A coolly confident visionary … strings mingle with jagged but precise guitar leads, and splendor gives way to dark menace with nary a warning.” —Pitchfork
Minneapolis, September 23, 2011—St. Vincent’s live shows are becoming the stuff of legend, leaving fans equally wowed by her considerable musical chops and magnetic stage presence. Innovative singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark launches her U.S. tour with her Walker debut and her first Twin Cities visit in nearly two years on October 2, 7 and 10 pm, in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater. Swelling audiences and delighted critics from all points of the cultural compass—from Pitchfork to Spin to the New York Times magazines—have been entranced by her precocious arrangements, elegant lyrics, and deft craftsmanship. This intimate evening in the McGuire Theater is a rare treat. Presented in association with the Cedar.
Based in Brooklyn and raised in Dallas, Clark had, before finding fame as St. Vincent, done time in robe-wearing sunshine-pop cult The Polyphonic Spree, and in the live band for banjo-plucking boy-genius Sufjan Stevens.
She took her stage name from St. Vincent’s hospital in downtown New York, the place where, amongst other things, poet Dylan Thomas spent his final hours. The joke is that Clark’s music is “the place where poetry comes to die.” Clark grew up in “suburban sprawl” in the greater Dallas area. She grew up learning guitar, but never had an acoustic, favoring, instead, loud electric guitar, fretboard ‘shredding,’ and classic rock. Her scope of influence was widened when, at 13, her aunt and uncle gave her an old box of jazz records.
“Jazz totally blew my mind when I was young,” Clark recounts. “This box had Coltrane and Monk and Mingus and Billie Holiday and Bill Evans and Gil Evans and Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Hartman and Sarah Vaughn.” (Later, Clark would write a St. Vincent song, What, Me Worry, that was a “sort of a gushing love letter” to Strayhorn and Hartman.)
Her same uncle, a jazz musician named Tuck Andress, invited Clark to tour manage his band, Tuck & Patti, as a “summer job” when she was 15. Subsequent touring would find Clark accompanying the band to China, Japan and Russia.
While Clark learnt the ins and outs of live-performance logistics, she had been home-recording, all the while, making multi-layered, multi-instrumental recordings on computer. “The truth of the matter is: I’m a really big nerd, a sort of technophile,” Clark confesses. “I’ve been recording on computer-based systems since I was 13, so that sort of multi-track arranging sensibility [became] really ingrained in my songwriting process,” she told the American University Eagle.
After three years of studying at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Clark recorded her first, self-released EP, Ratsliveonnoevilstar. Soon afterwards, she dropped out and returned back home to Dallas. There, several school friends (from local Lake Highlands High) had been playing in the Polyphonic Spree. Clark auditioned, and was on a plane days later to tour Europe.
In 2006, Clark moved to New York, and, at the behest of her friend Shara ‘My Brightest Diamond’ Worden, joined Sufjan Stevens’ live band. “When people say they hear elements of Sufjan’s music in mine, that’s just wonderful,” Clark offers. “But, whilst it’s a compliment, it’s completely coincidental, because I started playing with Sufjan after my record was completely finished.”
In 2007, Clark’s St. Vincent recordings started to earn her a buzz; her membership in Stevens’ band no doubt helping. “My favorite thing about how my St. Vincent project has evolved, is that I wasn’t signed,” Clark says. “I didn’t have a record even finished before I was getting attention on blogs, and people were excited about the music. It’s very gratifying that it wasn’t some obnoxious, over-hyped industry machine pushing me forward, but that people actually sought me out, and came to me.”
After signing to Beggars Banquet (who would later shuffle her to the iconic 4AD imprint), Clark released her debut album, Marry Me. Taking the title from cult television show Arrested Development, Clark “thought that it was cute and clever and utterly sincere and completely farcical at the same time,” yet it didn’t occur to her that it would mean that, almost every show, someone would holler out a proposal.
After continuing to play in Stevens’ band whilst focusing more and more on St. Vincent, Clark set about working on her second album in 2008. Played directly onto computer in her New York apartment, the music was composed as an imagined film-score, with lyrics added later. When unveiled, in May, 2009, the set was called Actor; its title emblematic of the entire artistic process, and the self-delusion that comes with performing.
“The self-delusion,” Clark explained, to The New York Times, “is the thing that makes you go: ‘all the music that I’ve ever loved in the world, I want to be a part of that! Hey, listen to what I have to say, it’s really important!'”
In 2009, in the wake of Actor, St. Vincent collaborated with Bon Iver on his song called Roslyn, for the soundtrack to New Moon, a ridiculously-popular installment in the teen vampire franchise Twilight. Whilst the song was, in her body of work, but a blip, it seemed to cement Clark’s status as indie pin-up.
As well as collaborating with Bon Iver, Clark struck up a collaborative relationship with ex-Talking Heads legend David Byrne. They wrote music together to benefit the Housing Works organization, and Clark appeared on Byrne’s Here Lies Love album. (Anthony Carew)
Tickets to St. Vincent are $25 ($21 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.
Performing Arts Supporters
The Walker Art Center’s performing arts programs are made possible by generous support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through the Doris Duke Performing Arts Fund, the William and Nadine McGuire Commissioning Fund, The McKnight Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Performing Arts programs and commissions at the Walker are generously supported by members of the Producers’ Council: Russell Cowles; Sage and John Cowles; Robert and Katherine Goodale; Nor Hall and Roger Hale; King’s Fountain/Barbara Watson Pillsbury and Henry Pillsbury; Emily Maltz; Dr. William W. and Nadine M. McGuire; Leni and David Moore, Jr.; Josine Peters; Mike and Elizabeth Sweeney; and Frances and Frank Wilkinson.