St. Vincent Q & A

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Photo by Steve McPherson

By the time I find out that I’m going to be able to interview Annie Clark, I’m already at the 7th St. Entry and all I’ve got is a notebook, a pen, and little ability to transcribe adequately on the fly. Nevertheless, it’s hardly an opportunity I’m going to pass up. Soon after she finishes a set that includes nearly every song from her recently released debut, Marry Me , plus stunning solo renditions of her murder ballad “Bang Bang” and Nico’s “These Days,” I find myself outside chatting with her tour manager/soundman Daniel Farris (who also co-produced the album) about his move from Birmingham, Alabama, to Los Angeles, the long drives when you’re touring the Midwest, and how hard it is to get a decent night of sleep on the road. Before long, Clark finished up selling discs and signing stuff, and Farris ushers me and Kyle Matteson downstairs where we meet Clark and decide do do the interview out on 7th Street, in the balmy Minneapolis night.

I explain my interviewing predicament (I’m used to recording interviews and transcribing later) and explain that Kyle’s going to be writing stuff down as best he can.

“Do you know shorthand?” asks Annie, turning to Kyle.

“No.”

“Do you?” I ask her, wondering if maybe she want to transcribe her own interview.

“No.”

Steve: So I saw you open for Midlake here back a couple of months ago—it seemed like you were having some technical problems: getting shocked by the mic, etc.

Annie: Oh yeah, technical problems and the crowd was yelling at me, but that’s how it is when you’re an opener. It’s difficult because no one knows who you are, but it’s also liberating in a way. You just try to go out there with out any expectations. I try to have very low expectations.

Steve: And now has all the good press you’ve been getting changed the reaction and maybe your approach?

Annie: All the good press has been great, but it can’t really change what you’re doing. I still try to go out there with no expectations.

Steve: So I saw you had a fearsome amount of effects pedals down there.

Annie: You saw all that?

Steve: Yeah, I’m a guitarist so I was really jealous of the Moogerfooogers.

Annie: They’re great! We were just in Asheville, N.C., and we toured the whole factory and I got a couple of them down there, so they’re pretty new. I’ve only had them for a couple of weeks.

Steve: So did you build all that up slowly or have you always played with a lot of effects?

Annie: You know, I started out playing very clean guitar on what was basically a copy of Gibson L5 with Bartolini pickups, but when I went to audition for The Polyphonic Spree I just brought what I thought might work, which was a couple of effects and simpler guitar.

Steve: So did that style develop with The Polyphonic Spree?

Annie: Well, with a band that big, you have to find the places to contribute without overwhelming the sound, and that’s very challenging. But I’ve really only been playing with a lot of effects for about two years. It gives you a broader palette to paint with, if you want to use that metaphor.

Steve: And did that influence your songwriting? Are you the type to write your songs on an acoustic?

Annie: I’ve actually never had an acoustic. I know a lot of songwriters like to write that way, but I always wanted a guitar that rocked. I studied music, but not very hard. I’ve been working with computer-based recording programs for almost ten years now, and that’s really influenced my songwriting because you can loop parts and spend time figuring out which parts can go over others.

Steve: You can really hear that on the album—the arrangement and orchestration. Daniel [Ferris] who’s on tour with you and doing sound, he co-produced the album right? Is it great to have someone who worked on the album mixing you?

Annie: Well, I did a lot of work on it prior to going into the studio, but yes, it’s great having Daniel on the road. He understands me. He’s my baby boy and we have a good time. He knows how I like to crack the whip [laughs].

Steve: One thing I noticed in particular about the lyrics on the album is that you use a lot of wordplay: exploring double meanings, etc. And I read in another interview that writers were a big influence on you. So I’d like to know who those writers were, and also if you approach the wordplay aspect of your lyrics consciously as something to explore or if it just comes naturally.

Annie: I drew a lot of inspiration from writers. Somerset Maugham, Gore Vidal. Funny writers—even Woody Allen stuff. And playwrights: they have such a grasp of how to explain with language. And so I think the wordplay just comes from that. Musically I like so many different things: Tchaikosvky, Steve Reich, Arthur Russell, Nick Cave.

Steve: So do you drive your bandmates crazy in the van with Steve Reich?

Annie: No, we’re pretty much all on the same wavelength. We’ve been listening to a lot of Arthur Russell; it seems to put us in the right frame of mind.

Steve: And did any of your tourmates play on the record?

Annie: No. Well, Daniel Hart—the violinist—did strings on the record, but not the other guys.

Steve: So how did you meet them? Did you put out an ad?

Annie: We met on MySpace, met on a King Crimson message board [laughs]. Daniel and I grew up together, though, five houses apart in Dallas, Texas.

Steve: So after this you head to the West Coast?

Annie: Well, we still have some Midwest to do, but then we’re heading to the West Coast and everyone’s excited.

We chit-chat for a while longer about her upcoming tour with The National and how she hooked up with them—she knows guitarist Bryce Dessner from Sufjan Stevens band—and also how she got lined up to open for Arcade Fire—she was playing in Montreal and the band came out to see her, then offered her an opening slot for some dates on their tour. She’s been on tour pretty much constantly for the past year (“You know that park? Yosemite something? The bear park?” she asks. “Jellystone?” Kyle helpfully obliges.”Yes! That one! I’ve been past there five or six times in the last ten months.”), but it clearly hasn’t diminshed her enthusiasm for playing and even getting interviewed in the middle of the night. After talking with Farris about their schedule (get into the hotel around 3 a.m., get up at 8 a.m. and head for an early soundcheck in Omaha the next day), we figure it’s time to head out and let Clark and co. get some well-deserved shuteye before they head south and then west to finish up their tour.

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