St. Vincent’s Annie Clark: Angel or Irate Substitute Teacher? Find out here!

by Kelly McClure

Although she is a busy lady, and in the midst of a tour, St. Vincent’s Annie Clark took some time to chit chat with our writer Ned Hepburn about fashion, minivans, and song stylings. Here’s what happened: 

Annie Clark is a funny girl, who talks with the kind of soft yet engaging purr that makes you forget there’s anybody else in the room but her. She’s charmingly self-aware in the exact opposite way that so many ‘cool music people’ so often are. She’s the anti-Bono, the anti-Tori Amos; she has more in common with Steve Martin than Coldplay’s Chris Martin. She’s just patently adorable. Where most new artists would name their debut album something deep and super epic, Annie named her debut album, Marry Me,  after an obscure joke from cancelled sitcom Arrested Development. It’s that sort of irreverancy that has landed her square into the hearts of every dreaming indie boy and girl who loves that sort of thing. She plays the part of ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ on the surface yet her music conveys a Scott Walker-esque soul mining that doesn’t come around that often.

 Annie started as the guitarist for The Polyphonic Spree, which could be considered the indie rock equivalent of Parliament Funkadelic, amassing some sixteen members on stage at any given time. She then wound up playing guitar in Sufjan Stevens’ band, and is now elbow deep into her own solo projects. 

On stage, she carries herself somewhere between an angel and an irate substitute teacher, twitching with the music like she just put her finger in the socket, yet on the next chord change she seems as calm and as cool as a cucumber. 

Currently on the road supporting her sophomore album Actor, I recently got the chance to talk to her and totally nerd out during the interview.

BUST: Ok, recording. Hello? (dead air) Annie? How are you?

ANNIE: I’m fine. How are you?

BUST: Great! So let’s start. I found it interesting that you attended the Berklee School Of Music.

ANNIE: For better or worse, yes.

BUST: Do you find it has an impact on how you create music now?

ANNIE: Uh, sort of. You learn all this stuff in school and then you have to unlearn all of it in the real world (laughs) to be a good person. School is a place where you learn quantifiable things. In order to make a school that’s great, or a hierarchy of a sense of achievement, you have to place importance on certain things as others can’t be graded.

You have to get out of school to realize that all those things that you got graded on – in my case badly! – don’t really matter.

BUST: Ok, personal question. Are both of your albums Arrested Development references?

ANNIE: No! Ha! Just the first one.

BUST: Why did you call the second one Actor, then?

ANNIE: I called it Actor because a lot of it is really inspired by film. Even film theory and dramatic theory. Like, the work of David Mamet, you know? I find that fascinating… finding what makes a character a character and what makes drama drama.

BUST: This might sound like a ‘Meet The Beatles’ question, but I think you have a creative dissonance, so to speak, sort of a Scott Walker vibe, where you have this amazing voice floating over the some sometimes very harsh music. Do you actually set out to accomplish that kind of sound? Or does it come naturally? Is that how you are as a person?

ANNIE: I’m from Texas, my family raised me to be very polite, I like manners and feel that all that stuff is very important. Although also – I think life has that funny mixture of all those really beautiful things and really terrible things. And you get to juxtapose those things in music.

BUST: I have a question here from a friend that I’ve gotta ask: what are your fashion influences?

ANNIE: My great Aunt was a… hmmm… Texas lady socialite… always dressed fabulously. She’d put all this shit together in a crazy amazing way. That was always inspiring. Especially the kind of funny notion that you need to put on all sorts of expensive make up… it doesn’t make any sense.

Personally now I’m a huge Rachel Comey fan. I love her clothes and any chance I get to wear her clothes on stage I’ll take it. Right now I’m wearing this sort of bonkers Jeremy Scott dress. I wouldn’t necessarily wear his stuff all the time but this, um, makes the cut, so to speak. Opening Ceremony is truly great for stuff.

BUST: I actually saw you play with the Polyphonic Spree back in 2002. It was the coolest show. How was it playing with the Polyphonic Spree?

ANNIE: To go from touring in a minivan to playing with the Polyphonic Spree… I wish I could relive some of those festivals, some of the energy was just so amazing.

BUST: Any more songs from working with Bon Iver?

ANNIE: I think so. We’ve just become good friends over the last few months. I think he might be the best person… ever…. he’s a country boy. Still lives in Eau Claire. Amazingly down to Earth.

BUST: Do you feel you are an influence on younger women looking up to you?

ANNIE: I hope so. I think it’ll be really really gratifying if I can give back to the whole universe of music that gave me so much.

BUST: Who was a strong female influence on you?

ANNIE: I have a lot of super empowered women around me. My Mom is super intelligent and super kid, and super open. She’s amazing. I have a lot of sisters. All of them are awesome and strong and smart and empowered. My aunt Patty is a massive influence on me, musically and personally. I’m super lucky to have to many great women in my life.

BUST: Do you have an Almost Famous moment so to speak where someone gave you, I dunno, a Beach Boys album or whatever and you thought “Aha!”?

ANNIE: At like 14 or 15 I was visiting my aunt and uncle out in San Francisco. My Aunt Patty sat me down and played me Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”. That was my “Aha” moment. Everything changed after that. It was a revelation beyond revelations. But, um, yeah. I’ll never forget that. Now when I think about I know every note, but when I first heard it it was like a tidal wave.

(Interview by Ned Hepburn)

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