St. Vincent Bares All
Dallas's Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) on her new album, the “weird high harmonics" of the late “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, and the there's-nothing-in-the-world-quite-like-it quality of a Texas sky.
In the midst of early January’s polar vortex, St. Vincent—the alter ego of Dallas’s Annie Clark—is tucked into one corner of a bistro booth in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, still bundled in a scarf and puffy black coat intended to protect her from the subfreezing temperatures. Her recently dyed silver curls peek out from beneath her black wool cap.
“Being from Texas, I didn’t even know how to dress for the cold,” says Clark, who splits her time between Texas and New York City. “I only figured it out in the past year: layers.” Rather than something warm, though, her slender fingers wrap around a flute of champagne, which she sips between answers. The presence of alcohol is understandable; she’s in the midst of doing press for her new, self-titled album, her first for a major label. “Yesterday was a marathon—ten interviews. Talking about myself that much is not healthy.”
Ever since the release of her 2007 debut, Clark, a singer, songwriter, and virtuoso guitarist, has been something of an indie-rock “it” girl, her runway-worthy, waiflike face plastered on the cover of magazines like Spin and Filter. On the cover of St. Vincent, though, she looks more like the Queen of the Frozen Underworld, her once brown locks now a fright wig of silver. She credits the inspiration for her new do to a diet of David Bowie YouTube clips and the fearless example of Sarah Herron, a contestant from last year’s edition of The Bachelor who was born with one arm and didn’t let that stop her from doing just about anything.
Clark looked closer to home for inspiration when putting together St. Vincent. She wrote most of the album’s eleven songs in Austin while avoiding a New York winter, fresh off a nationwide tour with David Byrne for their 2012 collaboration, Love This Giant. The squelchy, slinky album opener, “Rattlesnake,” draws from an incident that took place on a much warmer day at a friend’s ranch in West Texas. “I was feeling very, uh, free of the confines of the city,” she says, “so I decided to take all my clothes off to amplify the experience.” As she hiked through the quiet outdoors, a sound startled her. “My mind started doing this microprocessing of what it could be: the wind, or maybe it was a squirrel. And then I heard the distinct rattle of a rattlesnake and took off, running at least a mile and a half, my clothes still clutched in my hands. But I lost my Pearl Jam T-shirt along the way.”
Clark’s guitar tone on St. Vincent—alien and gnarled, able to skronk like a horn or blat like a modular synth—was also shaped by Texas, specifically by the Arlington group Pantera, one of many heavy metal bands she would blast on her car radio, “a suburban kid just driving around the city, hoping something would happen.” Sipping her champagne, she mimicks the riff from Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates”—“de-de-dunh-dunh-dunh-rreer-weeehr-WEEEHR”—and expresses her appreciation for the “weird high harmonics” achieved by the late Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott.
“I think Texas freaks are freakier than your average freak,” Clark says, as the conversation touches on bygone Texas acts like At the Drive-In, the Toadies, and the Butthole Surfers. “The more time I spend away from Texas, the more I love coming back to it.” She gazes out at the gray, cloudy winterscape beyond the windows. “To me, there’s still nothing like a Texas sky.”