What St Vincent Has In Common With Beyonce And Learned From Miles Davis

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ST VINCENT
SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 26: Singer/songwriter Annie Clark aka St. Vincent performs on stage at The Moore Theater on March 26, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images) | Mat Hayward via Getty Images

The title of Annie Clark's debut album under the St. Vincent moniker, 2007's "Marry Me," was taken from a quote by "Arrested Development" character Maeby Fünke. Seven years, five records, and a collaboration with artistic giant (and St. Vincent superfan) David Byrne later, the indie art rock singer/songwriter and guitar virtuoso has found a slightly different source of inspiration for her new, eponymous release.

"I was reading Miles Davis' autobiography and he was talking about how the hardest thing for a musician to do is to sound like yourself," Clark says, calling from the road where she's embarking on a new tour and enjoying the first tastes of sunshine and spring after spending almost all winter under the reign of the polar vortex in her adopted home of New York. "And I felt like this was a good record to self-title for that reason."

As far as St. Vincent the musical artist is concerned, "St. Vincent" the album is the closest she's come so far to meeting the jazz legend's challenge.

"Which isn't to disparage any work that I've done in the past," she says. "I just think, at least how I see being an artist is that you want to have an unmistakeable voice, and that sometimes means a literal voice but can mean the world that you create or whatever, and you want to have a voice where people don't go 'Oh yeah, well, there are seventeen other bands who could do that kind of thing. If that person died tomorrow, there would be twenty people standing in line who could do that same thing in that same way.' And at least my goal is to get to the point of singularity in that regard.”

If Clark were to disappear tomorrow, it certainly wouldn't be easy to find the next St. Vincent. Or the next artist who could write and record music like the songs she's recently released. The album, loftily sweeping from the staccato beats and almost abrasive reverb of a song like "Rattlesnake" to the sweet but plaintive balladry of "I Prefer Your Love," bursts with sounds that are almost as unique and individualistic as the first-person narratives – about everything from running naked from a rattlesnake to reflecting on her mother’s love during a health scare – that permeate many of its lyrics. It is, collectively, a work that sounds and feels like the product of wisdom and artistic maturity.

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Clark, who is now 31, suspects that that has a lot more to do with the work she's put into St. Vincent over the course of her career than any lessons learned through growing older or growing up. "I've made five records in the past seven years. If I wasn't getting better at what I did, there would be a hole in the balloon," she says frankly.

She's not particularly interested in discussing age in the context of pop music, either. When asked whether the reception of her record and the blockbuster success of that other self-assured self-titled album by a pop artist in her early thirties means that anything's changing in a pop landscape that’s so often obsessed with the barely legal, Clark suggests that the appeal of both releases all boils down to their honesty.

"I think the thing that people react to in the Beyonce record – and obviously there's a lot of opinions surrounding it – but it's that she's put out a record that seemed like it's honest about being having a kid and a husband and being a grown woman instead of coming out in pigtails and doing something strange and infantilizing. So I think that’s why people are like 'Yeah! Beyonce's just like me!

"I mean, the reality is Beyonce's nothing like you. Beyonce's the queen of pop," Clark laughs. "You probably have nothing that much in common except that yeah, you are both humans, and people I think connected to the fact that she was vulnerable. Imagine even the queen of pop vulnerable. I think that's why it connected with people.

"In terms of my record, I guess I was writing things that were obviously personal but hopefully had enough space and enough of a sonic extension of arms to reach out to people and to have people put themselves into the songs."

That type of honesty is all part of being and sounding like yourself, and it's something St. Vincent truly values in music. She has no use for posturing, detachment or irony.

"When I think of ironic music, I think of somebody not brave enough to stand behind something that they like," she muses. "Like, 'Ooh. I know this is silly, but isn't it kind of winky and fun that we're doing this? But I know it's dumb.' I don’t have any interest in that kind of mentality. It's just an insecurity game."

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