Just because St. Vincent’s summer itinerary is packed with more than a dozen festival dates on four continents doesn’t mean that Annie Clark is scaling back the theatrics of the St. Vincent concert experience.
The singer and guitarist will still force herself down a giant set of pink stairs, writhe around against a storm of strobe lights and eventually command the procession, purposefully poised like a cross, from an oversized pink throne.
“We’ve worked really hard on this strange fever dream of a show, bringing it to life,” says Clark, “so it’s important that people get the whole experience, even if it’s at a festival.”
That "strange fever dream of a show," along with the self-titled fifth St. Vincent album, may be the most definitive statement from any artist this year. From Clark’s fat guitar leads to her strange and simple lyrics — any of which can be pulled out to illustrate what St. Vincent is all about in 2014 — it feels like the artist has truly discovered her identity.
“I’ll always be evolving and be restless and wanting to move violently into the future,” says Clark of arriving at something that could be considered iconic, “but I was reading Miles Davis’ autobiography and it was saying how the hardest thing about being a musician is to sound like yourself. I can hear one note of Miles or Coltrane and know that it’s them and it’s the world that they have painstakingly created to be unmistakable. I just thought that this record for me was something where I had successfully created a landscape that was my own.”
This landscape includes Clark’s stylized lavender/gray old lady hair, of which she says: “Everyone is really obsessed with being young and youth culture and this sort of erroneous idea that things are the best when you are young, and I am young, but I wanted to see what it would look like to go in the opposite direction.” And this landscape also includes conscious choreography in the live show, the likes of which hasn’t been seen on a St. Vincent tour before. Clark says she was inspired by doing an album and tour with David Byrne, whose live show included an eight-piece brass band moving around the stage and creating what Clark says was “this whole other level of drama and whimsy and symbolic subconscious meaning that the audience can pick up on.”
“So I got a little jealous,” she says with a light laugh, “and I find that movement means a lot of things and it communicates a lot even if [the movements] are a little ephemeral. Once I was aware of how much movement can mean and communicate, I thought it would be such a waste not to utilize it. It’s like finding a new color and then ignoring that color."
But just because Clark has a lot of new details to pay attention to with her show doesn’t mean she can’t have fun at the festivals this summer.
“I definitely get to check out bands that I like and haven’t seen live,” she says. “Also, it just happens that a lot of my friends are musicians, so the only times we get to see each other is when we cross paths backstage at a festival.”
As for her own memories of summer concerts during her formative years in Texas, Clark says she attended many of “those big sprawling lawn amphitheater shows.”
“I remember going to see a lot of classic rock,” she says. “Fleetwood Mac, when they reformed, and Steely Dan was my first concert ever. I actually went with my parents and was more excited than they were about it. I am a massive Steely Dan fan. I saw Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Cibo Mato and then a lot of local Dallas bands.”
And then as she got older, Clark says highlights included “going with someone’s older sister and having her buy us Keystone Light tallboys and sneaking them in pockets or a purse and then smoking menthol cigarettes.”
“The last time I smoked a cigarette was when I went and saw Luscious Jackson in the ’90s,” she says. “I was in eighth grade and we thought we were really cool.”
Now Clark is the one onstage while other eighth graders sit on the lawn and smoke menthols. Clark has lately reaped a lot of what she has spent years sowing. She says she even shifted around her tour itinerary when St. Vincent was invited to be the musical guest on the season finale of “Saturday Night Live” next weekend.
“I’ve watched it since I was a little kid and it informed my sense of humor and exposed me to bands I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” she says. “I just watched the show religiously growing up.”
And last month she performed with Nirvana at the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“It was such a good experience to dig into the Nirvana songwriting, and it’s so brilliant and so melodic and so memorable — it’s pop songs drenched in noise and punk,” she says as enthusiastically as that eighth grader must have been in the ’90s. “Obviously, I wish I was living in a world where Kurt was still alive and I could have just gone to see Nirvana play live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. But I was incredibly honored to be asked by those guys, and it was extremely emotional for them because they hadn’t played those songs for 20 years since Kurt passed, so I felt a big responsibility to them to give it my all and do the legacy justice. But I also wouldn’t be playing music if it weren’t for Nirvana, so it was really poignant for me to be up there 20 years after ‘Nevermind’ came out, playing those songs that changed my life.”
Clark says she hopes she’s changing others’ lives, similar to the way that Nirvana changed hers.
“I wanted to create a real experience for people, especially in this day and age where we are kind of obsessed with capturing moments at the expense of living them,” she says. “I wanted to encourage people as much as possible to be present and be so engrossed in the show that they are not tempted to check their text messages.”