DAVID GREENE, host: If you've ever wanted to unlock your emotions without really talking about them, Annie Clark understands. The 28-year-old musician performs under the name St. Vincent. She's become known for layering her sweet voice over sometimes harsh and creepy electronic and guitar sounds in a way that mesmerizes fans.

Her newest release, "Strange Mercy," is raw and revealing, her most honest album to date. It comes out of a difficult year for Clark and her family. But before Annie Clark and I got into all that, we talked about her very early experiences in music - that is, back when she was age five.

ANNIE CLARK: Oh, wow. You really did some digging.


CLARK: Yes, it was one of these ill-fated, theoretically idyllic vacations that we took...

GREENE: Theoretically idyllic.

CLARK: Yeah, theoretically...

GREENE: We all know those.

CLARK: Yeah...


CLARK: But as these things happen, when you've got a bunch of kids in one place, someone got the stomach flu and then everybody got the stomach flu. And we wrote a little song to cheer everyone up. In retrospect, it probably just annoyed people more than it...


CLARK: ...more than it actually cheered them up. But...

GREENE: Do you remember the song, what you were singing?

CLARK: I do remember the song, yeah.

GREENE: Can you give us a little taste of it?

CLARK: Oh. Oh, dear. I'm weirdly embarrassed of my five-year-old lyric writing abilities. Yeah, it was a hopeful sort of song. Oh no, it wasn't. I think the lyrics - let me think about this. The lyrics were: Oh, like a fish out of stream. Oh, like a child without a dream.


CLARK: Yeah, ooh.

GREENE: That doesn't sound that hopeful.

CLARK: Yeah, I guess it's not.

GREENE: You were singing that while the whole family was sick?


CLARK: Yeah.

GREENE: When I read that story it sounded sort of cruel to me, that you were kind of making the family sing. And maybe that was because I had looked at the songs on your new album and one of them is called "Cruel."


CLARK: (Singing) Forgive the kids for they don't know how to live. Roam the alleys, casually cruel. Cruel, cruel, cruel...

GREENE: And, Annie, the video for this song is nothing subtle. You're in a grocery store. You meet a young girl in a wheelchair. Her family sort of kidnaps you, but you can never please them, and they end up trying to drown you, trying to bury you alive. What is going on?

CLARK: Yes. Yes. You described the plot pretty aptly. I meet a motherless family and they kidnap me. And I try to perform a number of traditionally wifey, I guess, tasks. And then I fail at them. And then they bury me in a shallow grave.


CLARK: (Singing) Cruel, cruel, cruel. Cruel, cruel, cruel...

GREENE: Is there something - events in your life that sort of shape the lyrics to a song like this? Forgive a kid, cruel?




GREENE: I sense that a lot of what you write in your music is deeply personal, but you want to leave it just in the music.

CLARK: Yeah, I do.


CLARK: I do. I think in some ways, it can do a listener a disservice to explain a song. I think I'd rather leave a little room for people to put themselves in it.

GREENE: The one thing you described in this new album, in another interview I read, was that you feel that it is more candid and closer to your heart than the other records. And I think you were talking about the song "Surgeon" at the time. And let's hear a little bit of that.


CLARK: (Singing) Turn off the TV, wait in bed. Blue or red. A little something to get along. Get along. Get along. Get along. Get along. Get along. Best, finest surgeon. Come cut me open...

I was reading Marilyn Monroe's journals. And she wrote down the sentence, Best, finest surgeon, Lee Strasberg, come cut me open - because she was studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio at the time, and he was, you know, a tremendous mentor to her. And I just thought that was brilliant and really strange. I mean, I definitely wanted this particular song to sound like, you know, someone was kind of in a Benzedrine and white wine coma. You know?


CLARK: Like a housewife's cocktail.


CLARK: (Singing) ) Best, finest surgeon. Come cut me open...

And I was - I put, you know, inspiration from my own life for various situational depression or what - call it what you will. And this line, best finest surgeon, really resonated with me.

GREENE: And how would you help us understand situational depression?

CLARK: Oh, well, you know, 2010 was the Year of the Tiger. And I was actually told ahead of time, like, oh, this is going to be a really turbulent year.


CLARK: (Singing) When I was young, Coach called me the tiger...

And, in fact, it was. It was a very, very sad year for me, personally, a very difficult year. And I guess what I mean by situational depression is just you're kind of trying to pull yourself out of the hole. I'm not by nature a depressive person. But when life gives you lemons, you hide in your apartment for a little while.



CLARK: (Singing) Living in fear in the year of the tiger. Living in fear in the year of the tiger. Living in fear in the year of the tiger. Living in fear...

GREENE: Is there something cathartic about this album, I mean, coming out of what you say was a really tough year for you?

CLARK: You know, I think I had a couple of realizations. This record kind of re-focused me. You know, life can be challenging and sad, or fraught with illness or things. But music is the easy part. That's the fun part. That is the thing that I love doing more than anything else, so I approached it that way. I didn't fuss over things too much; I just let this thing be what it wanted to be, and that was a real - that was a release for me.


GREENE: We've been speaking to St. Vincent, also known as Annie Clark. Annie, thank you so much for joining us.

CLARK: Oh, thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

GREENE: "Strange Mercy" by St. Vincent is out now. And you can hear more of the album at NPRMusic.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, host: And I'm Steve Inskeep.


CLARK: (Singing) But I tell you, it's going to be a champagne year.

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