'It's Sorrow You Can Jam To': St. Vincent On 'Masseduction' NPR's Rachel Martin speaks to Annie Clark about David Bowie, bad interview questions and her moody, emotionally direct fifth album as St. Vincent.
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'It's Sorrow You Can Jam To': St. Vincent On 'Masseduction'

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'It's Sorrow You Can Jam To': St. Vincent On 'Masseduction'

'It's Sorrow You Can Jam To': St. Vincent On 'Masseduction'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Our next guest has made her name and built her following in the indie rock scene. She won the Grammy in 2015 for Best Alternative Album. She filled in for Kurt Cobain when Nirvana reunited at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And she's sometimes compared to David Bowie because of her high-art, high-concept songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIGITAL WITNESS")

ST. VINCENT: (Singing) People turn the TV on. It looks just like a window. Yeah. Digital witnesses...

MARTIN: Her name is Annie Clark, but she performs as St. Vincent. Why St. Vincent? That's a normal question to ask, right? Turns out, it's one of her interview pet peeves, and she's got quite a few of them. In fact, she made a satirical video short making fun of bad interview questions. So that seemed like a pretty good place to start.

So what is the worst question that I could possibly ask you? Let's just get that out.

ANNIE CLARK: OK. Well, I have a couple.

MARTIN: OK.

CLARK: The where's the name St. Vincent come from? Because that - it's such a, like, first thing on the Wikipedia page.

MARTIN: Yeah.

CLARK: But you know what the worst one is?

MARTIN: Tell me.

CLARK: And it's not the worst because it doesn't need to be spoken about, it's not that. It's that the answer ought to be so nuanced, and you need, like, a semester of university to unpack it. But the women in music question is just like - the short answer is like, what's it like to be a woman in music? Well, it means you get asked about being a woman in music. It's very tedious because there's no good answer.

MARTIN: Right. Well, this is the sound of me ripping up all my questions.

CLARK: Oh, no.

MARTIN: I'll just have to start over. All right. We will not ask this. We will dig into the music, and there's a lot to dig into because this album is a bit of a departure. There's less guitar. And St. Vincent swapped her longtime producer for one known for his work with artists like Lorde and Taylor Swift. Here's the first single.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK")

ST. VINCENT: (Singing) New York isn't New York without you, love. So far in a few blocks to be so low. And if I call you from First Avenue, where you're the only [expletive] in the city who can handle me.

MARTIN: Yeah, she just dropped an F-bomb.

CLARK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I love that you laugh when you hear that.

CLARK: Oh, oh. It was two-part. One part of it, yes, is that I love using blue language as like a term of endearment but also because I've got my little brother here. And he was dancing for me during that part. Yeah.

MARTIN: But it is a moment in that song. And I'm sure this is the thing people ask, but I'm going to ask anyway because it is this lyrical lovely beautiful thing. And all of a sudden, there's a - huh (ph)?

CLARK: Well, it is. But I also feel like that term, it sums up so much. Like, it sums up all the feelings that you have for someone who you love, like...

MARTIN: It's a term of endearment?

CLARK: I think so. It kind of strips you down to just like the barest level. And it kind of says, like, you know me and I know you.

MARTIN: Yeah, there is an intimacy in it - strangely.

CLARK: Yeah, I think so.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK")

ST. VINCENT: (Singing) You're the only [expletive] in the city who can stand me. I have lost a hero.

MARTIN: This album does feel like a different part of your journey. I mean, there are a lot of things that come to mind when people think about who you are and what your work has been - not a whole lot of ballads, not a whole lot of straightforward storytelling. And that's much more pronounced.

CLARK: I knew that I just wanted to go straight for the heart. And I had a really thoughtful, wonderful dinner with Jack Antonoff, who co-produced this record with me. And it was more or less the first time we'd ever hung out and met. And we sat down and we basically just told each other everything that was going wrong in our lives. And we bonded instantly and then just kind of made it like a blood pact to just go for the jugular and push every song over the emotional finish line.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANG ON ME")

ST. VINCENT: (Singing) I cannot stop the airplane from crashing, and we circle down from the sky.

MARTIN: So what did that mean when you said there was a blood pact that we were just going to go for the emotional jugular? Did it mean being more earnest?

CLARK: Yeah, that certainly is an aspect to it. Every song is a pretty clear, I would say, like, narrative. For me, that was sort of the thing that I had not done, the sort of slit the wrists and bleed out kind of songs I had not done. And so mine has been a journey from being very much in my head to slowly moving down further and further and further. And I would say that the nexus of power from this record is like the gut, rather than the throat or the head.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMOKING SECTION")

ST. VINCENT: (Singing) Sometimes I sit in the smoking section hoping one rogue spark will land in my direction. And when you stomp me out, I scream and I'll shout - let it happen, let it happen, let it happen.

MARTIN: This is someone who's in a dark place. This is someone who's in a state of deep depression. And it's easier to write in metaphor, and you don't do that at all. You go for the jugular.

CLARK: Mm-hm (ph).

MARTIN: That was a comfortable thing to write?

CLARK: (Laughter) Sorry.

MARTIN: I just got on your video list. You're like, that will be question number 45 for my dumbest questions of all time.

CLARK: (Laughter) No. Not at all. It was so sweet. It was honestly - it was like a really like sweet kind of like a way that my mom would ask the question. Darling, are you OK?

MARTIN: Are you OK? That's really what the question is.

CLARK: I know. It was...

MARTIN: Are you OK?

CLARK: I saw the intention behind it and I really appreciate it. It was very sweet.

MARTIN: OK, thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMOKING SECTION")

ST. VINCENT: (Singing) And sometimes I go to the edge of my roof. I think I'll jump just to punish you.

MARTIN: It's a dark song, Annie.

CLARK: It sure is. Yeah, I've been there. I mean, I was there, so I wrote it.

MARTIN: Did you have any second thoughts? Did you have any regrets about putting any of these songs together in the public domain?

CLARK: No.

MARTIN: No?

CLARK: I really don't. I mean, I don't know if I've changed or the world has changed, but it's just like we're in the middle of the action movie sequence and, you know, comets are flying and the buildings are crumbling to the ground. Like, talking about humanity is like not the worst thing you can do.

MARTIN: Your own - yeah. Emotional breakdown is nothing compared to...

CLARK: Yeah, like, come on, like, whatever.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMOKING SECTION")

ST. VINCENT: (Singing) It's not the end. It's not the end.

MARTIN: Annie Clark. She performs under the name St. Vincent. Her new album is called "Masseduction." Annie, thanks for talking with us.

CLARK: Thank you. I love you guys so much.

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