St. Vincent, life, death and everything in between

St. Vincent, life, death and everything in between

With every album that comes out, we discover a new St. Vincent. Or rather, each of her albums reveals a part of the complex person, artist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist that is Annie Clark.
In the first three records, in the second half of the noughties, she presented herself as a sort of Pollyanna between indie rock, jazz and cabaret, then a sophisticated post-modern witch, then an electric mistress in latex for “Masseducation” of 2017 and finally in 2021 turns into a sort of cosplayer of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol's muse in 70s New York soul funk for “Daddy's Home”
“All Born Screaming” will be released next April 26th, her seventh and beautiful album, the first totally self-produced (with a little help from Cate Le Bon in a couple of songs) and Rockol had the extraordinary opportunity to discover by talking to her which side of St. Vincent emerges in this new recording adventure.
Contrary to the opinion that goes around her, Annie Clark is a very kind, helpful, sweet and even funny person in conversation, despite the fact that the album is largely extremely bitter and harsh. We then asked her to tell us about the genesis of “All Born Screaming”
“With this record I wanted to find a new way of composing music that wasn't the classic piano or guitar session. This time I initially needed chaos to give a new electricity. So I surrounded myself with analog and modular synths and spent hours and hours jamming post-industrial music and other strange stuff without having a precise idea of ​​what would come out. Handling music in this way makes you feel a bit like a God: but in the end it wasn't just chaos, because then this flow of creative electricity had to become a song. Ultimately that's what I do with music, make sense of chaos.”

This is your first self-produced album. I imagine it was something you've wanted to do for a long time. What was holding you back?

Well, in reality I have always co-produced my records and I started recording when I was 14, going through all the steps of technological evolution, first on a four-track and then with the first digital recording software. However, due to the themes covered, this was a record that only I could produce, I needed to have my own “voice” as a producer which is different from the one I have only as a musician, author or singer. Well, I needed to find out what my voice as a producer was.

And what does this voice sound like?

Mmhh, to that of an architect who carries out the project and then gets help from various specialists.

Speaking of which, it must be very nice to be the only person who decides which musicians to involve. Ok, here I want Dave Grohl, instead here I would like a drummer like Mark Giuliana, here the backing vocals of Cate Le Bon. Was it easy to involve all these musicians?
Well, luckily they all answered the phone when I called them! (laughs) And that was the first good sign. It must be said that Dave and I have been friends since the days when he played with Nirvana and Cate has been one of my best friends since she opened for my “Strange Mercy” tour.
I didn't know Mark Giuliana, however. He was the drummer on David Bowie's “Blackstar”, a record that I loved madly. For some songs I had that drum touch in mind. It's truly a blessing that he agreed to play for me.

Let's get to the contents of the album. The first part is very dramatic and brutal as if you wanted to concentrate all the darkest and hardest part of your life. Why did you decide to use such strong and powerful images this time?

My idea for the first part of this album was to represent a season in hell.

It's like looking at all the ugliness and violence in the world. But then the second half is of course like life. In short, life is hard and suffering is endemic to the human condition, but we all also have the ability to see and create all this joy and beauty that is around us; it's all part of the same continuum. You don't get one without the other. Being in touch with the death of people close to you allows you to clarify your ideas about what really matters and what doesn't, and I think this feeling is quite universal.

Musically you chose to tell all this in a very minimal way. And so in the end the long jams you were talking about before became rather stripped down, with a lot of 70s guitars. Are you very demanding as a producer?

Yes, I am, but above all with myself. I've been lucky to work with people who are incredible musicians, but also, friends and people with great taste. It happened that sometimes someone came to me spontaneously with a different idea than what I had expected and I preferred to go with that. I think the creative process should be a continuous discovery. You must always have your antennae straight and trust your gut.

Each of your albums is always characterized by a very specific aesthetic choice both in your videos and in your tour outfit. Will he also be there for “All born screaming”?

Well, yes, of course, the look is always linked to the meaning of the record and therefore in this case, it will be totally black and white. But also the destructive and energetic power of fire.
In “Masseducation” and “Daddy's Home” I was really interested in the idea of ​​creating a character, dissecting it and playing with it.

It was an alternative way to get to the truth and to talk about myself.
For this album I want to be as direct as possible. Especially today when life is so short and therefore there is no time to waste. I feel like I should only talk about things that matter. I feel artistically that today I have an urgency.

Can we therefore say that this album is probably your most autobiographical?

Actually all my albums are autobiographical and they're all incredibly precise about what's going on in my life. However, I believe that in this case my approach to the material changes. In short, in recent years I have faced a lot of losses and I have sudden and inexplicable pain. Everything for me today is black and white. I mean, you're alive or you're dead. There isn't really anything in between that I'm aware of.

“All born screaming” is a beautiful title, very concise and evocative. Is this a quote or is it your idea?

I honestly don't know if it's a quote from something, I think it's an expression or something. It's just something that came to mind when I was writing the song.

All the songs on this album are excellent. I particularly love “Powers Out” which talks about a gigantic blackout but also hides something else. Is it linked to any episode in particular?

It's just a great metaphor. In reality my intention was to create an update of David Bowie's “Five years” (editor's note: song contained in “Ziggy Stardust”). This is a reflection I often make: what would we all do if the world was ending. So this is your favorite?

I would say yes. Even though “Violent Time” already seems like a classic to me.

Well yes. It's a torch song, actually it could really become a classic. The basic idea was to find beauty in brutal surroundings….
While the conversation was taking an interesting and relaxed turn, here comes the stern publicist to say that the time available is up. However, not before reminding St. Vincent of his concert in Florence together with David Byrne, which I attended, a date which he remembers perfectly because it was the last of that memorable tour and then because he stayed in the city for a few days “and they were unforgettable. Florence is definitely in my top 3 cities in the world.”