am not a person who says ‘mystical experiences’. I’m not into Urban Outfitters spirituality,” she continues. “But what happened next sounds like a Creationist myth. I heard a sound and thought: “Oh, it must be a critter”. Then I heard a rattle and saw the snake. I ran as fast as I could back to the ranch, dropping everything I owned on the way.”
Her sense of isolation – an incident she now describes as “all very Cormac McCarthy” – prompted her analysis of Social Media-surveillance in “Digital Witness”. “In this day and age, there are millions of digital eyes, and that’s all of us. And it’s almost as if the snake has eaten its tail. We feel like if we don’t show someone what we’ve done – or have a million digital hands clapping for you all the time – we feel like we don’t exist.” In fact, reminders of the fantastical reptilian encounter are at every turn: in its Tabula Rasa abandonment of the dark urban indie of New York contemporaries Deerhunter and Dirty Projectors for crisp, seventies dance, and in its a brooding sense of dystopia: “It’s a party record, but there’s a twist,” she says. “There’s blood on the piñata. It’s not a party record in the sense of: ‘Let’s get fucked up at the pub’ – but in terms of it being like an apocalypse that you can dance to.”
The album’s disco and Clark’s part Betty Davis part Jim Jarmusch hair steez, are her way of refusing to stick to a tried, quantifiable formula. It’s her, sprinting through the woods, ditching everything she possesses. “I think it’s so important to be a mythmaker in art – like Lou Reed, Bowie Polly Harvey, all these people who constantly reinvented themselves. That’s what this record is for me; I never want to look back, and I hate nostalgia. My hair doesn’t define me but a radical change is a good change. Always.”
Words Jack Mills
Fashion Editor Francesca Turner
Hair Christian Wood at The Wall Group
Makeup Riona O’Sullivan using LANCÔME
Nails Ami Streets at LMC Worldwide using CHANEL S 2014 and BODY EXCELLENCE HAND CREAM
Photographic Assistance Andrew Davis and Alex Franchini
Fashion Assistance Samantha Lockwood
Production Seona Taylor-Bell
Thanks Charlotte Cassidy