St. Vincent refuses to shy away from darkness on MASSEDUCTION
“I used to use the ‘records as children’ metaphor a lot. Then I saw my sisters actually have children and I was like, 'Maybe I should find a different metaphor…'.”
Annie Clark is everything we want to be. Funny, kind, intelligent, thoughtful and ridiculously talented.
Today she releases (not births) MASSEDUCTION, her fifth studio album as St. Vincent, and perhaps her most daring and affecting record to date. She spoke to Myf Warhurst about the record and the events in her life that informed it.
“I'm so proud of it,” she remarked. “I love it.”
The thing with being as musically as progressive as St. Vincent is that you need to be willing to move on quickly. While Clark is excited about the release of MASSEDUCTION, she’s just as excited about moving onto her next work.
“I'm not a very attach-y kind of person,” she explained. “When I'm done with a record, I'm just sort of done with it. I'm ready to move on to the next thing. It's done. Now it's time to do other things with that energy.
“I also have a terrible memory and that makes it easier for me to disengage. I look back on records and there's a certain element of looking at like a high school yearbook where you're like, 'Oh that is not a great outfit. Wow, I was a little chubby. I have braces...'. There's that kind of feeling.”
The record, like most of Clark’s work in the past, has a dark undercurrent. Through all her curious takes on indie rock, pop, funk and psych, there isn’t anything particularly celebratory.
“I think, not to be so self-referential, but there's a line at the end of a song called 'Los Ageless' on the record; 'I try to write you a love song, but it comes out a lament'. It's kind of like, for better or worse, that sort of sums me up.
“I have a tendency towards sardonic humour and towards melancholy that is so baked in. So baked in. There's no extricating it. It's just there. It's just in me. It just is me.
“So, it's a dark record because I guess I'm a dark person,” she laughed.
Nom de plume aside, a St. Vincent record is a deeply personal piece of art for Annie Clark. This latest one particularly.
“Other people’s stories, my stories... everything on this record is very first person and something that I've experienced emotionally or literally in some form,” she said.
It's not really layered under cobwebs and mists. It's pretty blunt.Annie Clark — Double J, 2017
“I've said before, it's art – you can't fact check it. It's not a diary, but it certainly encapsulates an entire period of my life in no uncertain terms. It's not really layered under cobwebs and mists. It's pretty blunt.”
Perhaps the song’s most blunt moment comes right at the end of the record.
"You've gotta leave ‘em wanting less," Clark laughed.
‘Smoking Section’ is a sad but powerful piece in which Clark sings about hitting the ultimate of lows.
“It's a dark song,” she said. “It's a song about contemplating suicide. There's no two ways about it. And it's not oblique, it's pretty straightforward.”
‘Sometimes I go to the edge of my roof, and I think I'll jump just to punish you’ she sings in the song.
The song almost didn’t make it to the record, but Clark felt it was important to share this side of her life on the album.
“It's the first song I wrote for the album and I really pushed for that one,” she said. “You work on a lot of different songs at the same time and kind of slowly get things to the finish line.
“Jack [Antonoff, producer] hadn't necessarily been gravitating toward it when making the list of priority songs. I kept mentioning it and kept mentioning it. He turned to me and was like 'That song's really important to you, right?' and I was like 'Oh. Yeah! I guess it is. That song is really important to me. We have to make sure that song gets to where it should be for maximum cry effect.'”
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Annie Clark’s life changed a lot between her last record and this one. Sadly, that was not necessarily due to a wave of new people discovering her incredible art. A high-profile relationship with Hollywood star Cara Delevingne thrust her into the spotlight.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she laughed when asked this chapter of her life.
“I was fame-adjacent there for a while. Poor sweet Cara, it's a pretty intense thing, all that attention and scrutiny. It seems like kind of a drag.
“But the money's great,” she quipped. “I'm just joking!”
My success has been slow and steady. Like a lobster being brought to a boil.Annie Clark — Double J, 2017
Clark admits there are moments on MASSEDUCTION inspired by this relationship and the scrutiny that went with it.
“There are certain lines that speak to the wariness that I have of fame and celebrity culture,” she said.
But she also said that the increased exposure didn’t have too much effect on her, given she’s already well over a decade into her career.
“I think my success has been slow and steady. Like a lobster being brought to a boil," she said.
"So, I don't necessarily feel like I've been tremendously changed by it, because I was more or less a person already when it happened.
"I had a sense of who I was and so it was easier to hold on to.”
The Annie Clark we meet when her sixth album arrives in a few years’ time will again be a completely different woman and artist again. The restless creative already has new experiences lined up with her feature length directorial debut coming in the form of an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray.
“I mean, what a treat,” she beamed about the opportunity. “It's one of my favourite books of all time. There are so many themes in it that really resonate with me; be it narcissism, beauty worship, what is transgression, sublimated queerness… All this stuff is just so rich and so ripe and I cannot wait to just dig into that.”
Reflecting on and discussing the overall aestethic of her work – both visually and socially – seems like something Clark is more comfortable with than many other artists. Her vision is strong and she is persistent in striving to achieve it. It is something that has become easier with time.
“I think there's more cohesiveness of overall vision [now], I do,” she said. “That's just from experience and a lot of trial and error, and, frankly, having a whole lot of fun with the whole thing.
“The tone of the last record, even in terms of the album artwork, was this kind of stoic, imperious, near-future cult leader. The tone of this one, because we're living in very absurd times and obviously everything people make is kind of reflective of the world they live in at that time, is kind of like 'dominatrix at the mental institution'.”
MASSeduction is out now.
It’s our Feature Album on Double J all week from Monday 16 October.